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Reaching Young Hearts

An interview with author Robin Gunn, reveals how God used her heart for missions for reaching young hearts through her writing.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Beginning when she was only 12, Robin Jones Gunn had dreamed of opening the envelope that she now held in her hands.

Robin’s church often welcomed missionaries from Wycliffe Bible Translators to share how they translated Scripture into many languages and proclaimed the message of God’s grace across the globe. At the end of one presentation, a missionary showed a slide of the sun setting on the mission field. Robin was enchanted. She, too, wanted to travel the globe to share God’s love.

Reminded by a camp counselor that she could begin at home, Robin got to work. Eventually she started a Christian club at her high school that met during their lunch period.

She went farther afield during her college years. She even traveled to Europe one summer, smuggling Bibles into the then-Soviet Union. Convinced that God wanted her to serve overseas long term, she started the application process for missionary service at Urbana Student Missions Conference. She could expect a mailed response, but for now, all she knew was what the printer spat out: where on the mission field she was best equipped to serve.

She picked up the printout. Blinking, she paused. Could this be right? Was this really how she would fulfill her dream?

“Laundry Supervisor,” it read. “Nairobi, Kenya.”

Collecting herself, Robin applied for service there anyway.

Refining Her Passion

Robin asked the girls in the middle-grade Sunday school class she taught to pray for her. She told them stories of her imagined future, painting with words the adventure of sharing God’s love with Kenyan women and children while washing clothes alongside a wide river—the African savannah spread out before her.

But that long-awaited envelope revealed that the mission agency had denied her application.

“I felt like, if I can’t even wash clothes for Jesus in Africa,” Robin recalls, “then what good am I in service of our King?”

The teenage girls in her Sunday school class saw more clearly how God had gifted their teacher. Relieved at the news, they said they preferred her to stay with them and share more stories that displayed God’s love and grace. She told stories well, they said.

Only later would she realize how right they were. During the past 35 years, Robin has shared countless stories of God’s love and grace, publishing more than 100 fiction and nonfiction books and selling 6 million copies worldwide.

“Those books,” Robin says, “became missionaries that have gone out by the millions all over the world, [to] places I will never go. That’s how God accomplishes His purposes for our lives, never in the way we think it’s going to be.”

Mom and tween daughter sitting on bed talking to each other

Talking to Your Tween Daughter About
Bodily Changes Doesn't Have to be Awkward

How can you grow closer to your tween daughter and talk with her about the changes she's experiencing as she approaches adolescence and grows into the beautiful young woman God created her to be? Get the help you need by tuning in to our broadcast with counselor Jenny Coffey and Robin Jones Gunn, author of Before Your Tween Daughter Becomes a Woman.

Becoming a Writer

Robin’s knack for storytelling showed itself long before her missionary passion did. When she was in kindergarten, her teacher wrote on a report card: “Robin has not yet grasped her basic math skills, but she does keep the entire class entertained at rug time with her stories.”

Then again, outside of rug time, stories can be a problem.

“Growing up,” Robin wrote in her memoir, Victim of Grace: When God’s Goodness Prevails, “I got in trouble for telling stories. Teachers called it ‘lying.’ My sister called it ‘exaggerating—again.’ ”

So when the girls in her Sunday school class suggested she had a gift for storytelling, she balked. Never would she spend her life as a writer. Instead she decided to work on her math skills—taking a job at the local bank.

She soon met and married Ross, now her husband of 45 years, who served at the time as a youth minister.

He, too, saw her gift for storytelling, urging her to take writing classes at the community college and to read books about the craft.

“He even signed me up for a writers conference at Mount Hermon in California,” Robin says. “I was shy, intimidated, not a writer. He paid money so that I could go sit in front of people and prove I was an imposter.”

But within a few hours of arriving at the conference, she says, “I had found my tribe.”

The conference sparked her desire to write. During the next few years she penned articles, devotionals and children’s picture books. The Upper Room magazine offered her $10 for her first devotion.

“I was elated,” Robin recalls. The magazine sent a contract that requested her pen name. As soon as her father saw it, he reminded her that she had been a Jones much longer than she had been a Gunn.

So she became Robin Jones Gunn, professional writer.

Finding Her Voice

Camping with 70 teenagers from her church at California’s San Clemente State Beach one summer in the 1980s, Robin found several girls huddled in their tent. What were they doing here, she wondered, when there were sun and sand and surf and boys on the beach? 

The answer lay in a pile of books at their side. So Robin crawled into the tent and joined them in reading.

“It broke my heart what these 13-year-old girls were putting in their minds—these evocative love stories,” Robin says. “I begged them, ‘Please find something else to read!’ ”

But, they asked, what other books were there? “You’re a writer. Why don’t you write a book for us?”

When she returned home from the camp, Robin scavenged for books, but the girls were right. The selection was slim.

So during the next two years, she wrote her first novel. Now a mother with young children, Robin bought a new teapot, awoke at 3 a.m. every day and wrote for roughly four hours.

Each week she read her latest chapters to the teenage girls at church.

“They would tell me everything that was wrong with it, everything that needed to be changed,” Robin recalls. “But, as it was, the first book in the ‘Christy Miller’ series was being refined. It truly was the book they wanted to read.”

Reaching Girls Through Story

Thirty-five years ago this summer, that first entry in the series—Summer Promise—was released by Focus on the Family’s book publishing division.

Soon both Robin’s teenage writing mentors, as well as publishers, were asking for more stories. Within eight years, the “Christy Miller” series had grown, expanding to include 11 more books. But Robin’s storytelling didn’t end with that series.

Robin penned dozens of other stories throughout the years, including three novellas—Finding Father Christmas, Engaging Father Christmas and Kissing Father Christmas—later made into TV movies.

For one set of stories—the “Sisterchicks” series—Robin even lived out her dream of world travel when her publisher sent her around the globe for inspiration.

From the beginning, her books also drew young girls to Christ. Only a few weeks after Summer Promise was published, Robin received a letter from a teenage reader. According to the letter, the girl had joined the fictional protagonist, Christy Miller, in surrendering her life to Christ. Hundreds of similar letters followed.

“I still receive letters,” Robin says. “Every week, I receive letters from young girls who have read the books and come to know the Lord, or who have decided to no longer pursue a relationship with a guy who was

damaging her.

“They saw, through the role models in the books, how they could turn their heart to the Lord in making their decisions.”

Developing Tools for Young Hearts

Several years ago, after speaking at a school in Brazil, Robin was surrounded by a cluster of teenage girls.

“We’re reading the ‘Christy Miller’ books,” they said through a translator. “We’re giving our lives to Jesus, and it’s wonderful. We’re making good decisions. But none of the boys of Brazil are reading those books.”

Robin saw the problem. These girls wanted to follow Jesus, and they hoped, someday, to find husbands who follow Jesus—just as the fictional Christy Miller found a godly young man named Todd. What should they do?

At the time, Robin urged them to pray for the boys in their country, and the girls instantly formed a prayer club for the purpose. But their questions lingered in Robin’s mind. They saw in Christy Miller a model for following Jesus, but would they know how to apply discipleship principles in their own lives?

On another occasion, Robin’s then- teenage daughter, Rachel, stopped Robin as she passed by her daughter’s room. Rachel lay on her bed with a “Christy Miller” volume in her hands.

“Mom, do you think God has a guy like Todd for me out there?”

“I know that God has plans for you,” Robin replied. “And His plans for you are for good, not for evil, to bring you a future and a hope. That’s what God promises in His Word.”

But this wasn’t her only response to these lingering questions. Along with author Tricia Goyer, Robin penned a nonfiction book a dozen years ago titled Praying for Your Future Husband. The pair of writers collaborated again to write Before You Meet Your Future Husband: 30 questions to ask yourself and 30 heartfelt prayers, which came out in May 2023.

“We saw a need for a tool to help those young hearts,” Robin says. “With all the other messages [these young women] get, how can we provide a tool that will say, ‘Here’s what God says about you. Here’s how you seek Him and trust Him for whatever He has for you’?”

Crafting a Must-Have Guide

Young girls aren’t alone in wanting such tools. Their mothers have questions, too—especially regarding how to bond with and guide their young daughters as they face the changes that come with adolescence.

Robin knows from experience that this transition doesn’t have to be awkward.

“When Rachel was 9 years old and her body was about to change, I set up an intentional, little tea party for the two of us,” Robin recalls. “We were the only ones home. I took that time by the fireplace, with soft music playing, and I told her the secrets of womanhood.”

“It’s a gift of God to be a woman,” she told Rachel. “You are fearfully and beautifully made—wonderfully made. This is the way you are going to see these changes happen in your body, and it’s a gift.”

To Robin’s delight, Rachel responded: “I love that God made me a woman.”

In her latest book, Robin interweaves personal stories with biblical wisdom to help mothers begin a positive conversation with their preteen daughters about these issues. That book, Before Your Tween Daughter Becomes a Woman: A mom’s must-have guide, was released by Focus on the Family in July.

As with her previous books, Robin views this book as yet another “missionary” let loose to share God’s grace and truth around the globe.

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