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.
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.
Astronomy, 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.
January 27 is Multicultural Children’s Book Day when bloggers, authors and publishers unite to showcase multicultural books for kids, libraries, schools and parents. Multicultural Children’s Book Day creators, Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen, enlist authors in book giveaways for educators http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/.
Award-winning author, Karl Beckstrand is from San Jose, Calif., but he has lived in many places—including South America. He speaks Spanish and English and can grasp German, Italian, French, and Portuguese. Two companies published his early works. Since 2004 he has run Premio Publishing & Gozo Books, which features black, white, Asian, Hispanic and American Indian characters.
“Twenty of our titles have characters of color,” Beckstrand said, “including a Young Adult novel set in Nevada’s silver rush. Our newest book is ‘The Dancing Flamingos of Lake Chimichanga.’ Many of our books are bilingual with a pronunciation guide in English and Spanish.”
“My first publisher died the day we were to print my first book,” Beckstrand said. “I had to learn the ropes of publishing and marketing.” With that lesson and experience with another publisher, Beckstrand has run PremioPublishing.com for more than ten years.
Premio Publishing has earned its share of recognition. “Bright Star, Night Star: An Astronomy Story” hit number two on Amazon’s Hot New Children’s Books list and won a 2014 UP Author’s design award. “To Swallow the Earth” is a finalist for the Laramie Award. “She Doesn’t Want the Worms – Ella no quiere los gusanos” was in ForeWord Reviews Magazine’s top 10 Best Books of 2011 and featured in School Library Journal. “Crumbs on the Stairs – Migas en las escaleras” consistently ranks in Amazon’s top 10 bestselling books for ESL, large print and Spanish children’s titles. “Bad Bananas: A Story Cookbook for Kids” was praised in Horn Book’s blog, and bilingual app/book “Sounds in the House: A Mystery” was given a nod by Kirkus Reviews.
“We’re working on a graphic novel and more multicultural/multilingual books,” Beckstrand said. “‘The Bridge of the Golden Wood’ teaches children how to earn and save money. ‘Agnes’s Rescue’ is the true story of a girl who walked a thousand miles across the plains into the Rocky Mountains in blizzard conditions (much of the way without shoes). ‘Butterfly Blink’ is the second in a wordless book series.”
All published titles can be found via Amazon/Kindle, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble.com/Nook, Brodart, EBSCO, Flipkart, Follett, Gardners, iBooks, Ingram, Inktera, Kobo, Library Direct, Mackin, OverDrive, Quality, SCRIBD, txtr as well as free ebooks at http://GozoBooks.com.