Guest Kay Marshall Strom is well acquainted with the Deep. The author of over 40 books, she’s also travelled the world—but where she goes is where God leads. And where God has led her is to the poorest and most oppressed places. Places where she’s had to face her own weakness, where she’s been held at gunpoint, and where she learned, without a doubt, that God is sufficient.
About Kay Marshall Strom
Kay Marshall Strom is an author, speaker, and 21st century abolitionist whose book topics provide a wide variety of speaking possibilities, including the global family of God and a Christian perspective on justice and mercy. She also speaks at writers’ conferences and workshops. Learn more about her speaking, teaching, books, and travels at her website kaystrom.com.
Thanks to our patrons on Patreon, we can provide an edited transcript of the show!
Erin: Hello listeners and welcome to the deep. We are so glad you’re joining us. We’re glad because we have another interview today! We have Kay Marshall Strom with us today, and I’m going to let Karen introduce her.
Karen: Of course you are! Kay, you and I met, I don’t know how many years ago at writers conferences, and the thing that I noticed first about Kay was that she had such a peaceful spirit about her. Just a sense of real contentment, and that struck me because I’ve never been a peaceful person. I’ve been a little bit of a stormy person, so to meet someone like Kay impressed me. She was a speaker at one of the conferences I was speaking at as well. She was one of the keynoters, and she talked about something she’s going to share with us in a little bit, about memorizing scripture. How important that is. I was so impacted by that. It just changed everything for me.
I’m delighted Kay is here. In addition to being a terrific person, she is a traveler. She rails against social injustice wherever she encounters it, and she calls herself a passionate citizen of the world. She’s got 39 published books, seven of which have been book club selections, 12 have been translated into foreign languages, and one has been optioned for a movie. So she’s out there shaking the world with the stuff she’s doing for God. We’re so excited to have her here. Her writing has appeared in a number of volumes including the NIV Devotional Bible and the devotional book My Heart, Christ’s Home, Through the Year. Kay, welcome to the deep.
Kay: Thank you. What a privilege and a joy it is to be here with you.
Erin: We are delighted to have you here. I actually had the privilege of hearing you speak at Mount Hermon as well just recently. We’ll talk more about that. But first, Kay, we want to ask you what we ask everybody. What does the deep mean to you?
Kay: The deep to me means the hard places. That’s when faith is a little more difficult to come by. God seems farther away. We seem like we’re on our own. That’s what it means to me. I have been through some hard places.
But when I’ve been in great places I feel the deep in a different way—to be deeply into the lap of God.
Erin: Talk about some of those hard places. Pick one, I know you have a lot!
Kay: Well, our house burned, and that’s when I had three books in process.
Karen: Oh my gosh!
Kay: One of them was actually completed and was already being advertised and sold in Zondervan’s catalog. And Zondervan had lost the copy because they had a virus in their computer. So they said to me—we were on vacation—they said, “When you get home send us a copy of the book as soon as you can.”
Well, there was no book to send.
Karen: Okay, writers. Everybody, let’s just have a moment of silence and grieving!
Kay: That’s deep.
Karen: That is deep!
Erin: What was your first thought? What did you do when you discovered that there was no book?
Kay: I didn’t know what to do. I thought, “I’ve gotta rewrite it.” And that’s actually what I did. But of course all my research and everything was gone too. But I rewrote it, and did one page at a time, and zipped it off to Zondervan. And did the next page and zipped it off, and the book came out.
Erin: Okay, wait a minute. Let’s review. Your house is burned down, and you’re still writing a book? How, logistically, did that work out?
Kay: Actually, when the house burned, we were in England. My husband was dying of a terrible condition, and we were on vacation. I’d decided we needed to take one last vacation together. My children were ready to start college. So, we were actually in England. We had a little bit of—I started to say a break, but I guess it wasn’t really a break—before we came home to the burned-down house. Other than that, everything was great.
Karen: How long had your husband been sick?
Kay: He died. This was a genetic condition that we didn’t know he had, and it showed itself probably 15 years before he died.
Erin: Oh, my word.
Karen: Were you being his caregiver for that long?
Kay: Yeah, I really was. In fact I did a book on that because I couldn’t find any books for caregivers to help us know how to steer through this kind of a thing. It was really difficult. And then of course all our insurance was immediately canceled because they said it was a pre-existing condition. So, I was supporting everybody on my writing too. Other than that…
Karen: No deep places in your life at all!
Kay: No, no. But that’s what I think of when I think of deep, because some great things came out of even those awful situations.
Karen: Okay, such as?
Kay: Learning to trust God. Learning what I should have known. The writing wasn’t my writing, it came from God because my brain stopped. Learning what I was able to do when I had to. And turning not only my husband over to God, but also my children who were away from home because of college. So, we made it.
Erin: What did you feel were the biggest struggles as you were trying to be a caregiver and as you’re trying to support your family with your writing? What did you feel was the biggest struggle and what did you learn the most through that?
Kay: Two things. One thing was, we were very active in our large church but everybody just sealed up tight. Nobody came to visit. Nobody. Even the pastors didn’t come to pray with my husband, even though I requested it repeatedly. I think the thing was, it was just hard to see what was happening to him. They couldn’t see that. So I learned that I cannot depend on people. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I mean, people are not the place we should put our trust and our dependence.
Kay: It has to be in God.
Karen: How did you do that? Because I know that for me, I’m such a social person, I’m such an extrovert, that my first thing to do is to reach out to people and to find support to be able to talk to people. So when you felt like you were in the place of isolation, when they weren’t reaching out to you, what did you do?
Kay: I went to a Christmas party. I didn’t really want to go, because I thought I shouldn’t, but I got a babysitter and went. All I could think of was what was going on, what I still had to do, my books that were getting behind. I was standing by the fireplace, and a woman I had never seen before came up and stood on the other side. And I had to talk. I had to.
I started pouring my heart out to her. She’d said, “How are you?” That was the mistake. And so I just started pouring my heart out. I purposely took a breath in the middle of a sentence so I wouldn’t come to an end of a sentence and breathe and she would leave. I could not let her go.
And I talked and talked. Afterwords, I was just humiliated, and I went home. But when I saw that woman later, she said, “I understood. I knew you were in pain, and I have been praying for you nonstop since that.” And I thought, even in that, God was taking care of me. At that point.
So things like that happened. I could not really take a shower or take a bath or anything because I had to be with my husband all the time. He would, you know, throw things out of the freezer. Or go peek in the neighbor’s windows and stuff. I had to be with him all the time.
One day the postman came to the door and said, “I have a package for you.”
I said, “Oh, would you please come in and stay with my husband? Just read him a story while I go take a bath? I’ll take it really fast.”
And he looked at me, and he said, “Okaaay…” And he did.
Kay: So you never know where the help is going to come from.
Karen: I think one of the most valuable things is that you asked him for help. I mean, I realize it came out of a place of desperation—
Kay: It came out of a deep place.
Karen: We’re often so reticent to ask people for help, and I think there’s a lesson in that. We need to be open and vulnerable enough to do so.
Erin: How did you get words written during that time, practically speaking, what would you do?
Kay: I wrote at night. I stayed up most all night and wrote. I tried to just sit in a chair and get little cat naps during the day. But when I stay up too late and I’m too sleepy, I start hallucinating. And I would see my grandma outside the window and I would say, “Okay, Grandma, I know what you’re saying—get to bed—but just hold on, I’ve got to do this.”
And so I really had a nice time with my grandmother during those days, who died many, many years before.
Karen: Good heavens!
Kay: That’s what I had to do. I had to write at night.
Erin: Wow. And she’s got 39 books people. I’m just sayin’. And articles.
Kay: Actually, 44 now.
Karen: Oh, my!
Erin: And counting! One of the things I loved that you wrote on your website was that you talked about being a passionate citizen of the world. I’m guessing you’ve done some world travel?
Kay: Oh my! You should see my passport. I have. The thing is, people say, “Oh, did you have a nice time?” I’d say, “No. I was in a refugee camp in Sudan. It wasn’t lots of fun.”
Mostly what my traveling is—I write about social justice issues—and most of my traveling is among the poorest and the most destitute and the most neglected people the world. I especially look for the people who know Christ, and I ask them, “What can we do for you? How can we work alongside of you? How can we help you? And how can we learn from you as well?” So that’s generally what I do. And the stories that I hear are heartbreaking in many cases.
Erin: What’s an example of one that touched you the most?
Kay: This was one that I told recently, but it was when I was in north Africa, in a country there. It’s hard to tell the names of the countries because they’re all, you know, very hidden, the Christians are. But the Christian women met me in the middle of the night. They had sheets over them so that I couldn’t see them, so that if I was stopped, I wouldn’t be able to identify anybody.
Kay: Yeah, it was for their protection. One of the women said to me, “The only reason the few Christians that are here are allowed to exist is because of the pressure your country puts on our country. And the only reason there’s any pressure put on our country, is because the Christians in your country put pressure on your government. The day that pressure stops is the day we will be wiped from the face of the earth. Our total existence depends on you. And you don’t even know we exist. You in America don’t even know we’re here.”
And I just cried. It’s true.
Erin: So everybody who’s listening to this podcast can now pray for these women.
Kay: That’s right. That’s exactly right. And north Africa. The struggle is so great in so many of those countries.
Erin: Kay, what got you involved in this to begin with? Where did this passion come from? How did God birth this passion for social justice in you? And to go? Not many people say, “Yay I’m going to go traveling to the poorest hardest places in the world! Pick me! Pick Me!” How did that happen?
Kay: That’s right. Well, it was interesting. It was after my husband had died, and I was doing a lot of reading. I like to read biographies of people. I was reading about Marie Antoinette. I read in there about how at that time there was great famine in the area and the poor people were starving in Paris. She decided to have all the royals over for a big dinner, so she had them over, and there was so much food that the tables were literally sagging with the food. After three days the royals went home and there was still leftover food. And Marie Antoinette said to her husband, “You know, we shouldn’t throw all this food away. Let’s put it on the streets so that the poor people can eat it.”
He said okay, so they had the servants do that. And King Louis and Marie Antoinette watched from the windows of the tower as the people of Paris were crawling on their hands and knees to lick the food off the streets. They were so starving. And Marie Antoinette said to her husband, “How kind we are to our peasants here. They must love us!”
Down in the streets they were saying, “We’re going to have your head.” Which they did.
The thing was, Marie Antoinette was not cruel. She was just totally clueless.
After I read that book, we experienced 9/11 and the destruction of the twin towers. And I went to church that Sunday and one of the elders stood up and said, “We need to pray for the people affected by this awful situation. We are so good to the world. You’d think they would love us.”
And I just gasped. We are Marie Antoinette. We have no idea what the world needs, what the world wants, what we can do for them, and where we need to back off. We don’t know.
So I approached all the editors I’d been working with and suggested a book of going around to the hardest places of the world and talking to the Christians and saying, “What do you need? What can we do? And where can we step back and learn from you?”
Every one of the editors said, “We can’t do it. It’s a good idea, but nobody cares. Nobody cares in this country about anybody outside our borders, and the book won’t sell.”
Finally a group that I worked with, Partners International, helped me decide where to go and how to do it. But the book was published by InterVarsity Press. They said, “It probably won’t sell, but we want to do it, because it should be written whether it sells or not.”
And it was one of their top sellers that year! People do care. We just don’t know. People don’t know, and when they know, they don’t know what they can do. That’s how I got into it.
Erin: What’s the name of that book? I can put a link in for our listeners.
Kay: That book is Daughters of Hope. And after that is Forgotten Girls, in that same series. The one that I did on the organization that helped to sponsor me to go the first time is Harvest of Hope. Those are the three major books that are written along that line, and tell stories of the women I met and the people.
Erin: I love it. For all you listeners, we’ll have links in the show notes so you can check those out. Kay, I’ve heard you talk about a story before about what encouraged you to start memorizing scripture. Tell our listeners that because I think it’s just amazing.
Kay: It was when I was in China doing some of the same work that I’ve been telling you about. I was invited to go to a house church. It was not on a Sunday, and there was nobody there, and they said, “Be ready to run if we tell you to because it’s illegal for people who are not Chinese to be in Chinese homes. And there I was.”
Erin: Were you scared?
Kay: I have gotten over being scared.
Erin: I love it!
Kay: I have been imprisoned, and I have been held at gunpoint, and all these things. And I’ve just gotten over being scared.
Karen: Oh, my word!
Erin: Okay, everyone, will cover those stories next!
Kay: As I was in that house, they were showing me around, just a little house. The living room had two pieces of furniture. A big table and one little chair. The men took the wood top off the table and it was actually a hidden baptismal. So I thought that was kind of neat.
But I was looking at that, and a little old woman came in and sat down in a chair. She took out piece of paper from her pocket and a pencil, and just kind of sat there holding the pencil. I said to the translator, “What does she want?”
“Well,” she said, “We don’t have much of the Bible, and she wants you to start reciting some of it so that we can write it down, and we can put it in our collection, and we can share it with other churches.”
And I said, “Uh…recite some of it?” And I thought, well I know verses…
She said, “No, we want you to recite chapters.”
And I said, “Chapters?”
Erin: Oh dear.
Kay: I thought, “Well, I’ll start with the 23rd Psalm. I can do that one right off my head.”
She said, “Start with Romans. We don’t have any Romans. It’s illegal in this country. If you could just do a couple of chapters of Romans it would mean everything to us.”
I said, “Chapters of Romans? Oh dear. I—I don’t know any.”
She said, “Oh, you don’t have Romans either?”
I said, “No, no we have it. I have it on my shelf in my office. And I have it in different rooms. I have it on my computer, on my phone. But I don’t know it.”
And that woman gave me such a look of disdain when the translator told her what I said. She picked up her paper, picked up her pencil, turned her back on me, and stalked out of the room.
The thing is, my favorite chapter of the Bible is Romans eight. Think of what I could have told them if I had known that chapter. I could have said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
And I could’ve said, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” And then I could’ve said, “What then shall we say in response to all of these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who didn’t spare even His own son but lifted Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, gloriously, graciously give us all things?”
And then all the way down to, “What can separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble or hardship, persecution or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No. In all of these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. And I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present, nor the future, nor any powers, neither height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
But I couldn’t say that because I didn’t learn, I didn’t memorize, Romans eight until I got home. I never, ever want to be in that situation again. So I’ve been learning major passages that I think are especially appropriate for the Holy Spirit to bring to mind when I’m in a situation where I need to do that.
Karen: I’ve got to tell you, I’ve heard this story before, but even sitting here listening as you were reciting the words from Scripture, I just got chills all over. The power of God’s Word, and the impact that it has on us, we take it so for granted without recognizing that these are the words of life. How can we not consign them to memory and to our hearts, that God can use them when the time is right?
Kay: Yes. That’s exactly right.
Karen: So just very quickly share with us when you were held at gunpoint.
Erin: We need to know that now!
Kay: I was in Nepal, and the Maoists were taking over. But we decided we were going to go ahead and go where we were going to go anyway, and if they asked us where we were from, we’d say Canada like we always do because it’s safer. And they can’t read what’s on our passport anyway. So we thought we were safe. But we were stopped by the Maoists. They held us for about a day and a half. Then they said they were going to let us go since we weren’t from the US, we were from Canada. They got in the car with us, but put the gun to my head as we drove down.
I thought, “Boy, I hope we don’t hit a bump.” But it turned out all right. They let us go, and all as well.
Erin: You’ve been everywhere. Out of all of your travels, out of all of the things that you’ve experienced, what would you say is one thing our listeners could take away, or could do, or could be encouraged by?
Kay: One of the most impacting things that has happened is my time in the Sudanese refugee camp. They were holding—out of Khartoum—they were holding the south Sudanese there. It was mostly women, because the men had been killed. Women and children. They told me, “We hate it here. We just hate it here, and we want badly to go home. But as long as we’re here, we will be missionaries for Christ.”
The guards would come by and say, “What are you doing?” They’d be singing and clapping and dancing. “Why are you happy? Do you not see where you are?”
And they said, “Oh, yeah. Come and listen.”
By the time South Sudan became a country of its own, and they sent all those people back, by that time they’d closed down the refugee camp. But, no surprise, Sudan—which is Muslim, and South Sudan is Christian—the Muslim Sudan, they said, “Our capital city of Khartoum will never, ever have a Christian church. Never.”
Well today, there are 14 known Christian churches, and every one of them has been started by one of those guards, who came to Christ because those women determined they were going to be missionaries wherever they were.
Karen: There’s the word for each one of us today as we’re listening to you and being amazed by what God has done through you, that He will do the same thing if we just present ourselves to Him. If we’re willing, then, to do what it takes to be a missionary for God wherever we are. In our writing, in our families, in everything.
Kay: That’s exactly right.
Karen: Kay, thank you so much for spending this time with us. You have so many stories, we’re going to have to have you come back again and share lots more. But we appreciate your time with us and your reminder of the importance of knowing the Word deep in our hearts and in our memories, and of being willing to be a missionary wherever God has us. May He continue to bless you and what you do for Him.
Kay: Well, thank you, and thank you so much for allowing me to be in this place that is in the deep in a positive way. Thank you.
Karen: You bet.
Erin: Thank you.
We want to hear from you!
Has God asked you to go somewhere that made you uncomfortable? What happened?
Links to books by Kay Marshall Strom
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