Serving Brings Happiness

Over the past 22 years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching English to immigrants on a volunteer basis in both California and Utah. I’ve also been able to donate hundreds of my multicultural/bilingual picture books to refugee and other charitable organizations for language learning. While I’ve been the teacher, it’s been an education for me. Students from Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, China, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, El Salvador, and Syria have enriched my world. These people are so grateful for the privilege of living in the greatest country on earth. (If you don’t yet know that the United States is the greatest country, find a way to live abroad–not simply visit tourist capitals.) While their language abilities vary, they want very much to master English and contribute positively to the community. Some of their stories are too intense for human consumption (and yet these humans have lived them). Sacrifice and struggle seems to be the price to come here. These people are generous with the little they have and are always grateful for help with perhaps the most difficult language in the West. If you can make time to help newcomers, I promise you, it is the cure for self-focus and “the world is going to heck” thinking. Find service opportunities in your area by typing your zip code in the following site: JustServe.org. You will be happier than you are today.

Me, Inside & Out

People often ask me how I—a South African, Scottish Swede—came to speak Spanish. I also get quizzed about being so thin. Both are the result of my LDS mission to Viña del Mar, Chile. Actually, my mom was an enthusiastic student of Spanish, so she spoke broken Spanish to us while we were growing up in San Jose, California (she used to call me Carlos).

If they are physically and mentally healthy, and if they meet the standards of worthiness, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the privilege of serving a volunteer mission when they reach eighteen to twenty something years (also at retirement age). I was healthy, but I’d made some choices that were less than worthy. I remember at 18 going to a room alone and declaring—not to God, but to the devil—that I would qualify to serve a mission no matter what! While my determination was admirable, God knew I could not do it alone. It would be years before I realized that it was Christ’s grace that qualified me.

After submitting an application, having ecclesiastical interviews, medical exams, and my wisdom teeth pulled, it was a thrill to bid my friends and family farewell, get some training, and fly to Santiago, Chile. I LOVED the country, the people, and the language. I got sick almost monthly, and learned what real service was (from the people I had come to serve).

We missionaries saw thousands of people embrace the gospel of Christ and receive the blessings of following God’s plan of happiness. I learned that God’s love is tenacious. I witnessed miracles (especially when I could first understand the fast-speaking people). I gained an appreciation for U.S. freedoms while living under a dictator. I distributed food, helped build a house, and got in-person training from a prophet and apostles. I gained life-long friends with some of the most generous people on earth (we mission associates—gringo and Chileno—still gather whenever we can and marvel at the extraordinary things we were able to be a part of). Mostly, I had a profound and personal assurance that I was doing the most important work on the planet. It’s hard to describe that joy.

What I didn’t realize is that a double course of antibiotics (after having my wisdom teeth pulled) had sent me defenseless into an environment of microbes my body had never known.

At first I only had occasional discomfort once I was home. As the years passed, stomach stress became constant and often painful. Despite visits to Stanford Medical Center and countless other doctors, no one has yet identified or remedied the problem. I soon lost confidence in my ability to control my body. This began to impact my social life. While I’ve dated more women than I can remember or number, each date was first stressful, and eventually became a major effort. Soon, I would return from short dates completely wiped out.

Today my diet is severely restricted—as is my energy. My social life is paltry. I struggle to maintain even a runner’s body weight, and my gut remains inflamed. Please believe that this is not typical for a missionary who gets sick. Most I’ve met have found remedies. (Don’t fear travel, it’s perhaps the best education you’ll ever get—especially if you get away from the big cities.)

Still, I’ve been able to do nearly everything on my bucket list. My Spanish has proven helpful in my work and in countless other spheres. The following isn’t to brag (more to enumerate my blessings) —there’s a point I want to make at the end. In addition to gaining a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a film certificate, I have:

  • Been a commencement speaker for college graduation
  • Taught at a university
  • Sung in rock bands
  • Signed Legislation in D.C. (staffers do it all the time if the rep. is away)
  • Visited 4 continents, 12 countries, and 35 states
  • Created and headed two businesses
  • Volunteered at Stanford University Hospital
  • Helped found a Silicon Valley high-tech organization and handled their PR
  • Published 17 books (many award-winners and Amazon bestsellers)
  • Kayaked in whitewater
  • Lectured to large and small groups
  • Worked for IBM, Intel, and Marriott
  • Piloted a plane (not take-off or landing)
  • Hired hundreds of people
  • Been to an Olympic hockey medals game (my favorite sport to watch)
  • Performed for thousands (even alongside the Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
  • Water skied, snow skied
  • Been a Spanish interpreter
  • Acted in radio, TV, film
  • Been published in magazines & The U.S. Congressional Record
  • Had my scripts selected in competition (one produced on radio)
  • Repelled on and jumped from high cliffs
  • Been an ecclesiastical leader / served on a high council

My point is this: Even with my illness and the impact it has had on my life (I have yet to have a family of my own), if I had to choose between the experiences from my mission or those in the list above, without hesitation I would keep my treasured missionary service. Some might wonder whether I would do it again—knowing beforehand how it would change my life. I wouldn’t give up those changes for anything. If they called me to serve again today, I’d be the skinniest, weakest, happiest missionary on earth. My passport is still current.

STEM Books Spark Curiosity

stembooksmAstronomy, entomology, awards and wit

 

MIDVALE, Utah, Oct. 12, 2016 – Three multicultural books teach astronomy, entomology, zoology (and Spanish) — but kids would never know it from the mysteries, activities and giggles.

Cover contest winner “Butterfly Blink: A Book Without Words” is a new picture book fantasy that helps children (ages 2 – 6) cement vocabulary as they describe the monarch from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. Blink — and they multiply! The e-book version is free this month and includes habitat conservation information for all ages.

“Bright Star, Night Star: An Astronomy Story” (also a cover design winner) is a children’s book that accompanies an American Indian child in finding constellations, stars and other heavenly bodies. It exposes children (4 – 8) to the starry skies, Monument Valley, and a little space science. It is available in hard or soft cover — or as an e-book.

“She Doesn’t Want the Worms – Ella no quiere los gusanos: A Mystery” was named in the top 10 best books of 2011 by “ForeWord Reviews Magazine.” It is an educational activity book about a bi-racial girl who responds to some unusual animal gifts — that happen to be alive — and includes full text and a pronunciation guide in both English and Spanish. Kids (3 and up) or language learners can find and count insects, reptiles, a cat, and a bat. Get in Spanish-only, English-only, or bilingual versions as an e-book or in paperback.

The best-selling author of these nature books, Karl Beckstrand, has 17 multicultural books and more than 45 e-book titles – all family friendly. Beckstrand finds that Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) books can entertain while they educate (STEAM books include the arts). Raised in San Jose, Calif., he will present on publishing entertaining literature Tues. Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m. in the Weber County Library 2039 W. 4000 South, Roy, Utah and Sat. Nov. 5 from 1 – 4 p.m. at the Viridian Center 8030 S. 1825 West, West Jordan, Utah.

Award-winning Premio Publishing & Gozo Books’ STEM books capture attention, create repeat readers and are nationally lauded (ForeWord Reviews, Horn Book blog, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews). Not about ethnic or racial diversity, they simply feature black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and mixed-race characters. Find them at PremioBooks.com, online and at select retailers.

Ramblings of an International Relations Guy

Aside from stereotypical images of Jihadis and impoverished tent dwellers many of us have had, we westerners also misunderstand the predominant culture of the Middle East & North Africa. For example, I have heard Christian leaders denounce the worship of Allah (which is simply the Arabic word for God), as if he were some pagan idol. They ignore the common Abrahamic roots of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity and the fact that, like the Bible, the Qur’an has been interpreted in a myriad of ways to justify ideas and practices that are far from humble submission to God (the prevailing message of both texts).

Author Dona Stewart makes the important distinction that the intense hatred so common in the Middle East isn’t so much jealousy of our freedoms and prosperity, but our general departure from moral virtues–which Muslims value above freedom and tolerance–and the fact that we make this departure so alluring.

Most Muslims don’t begrudge us our technological progress; they’re happy to have access to it. It is the hollow secularism that is so often transmitted via technology that they resent. We in the West are the “Great Satan” not because we have democracy and science, but (speaking generally) because of how we choose to use it. Professor Daniel Peterson says that Western secularism is “simultaneously repulsive and attractive” to Muslims. It’s not just that we have vices contrary to Muslim sensibilities; it’s that they are so hard to resist. This internal conflict fuels intense resentment. While we in the West don’t have a monopoly on vice, our misunderstanding this critical difference in priorities exacerbates East/West frictions. This cultural divide is central to the chasm between the West and the Middle East & North Africa. Understanding it is critical to understanding East/West relations.

See:
Stewart, Dona J. 2009. The Middle East Today. New York: Routledge (page 10).
Peterson, Daniel. 2002. Perspectives on the Islamic World. Paper presented at the 13th Annual Conference of the International Society and the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, Aug. 18 – 19, at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.
Posted by Karl Beckstrand at 6/7/2012 6:26 PM | Add Comment

Perpetual Education

In April, 2001, then President, Gordon B. Hinckley, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in the church’s 171st annual (world) General Conference that the church was going to establish a Perpetual Education Fund for young adult members whose access to education and job training was limited by cost or other circumstances. The program was to be modeled after Brigham Young’s Perpetual Emigration Fund of the late nineteenth century, which helped bring 26,000 Latter-day Saint converts (mostly from Europe) to Utah Territory (Utah was not made a state until 1896) (Deseret News).

President Hinckley was concerned, as he visited members in various parts of the world, that many of them (including returned missionaries) were unable to fill their potential—or even adequately meet the needs of their families—because the cost of education was prohibitive. “We don’t want to give away money and make people weak,” he told the program’s future director (LDS Church News). “‘Where there is widespread poverty among our people, we must do all we can to help them to lift themselves, to establish their lives upon a foundation of self-reliance that can come of training” (LDS Conference Report).Since LDS ministers are lay clergy (non-paid), even these must have gainful employment outside their church service; and the standard of living in many states where the church operates was not conducive to job training or learning.

The educational loan fund was to be established initially by volunteer donations (which quickly poured in from all over the world), the interest of which is loaned out and then replaced as employed graduates paid back their loans into the fund. Early Mormon converts whose immigration was facilitated by the Perpetual Emigration Fund worked to restore monies into the Fund to assist other converts in their journey. Today, Perpetual Education Fund loan recipients work to replace what they have used so that others may benefit.

In 2001, the year of its creation, the PEF was offered in Mexico, Peru, and Chile. “The potential for failure might have loomed as the PEF’s newly appointed leaders rushed to begin providing loans by autumn of 2001, as President Hinckley had directed. Outside of the prophet [Hinckley]’s inspired outline there existed no business plan, no detailed proposal. The program was organized using the text of President Hinckley’s conference talk as its charter. Hundreds of loan applications were flooding into Church headquarters even as directors were being called and the basic structure of the program was being formed.

“But miracles were already taking place. Within the first year, millions of dollars had been donated to the program. Several individuals whose backgrounds made them uniquely qualified for the work of the PEF were immediately available to serve as volunteer directors. The infrastructure necessary to support the PEF globally had already been laid in the form of Church Educational System’s institute programs and Church Employment Resource Centers [around the world]. Things fell into place quickly, providing the program with what President Hinckley reported in April 2002 to be a ‘solid foundation’” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

Education has always been a paramount objective of the Latter-day Saints. After building temples, the church has typically sought to establish schools as its next highest priority. Church founder, Joseph Smith, Jr. taught, “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:18). LDS scripture also instructs, “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). “In part, this means that Mormons recognize a kind of learning that incorporates both intellect and spiritual insight. They also acknowledge that these are not unrelated: spiritual understanding, for instance, is necessary to give rational inquiry its ultimate purpose. Moreover, Latter-day Saints affirm that faith and reason are not fundamentally hostile to each other” (LDS Newsroom).

Brigham Young taught that Mormons embrace truth regardless of the source. “It is our duty and calling, … to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church … to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion” (Discourses of Brigham Young 1940,248).

In the ten years since its inception, more than 50,000 people in 450 countries have received PEF loans. “As of February 2011, 90 percent of those who have sought work after completing their schooling have found employment. Some 78 percent of those now employed say that their current employment is an improvement over what they had before receiving schooling, a figure expected to improve with time. The average income after schooling for PEF participants is three to four times greater than income prior to schooling, representing a vast improvement in economic status” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

“Today the program is made up of 47 percent men and 53 percent women. Of the men, 80 percent of the participants are returned missionaries and 82 percent of all participants work while going to school. On average, education and skills training takes 2.6 years, and the average total loan for one participant is about $1,800” (LDS Church News).

As more people donate to the fund, it expands to more countries. And the loans impact many more lives than just those who receive education. Rex Allen, PER Director of Training and Communications, explained: “As each participant marries and begins a family, the number of people blessed doubles, triples, and continues to multiply into the hundreds of thousands” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Loan recipients are able to give time and means to other worthy endeavors—including sharing the blessings of education with others.

“‘This program is growing very, very rapidly, and it really is quite a challenge to keep up with it,’ according to Elder John Carmack, PEF Director. Each area in the Church has its own committee to screen PEF applications. More than 98 percent of the applications that reach PEF headquarters in Salt Lake City are able to garner final approval.

“Elder Carmack estimates two-thirds of PEF recipients are current with or have completed the payback of their loans. ‘We would love to have 100 percent payback,’ he said. ‘These are people most of whom never even had a bank account. They have never been involved in a business transaction or signing a promissory note. But they’re paying back better and better all the time. For example, those who just joined the program in the last 12 months, their paying-back percentage is something like 88 percent. These people are showing their integrity, and we keep working to move that up’” (LDS Church News).

Still in its infancy, the PEF has much territory to cover (the PEF currently operates in 45 of the 175 countries and territories in which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a presence). It is difficult to estimate how many of the more than 14 million Latter-day Saints have need of education assistance.

The LDS Church Welfare program, which focuses on people’s temporal needs and helping them be self-reliant, began as a resource for church members only (today, church membership is not a requirement). Additionally, Latter-Day Saint Charities regularly delivers food, clothing, medical and other disaster relief, as needed, around the globe. As the PEF matures, the day may come when anyone who desires to improve their situation may apply for such a loan.

REFERENCES

Deseret News. Perpetual Education Fund a Success, but with Challenges.www.deseretnews.com/article/705380579/Perpetual-Education-Fund-a-success-but-with-challenges.html?pg=2(accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

Askar, Jamshid. 2009. Perpetual Education Fund is Making a Difference. LDS Church News, Sept. 11. www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/57887/Perpetual-Education-Fund-is-making-a-difference.html  (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

LDS Conference Report, April, 2001. The Perpetual Education Fund.http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,49-1-183-21,00.html (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Perpetual Education Fund Fulfills Prophetic Promises. lds.org/church/news/perpetual-education-fund-fulfills-prophetic-promises?lang=eng(accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

Doctrine & Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

LDS Newsroom. Mormons and Education: An Overview. newsroom.lds.org/article/mormons-and-education-an-overview (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

Widtsoe, John A. Discourses of Brigham Young. Deseret Book, 1941.LDS Church News. Celebrating Ten Years of the Perpetual Education Fund.

http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/61195/Celebrating-10-years-of-the-Perpetual-Education-Fund.html (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

PEF.LDS.ORG.PEF Success Stories. pef.lds.org/pef/southafrica_shirley?locale=eng(accessedNov. 22, 2011)

See also: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASteMXNHN-8 

class=”MsoNormal”>http://pef.lds.org/pef/home?locale=eng

Originally posted by Karl Beckstrand 2/7/2012 11:02 PM

The Press

My apologies, this isn’t about book presses or publishing; it’s about the news. I don’t know which is worse: agenda-driven propaganda or the reporters who perpetuate it.

Dear Reporters: before you grace us with your venerable ignorance, please read history. You are supposed to monitor government (not be monitored by them, not parrot them) to protect the people. –And you wonder why Americans get their news from late night comedians?
Dear Less-informed Citizens: Beware sound bites, video clips, and tweets where full context is chopped. Even high-information “news” people often offer short snippets that mislead for their own objectives. Your best bet is to get your information from multiple sources.  https://pressfreedomfoundation.org/ End rant. Thank you.

U.S. Spanish book sales climb

Midvale, UT, USA — Publishing is evolving and crossing borders like never before, as is children’s literature. Amazon.com’s recent entry into Spain and the explosion of Spanish-language ebook platforms are indicators of the next big publishing market. 

Sales of Spanish language books in the United States demonstrate significant demand–including for children’s literature in Spanish. Bilingual author Karl Beckstrand has seen demand grow for his Spanish-language and bilingual picture books and e-books. Beckstrand has had three titles on Amazon’s “Hot New Releases” in Spanish list. His Spanish titles outsell the English versions, though most of his titles come with an English/Spanish pronunciation guide. Positive national reviews by the Horn Book blog and ForeWord Reviews don’t hurt either.

Customers are not all likely to be to Spanish-speakers. It may be that individuals, schools, and families agree with Amazon: an additional language is a good idea. Considering that native Spanish speakers are more common than native English speakers worldwide (the only other native language more common than Spanish is Mandarin, according to Time and Wikipedia), Amazon’s lead should be followed. Beckstrand’s picture books may be a good start.

Premio Publishing & Gozo Books has been delighting families and educators since 2004. Our multicultural app, non-fiction stories and biographies, ebook mysteries, and activity books (geography, astronomy, Spanish & bilingual, finding/counting, opposites, animals and nature, and a kid’s cookbook) have diverse characters in funny, engaging, vivid color. Nationally-lauded (School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews) our educational stories capture attention and create repeat readers. Not about ethnic or racial diversity, they simply feature black, white, Asian, Hispanic and mixed-race children–with family values like courage, sharing, and giving. Find them via: Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble/Nook, Brodart, EBSCO, Follett/Title Wave, Ingram, Kindle/Amazon, Mackin, Overdrive, Quality Books, Sony/iBooks/Kobo/Android, and Premiobooks.com (SEE online books); a gift of laughter, learning & family fun for ages 2 and up (because bedtime should never put parents to sleep!).

Original Post by Karl Beckstrand: 11/22/2011 9:26 AM

The World

When Communism was about to fall, Francis Fukuyama wrote of a coming “end of history,” because democracy had won and free markets would unify the world via prosperity. 
     A little later, Benjamin Barber wrote of another reality: a coming collision between two hollow ways of living: Jihad and capitalism, “one re-creating ancient sub-national and ethnic borders from within, the other making national borders porous from without.”
     Barber seems a little jaded in his view of these clashing cultures: “…tribe against tribe … a hundred narrowly conceived faiths against every kind of interdependence,” versus, “[the true goal of free markets is] not liberty and the right to vote but well-paying jobs and the right to shop.”  
     While many supposed that “globalization” (information and capitalism) would triumph over tribal backlash, I don’t see national borders or cultures eroding as many have predicted. We can’t even agree on terminology, let alone environmental accords. “Imposing a free market may even have the opposite effect,” writes Barber. “Democracy grows from the bottom up and cannot be imposed from the top down.”
     “Nationalism was once a force of integration and unification …bringing together disparate clans, tribes, and cultural fragments under new, assimilationist flags,” he continues. “The passing of communism has torn away the thin veneer of internationalism … to reveal ethnic [differences]” This clash of traditions (ongoing since the beginning of recorded history) is why mortals will never arrive at a homogeneous sameness, and why it’s not a contest between only two soul-less ways of living. Thank heaven for non-conformity and third options! Hooray for distinct cultures—insofar as they don’t promote hatred and favoritism.
     Seeing the history of tradition, I don’t think we can dismiss it as a phase or a fad to be waited out. My friend from Albania says that as soon as communism fell, her people rebuilt their cathedrals (even though Christians are a minority there).
     It makes sense that government must be local, that it require buy-in and participation, and that cultural and national borders be respected. While I have great hope in the universality of information, Jihad will conquer democratic ideals unless we dying westerners (who refuse to procreate [oops—that’s me, gulp!]) teach the principles of freedom—if not to our children, then to those of the Jihadists. This education cannot take place in an environment of fear, isolation, or bigotry. It will also not occur if all that the rising generation seeks from the worldwide well of knowledge is music, games, and videos.

Fukuyama, Francis. 1989. “The End of History?” The National Interest, Summer.
Barber, Benjamin R. 1992. “Jihad Vs. McWorld” The Atlantic, March.

Posted by Karl Beckstrand at 9/22/2011 9:14 AM