Carolyn Rathbun Sutton is a retired teacher, missionary, editor and author. Based in Alabama, one of her current roles is compiling the yearly women’s devotional books in conjunction with the Department of Women’s Ministries at the General Conference. She spoke recently about this work.
What impact have spiritual books had in your own life and faith?
Growing up, I read many biographies about pioneering Christian missionaries. These books instilled in me a longing to become a missionary who could trust God in everything. During my years teaching in Africa, I repeatedly met the same faithful God at work in my life and situations. However, I also met Him there as a Person, not just as a nebulous deity behind a set of principles.
So what makes for a good devotional book?
First of all, prayer: prayer for the contributors who write for the books, for those who will read the books, and for every stage of the process. Second, in my opinion, a good Christian devotional has four components: (1) a succinctly-worded personal anecdote—this engages the mind; (2) a life problem or conflict—this engages the emotions; (3) a resolution or the possibility of one—this brings hope to the heart; (4) a concise take-away that the reader can apply immediately to her own life—this engages the will, the power of choice. Strong devotionals make for a strong book.
How do you go about putting these books together?
Twenty-five years ago, the Women’s Ministries Department began compiling a yearly devotional book—for women by women—to raise scholarship funding for the higher education of Adventist women around the world. Since 1992, proceeds from these books have funded approximately 2200 scholarships in 127 countries. In 2014, I was invited, as a freelance editor, to edit these books. Any Adventist woman can submit her devotional to the Women’s Ministries Department. After the devotionals are received and formatted, they are sent to me to compile them into book format, edit the manuscript, and send the project back for distribution, translation and printing.
"I have never been given anything this beautiful or helpful before. The stories of these women just give me hope and courage . . ."
What impact do these many stories have on you personally?
Of course, I rejoice when the women’s stories have happy endings. Yet what impacts me most deeply is the faith, personal resilience and strength of women whose challenges have not been resolved. Their outlook of hope, their submission to God’s all-knowing will and faithfulness have sometimes brought me to my knees—not only to pray for them in the face of their unspeakable challenges but also to ask God for faith like theirs.
Do you have a favourite among the devotional books you have worked on?
Honestly, every devotional book that comes out each year is my favourite one! Why? Because there is power in story. Over the years, my husband and I have shared so many of these books as gifts of encouragement with women from all walks of life. A few months after receiving her devotional book gift, the woman who currently cuts our hair told us, “I have never been given anything this beautiful or helpful before. The stories of these women just give me hope and courage. Thank you again for this gift which just keeps on giving!” As I said—“power in story”.
Why is there value in sharing our stories of God’s faithfulness and love?
Not only are others encouraged and blessed when they learn of God’s faithfulness in our lives but we too are blessed when we share. Christ told the healed demoniac (see Luke 8:39) to go back to his “home” to tell others what God had done for him. Yet when Jesus returned to that area some time later, people from at least 10 different cities came to hear His teaching because of that one man’s testimony. When one woman shares her story in a devotional book, she is sharing it with thousands of readers. I firmly believe God blesses all involved. My constant prayer is, “More souls for the kingdom, Lord, through these stories.”
Carolyn Sutton’s books are available from Adventist Book Centres.