It took me a long time to decide to attend LittWorld, the Christian Publishing Conference recently held in Singapore. As the deadline for registration drew nearer I balked. As much as I love expressing myself through writing, the publishing process has been stressful for me. Even on the writing front I wasn’t doing well. I was questioning whether writing was truly for me, whether I still had something of value to write or even the skills to do it. I journalled at the time: I feel like a little floundering boat, my sails flapping uselessly, not going anywhere.

The Smallest Breeze fills my sails

A conversation with a friend changed everything. Pusonnam is a Nigerian writer and trainer, who I met in 2013. His excitement at going to LittWorld (he was a plenary speaker) finally rubbed off on me. I took the plunge and registered. My journal recorded: My sails filled with just the smallest breeze today.

LittWorld starts with worship, and that sets the tone for everything to come. On that opening night—standing in the middle of 250 people, from 52 nations, all praising God—my spirit soared for the first time in a long time. I felt the unity in our diversity, the joined purpose in our varied missions.

That sense of community and genuine care only grew as the week progressed. Every meal and every session I’d sit with somebody different, yet within a few moments it would feel as if we knew each other, as if we were old friends, brothers, sisters. Pusonnam who—in the African tradition of wise proverbs—delightfully creates maxims at the drop of a hat stated, “Here Love is not only a Special Guest, but the Chief Host.”

Sundoko and other valuable lessons

Inspiration and teaching came thick and fast at LittWorld. From Devotions which started at 7:30 am to General Sessions ending at 9 pm, there was seldom a lull in the programme. And one daren’t miss a thing because even the sessions I thought slightly less relevant to me (such as the one on Comics as a tool for evangelism) ended up delighting and challenging me to think in a different way. Amongst many other things, I learned that fiction is biblical (see 2 Sam. 12), that the Japanese have a word for the unread books on one’s bookshelf (I have a fair share of sundoko myself) and that for fiction writers there are no bad things in life, only good copy for our next book.

Over and over again, displays of beautiful generosity humbled me. Next to me at the book table, Nelson from the Philippines, gave away far more books than he sold. In fact, his opening words to me were, “Please choose a book for yourself.” At the CrossWay publishing book table, the same thing happened. I asked the price of a book and received it as a gift. How very counter-cultural this was for me and how eye-opening that as Christian writers we’re here to bless others, that reaching someone’s heart is far more important than reaching sales targets.

The Sailboat Image Returns

In the last Devotion, Soo-Inn Tan, the chaplain, spoke about going forward in our writing and publishing ministries. He used the image of a sailboat, its sails filled with wind. Soo-Inn reminded us that we need to be filled with God’s Spirit in order to gain momentum and direction for ministry. I had the sense that—through the image God had used in my life before—He was speaking just to me. I must not allow my little sailboat to flounder again.

Back in the real world, it’s easy to forget the lessons of LittWorld. Love wholeheartedly. Serve selflessly. Write with excellence, passion and creativity, teaching others to do the same. It’s easy to get swept back into the culture that seeks glory for self and not for God. Away from the warm, encouraging community, it’s even easy to let the doubts and discouragement creep in again.

But LittWorld has given me the gift of seeing what wholehearted love and service looks like, and I suspect (and hope) that any time I settle for anything less in my writing ministry, a sense of discontentment will convict me to aim higher.

MAI’s LittWorld 2018 – The WORD made fresh. I’m  grateful that God sent my little boat this way and I’m excited to see where we sail to next.

photo credit (t-shirt): Sabriena Loh Liling