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Corban University

July 17, 2018

“Chosen for Such a Time”: Alumna Maryann Remsburg’s Debut Novel Brings the Story of Esther to Life

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14

Maryann Remsburg (’97) had been living in Saudi Arabia for two years when reports of attacks on a neighboring compound reached her and her family. Maryann, her husband Brian (’96), and their children had visited the compound only a week previously for dinner. Now there were rumors that militants had gone door to door, held people at gunpoint, and asked, “Are you a Christian?”

“I was sure we were supposed to leave,” Maryann remembers. “I had decided—for God and for our family—it’s time to go.” Brian was even flying out of town for a job interview. But before he left, he asked Maryann to spend the weekend in prayer.

At the beginning of the weekend, Maryann was certain she knew what God’s answer would be. “Why would he want us to stay here? We had two little kids at the time.” But in the course of 48 hours, “God took away all my fear.” Brian flew back in from his interview, and they both agreed that they should stay.

“We stayed ten more years. We grew so much and were able to do so much ministry. If we had let that fear control us and take us out of Saudi Arabia, we would have missed so much.”

It might be a stretch to call Maryann a modern-day Esther—and she would probably resist the comparison. But the incredible lessons she’s learned about stepping out in faith are the same lessons she hopes Christian men and women will ponder as they read her debut novel, Chosen for Such a Time.

Maryann had no aspirations to write a book. She had journaled for herself and done a bit of blogging, but she had never imagined she would write a novel—especially not a novel that combined romance with terrorism and betrayal in the White House!

But about nine years ago, while Maryann was doing her devotions on the book of Esther, she became captivated by Esther’s story. “What would she have been like?” she found herself wondering. Although it’s easy to turn Bible characters into superheroes, Maryann knew Esther had been a real person, who must have experienced real fear and doubt—not unlike the fear she herself had experienced in the Middle East.

She began jotting down notes, more for personal reflection and study than anything as ambitious as a novel.

Slowly, Maryann’s notes turned into more complex sketches as she contemplated each of the people who’d played a role in Esther’s story, what they would have been like, and how she could make sense of them in a modern context.

Her notes and ponderings eventually turned into the beginnings of a novel that recasts the story of Esther in modern America, turning King Xerxes into a petulant president named Xander, Haman into a treacherous Chief of Staff who’s been plotting with the leaders of Iran, and Esther into a political science student who finds herself on a version of The Bachelor.

If Maryann’s novel sounds like a soap opera, it’s supposed to. She wanted to transform the story of Esther into something that was gripping and digestible for a modern audience, while simultaneously pointing to themes of trust, faith, and obedience, and ultimately encouraging people to return to Scripture to read the book of Esther.

“I really tried to follow the biblical account as much as I could,” Maryann says. “I tried to go through scene by scene and say, ‘How would that have worked out today?’”

Some scenes would stump her for a while—for example, the gold scepter the King would hold out to Esther to give her permission to approach. “We have nothing like that today,” Maryann says. So instead of committing a fatal blunder, Esther commits a social one, as she walks up to the President in the middle of a televised press conference.

Other challenges included simply finding the time to write in the midst of a sometimes-hectic work schedule and taking care of her growing family.

But every time she set the project aside, “God just kept prompting.” What if just one person needs to hear this story in order to step out in faith? “Okay,” Maryann would think, “I would keep writing even if it were for just one person.” Often, she wondered if that one person was herself.

After years of writing, rewriting, and revising, Maryann finally had a finished manuscript. And yet something was still missing. She felt stuck. The answer came one day from a serendipitous conversation with a stranger at the airport.

“I was waiting to board a plane, going back to Saudi Arabia,” Maryann remembers. In the boarding line, she noticed a woman perusing what looked like a manuscript. “Are you an author?” she asked, indicating the manuscript. The woman explained that she was actually consulting for another author. Her name was Elaine Wright Colvin, and she and Maryann began talking. They soon learned they were both believers, and they had both graduated from Corban University.

“You don’t happen to have a manuscript on you, do you?” Elaine asked. Of course, Maryann did.

Their conversation was interrupted when the boarding lines began to move. But a couple of hours into the flight, Maryann made her way to Elaine’s seat. “I squatted down next to her chair until my legs were numb!”

Elaine was encouraging, but Maryann says, “She basically told me that the novel needed a lot of work.” Her biggest suggestion was rewriting the novel from third person to first person. “She said it needed to feel like a movie. People nowadays don’t want to read ‘slow.’ They want to read ‘fast’!”

So Maryann undertook the process of rewriting. She changed her third-person novel—which had felt a little static—to first person with rotating perspectives. While many chapters are from Esther’s point of view, some are now from Haman’s perspective, some are from Mordecai’s, and some are from King Xerxes himself (President Xander). This was the missing link, the element that transformed Maryann’s novel into a page turner.

As most authors know, it’s tempting to just keep making revisions, rehashing and reshaping a manuscript and never truly finishing it. But finally, Maryann took a leap of faith and self-published her book on Amazon.

“Honestly, I know there are probably still things in here people will find, and they’re welcome to write and tell me!” she laughs, explaining that one of the joys of print-on-demand is that you can easily go back and fix small mistakes.

But for the most part, she’s received an overwhelmingly positive response—from men as well as women. “Out of the first ten responses, six were men, and the men were positive. That was really encouraging.” She’s also received positive response from teens. One of her friends sent her a picture of her 16-year-old daughter reading away, engrossed. Another friend asked if it was an appropriate book for young adults. “It’s very appropriate,” she assured her. “I tried to keep it clean for all audiences.”

While the content is PG, the themes remain intense. Esther’s internal struggle about marrying a man she knows isn’t a believer mirrors Maryann’s own time of struggle and prayer in Saudi Arabia. The threat to Jewish people hearkens back to actual events from World War II—specifically the internment of Japanese Americans in U.S. camps—and threats of terrorism from Iran are loosely based on real tensions and hatred in the Middle East.

Having lived in the Middle East herself, Maryann has experienced first-hand the real hatred many people still hold toward Israel. At the same time, she and her husband have developed close relationships with people from many nationalities. “Yes, you have an Iranian villain in the story, but there are so many people who we love from Iran too.” She hopes readers will come to her book with the knowledge that every nation has people with hatred and evil intentions, as well as people who truly desire peace and love.

But Maryann’s biggest hope for readers is that they will be encouraged to step out in faith. “If God asks you to do something, he’s going to give you the strength to do it. Step out for him, and live the adventurous life that God has called you to.”

Since publishing her book, Maryann has had countless opportunities to step out boldly in faith. In addition to moving their family back to the States, Maryann and Brian have been working toward starting their own ministry in the form of adventure marriage retreats! Their vision is to take couples on adventures such as hiking, biking, and kayaking trips, while giving them challenges and opportunities for reflection along the way. In the meantime, and as part of her passion for helping people live out the adventurous life God has called them to, Maryann provides biblical career counseling through Career Direct. She hopes to begin leading career workshops soon. “Stepping out in a new ministry that doesn’t involve regular paychecks” has been scary at times, she admits, but Maryann and Brian know they wouldn’t be living out God’s design for their lives if they didn’t embrace the uncertainty and adventure of stepping out in faith.

“Chosen for Such a Time” can be purchased on Amazon, in both print and e-book format.

Written by Amelia Kaspari, Staff Writer