Veteran turns experiences into works of fiction
When COVID-19 hit the country and people were forced to work from home in solitude, many did so with considerable grumbling. But for Jim Spencer, the setup was nothing new. And the limit to outside activity just meant he could spend even more time on his passion and his work.
Spencer is a full-time author, a career he embarked on in 2001 after suffering a stress-induced heart attack from a high-pressure job as a financial advisor in the late 1990s, after the country suffered a serious recession. The inspiration to move into this very different career came in a unique way.
“Underneath all the drugs they gave me for the heart attack, I had this vision of a dragon coming by that tells me to write,” explained Jim, a 1986 graduate of the Hawaii campus. “So the first thing I ever wrote I won a little prize money. I showed it to a friend, and she thought it was marvelous. So I started writing.”
Jim’s first foray was into the fantasy genre, with that inspirational dragon playing a role alongside a somewhat autobiographical Vietnam veteran character. The book involved issues of post-traumatic stress disorder woven through the story, and Jim notes that writing about things he experienced personally was cathartic. But publishers weren’t as captivated with The Man Who Doesn’t Know.
Getting in the groove
“Because I didn’t know what I was doing, I got the story done well but the characters didn’t pop out of the book, and there wasn’t much tension, so we did some different things with it,” Jim said. “That book is done now and in editing.”
While he was reworking his first book, Jim started a mystery book that is now the first in a series Jim calls the Seven Knights Mysteries. Red, White and Black Lies was the first official book Jim published, released in 2012 and also inspired by true events.
“It started out in my hometown. A friend of ours’ husband was killed and they never found his body, or they found what might have been him but they did not have DNA testing back then,” explained Jim. “So I asked the question, ‘What if? What if he was killed for another reason, or what was the reason?’ And I gave a whole lot of reasons and picked one and kept asking ‘What if…’, and that’s how I did my work. It was a lot of fun, and it really is a lot of fun to write for me.”
Jim followed that book with the second in the series, titled Family Lies, in 2016. He plans to continue that series and already has another book in the works that has a new character and a new plot direction, revenge. His books have been printed through BookBaby, which offers a hybrid of self-publishing and traditional marketing publishing, and are available for sale through Amazon.
He says he doesn’t really write like anyone else but does love reading many of the 50-60 well-published authors from his geographic region, including Jacqueline Sheehan. He enjoys attending a writers’ group that provides good feedback for fellow authors as they work through plots and the writing process.
“I have to first decide what the reader needs to know and what I’d like him to know. Then we decide if it fits and then we throw that sentence out and start over. The hard part to figure out what not to include, especially in a mystery,” he says. “We sometimes think, ‘should we lead them down this path?’ We throw a lot of subplots out, and we find some that have meat to them and something I’m interested in and get into that pretty good.”
The starting chapters
The journey to writer is a series of twists and turns itself. A native of Massachusetts – Jim now lives in the same house he grew up in – Jim tried two years of community college before deciding to join the military. He spent 21 years in the US Air Force, starting with a combat photographer stint in Vietnam. While stationed years later in Hawaii, Jim chose to finish his education at Wayland, a decision that would directly alter the course of his life.
“I took all the basic courses, but I had an interest in abnormal psychology and met Dr. Ellen Carringer, who was a great professor. After talking to her about learning styles, I come to find out that I learn almost 90% or more visually,” recalled Jim. “I had always had trouble in high school and college and was at best a C-plus student. After that bit of knowledge, my note-taking became more pictures. I would think of something that would remind me of what we were learning and draw pictures or doodle. I went from a C student to an A student almost overnight.”
Jim graduated second in his class at Wayland, earning his degree the same day he officially retired from the Air Force. All that changed his thinking about his own abilities, and when he returned to his home state, he pursued a master’s degree in industrial psychology with a specialization in adult learning from Springfield College.
He worked in training positions with the FDIC and then started his own business doing training for other companies before he found himself in the financial services industry at just the wrong time. But all those steps led to where Jim is now, so he takes it all in stride.
“The journey to where I am has been extremely bumpy with some fairly good size mountains,” says Jim, who has been married for 53 years and has two children and one grandchild. “My childhood memories are of being a small underweight kid, afraid of so many things. Today I'm a 200-pound man who fears nothing and has the faith and confidence to do anything.”
Sharing the passion
Jim said he helps hone his own skills by sharing his passion with others. He began teaching writing to senior citizens for free several years ago and is almost prouder of the accomplishments of his students than his own, showing off a shelf of 14 books all produced by his students.
“That’s one of those things I’m really proud of. There is not much in my life that I really feel good about, but I have a 97-year-old woman who published her first book about three months ago with my help and prodding,” beams Jim. “The book is excellent, and she’s tickled to death with it. I have about 25-30 people that are in my classes.
“I sort of live by something someone at Wayland once told me: The way I measure success is through the success of others.”
Dubai native lauches podcast about financial issues
Back in his undergraduate years at Wayland, Markose Chenthitta developed a curiosity about money, economics and geopolitics. A native of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Markose came to Wayland to study business and found himself fascinating by the many facets of finance and wealth creation.
Now, almost 13 years after awakening that area of interest, Markose is taking his research and love of learning to the airwaves with a podcast he calls FINfluential. Available on all the major podcast providers, the weekly broadcast is an outlet for Markose to continue learning and sharing that knowledge with others who share that interest.
“It all started back in the States during my sophomore year at Wayland. I would hang out with my American friends, and we would often talk about business. We started talking about the history of money and fell into the financial conspiracy rabbit hole,” recalled Markose. “Long story short, my friends at Wayland and I were nerding out about business, and I started studying more and getting passionate about gold and silver and what was happening in the (stock) market.”
A passion ignited
While a student, he did an internship at Walmart and saw the impact the recession of those late 2000s were having on stock portfolios. Dr. Charles Starnes, one of his business professors, introduced him to business people in Plainview and in other cities and Markose was able to learn about the experiences of building wealth and entrepreneurship right from the source.
“One thing I noticed is that many of them started at the bottom and were able to grow with multiple incomes and with stocks. I just found it interesting how people built their wealth. In Plainview there are a lot of retirees, and it was interesting to talk to them about how some of those things have changed,” he said.
Markose earned a bachelor’s degree in business in 2009, then continued straight into the MBA in International Management, finishing in 2013. While he had hoped to stay in the United States, he found himself back home in Dubai and working for his family’s import/export business and a start-up company for a while before going to work for American Express in the Middle East Consumer Business Division and joined the Digital Application Program which was launched in 2019 in the UAE. Eventually, he would love to open his own business but that is still in the discovery stage.
Despite his moves and changes in employment, that love for the intricacies of money and finance kindled so long ago never waned. He began studying and keeping up with financial news from a personal interest level, including cryptocurrency such as bitcoin or blockchain. He found himself in conversation with others about these issues and thought maybe a more formal platform to share his knowledge would be appropriate. It took him two years to finally take the plunge.
“I kept doubting myself and wondering if anyone would want to listen to me, and my girlfriend finally said, ‘Just do it!’” he laughed. “I decided to start the podcast and provide the education side of things. When it comes to the market, there are so many changes, and the traditional person has a hard time keeping up with it all. I’ve been able to provide value by learning and sharing what I learn.”
That was in February, just before the pandemic would cause economic challenges of its own, providing much fodder for Markose’s podcast. He releases a new episode of FINfluential with on Tuesday or Thursday each week and topics can vary from gold and silver trends to market changes and just about any topic related to finance. If audience members present a question, he can do research and use that for his next podcast. Even eight months later, Markose considers himself still in “the discovery phase” and hopes to add guests to the show down the road.
Coming to America
Markose was one of a handful of students who made the journey to Plainview, Texas, from Dubai when Wayland joined a recruiting effort back in the mid 2000s. Then-recruiter Debra Sherley traveled overseas to set up at a college fair aimed at Christian students in the UAE who may have interest in studying in America.
Though not initially interested, Markose later decided he wanted to come to Wayland, and he was able to get the usually drawn out process completed in a few months. His friend and track teammate, Dominic Palmer, also came to WBU. Both joined the track team, Markose as a middle distance runner and Dominic a sprinter.
“I remember the day so well, the day I first came to America, Aug. 17, 2005. I flew into Houston, then took a flight to Lubbock and then had the drive to Plainview. It was my first time in America, and to me it was like moving from one desert to another in Plainview,” he laughed. “It all happened so fast and so smoothly, and that is all by God’s grace. If people in Dubai want to study in the United States, they usually have to prepare one year in advance.”
After he settled into the new country, Markose embraced the opportunities afforded him at Wayland.
“What I liked about Wayland was it was not a big school, so you got to know people at a you and me level. I really liked that and being in the Christian environment too. I felt it was better to be at a smaller school where I wouldn’t get lost, especially for someone who has just come to the United States. I built some close relationships with people,” he said.
“Some of my professors were great with academics but they also had their own businesses as well. That was something I could respect because they know what it’s like to start new with the pressure and all that goes with it,” Markose added. “You have to have those real-life experiences in some situations, and you learn from their experiences as well. I loved how connected they were to other people in other cities, and that helped me acclimate to American society, learn the traditions and see their experiences.”
Devotional: Join God in reconciling racial injustices
The Bible we embrace as the very Word of God clarifies that all humanity has dignity and is worthy of respect and honor because we are all created in God's image; Genesis 1:26-27: 26Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness … 27So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." Therefore, any form of racism, superiority, discrimination or oppression is a sin issue at its core. The ultimate cure for sin is for God to change our hearts. The image of God has been tarnished, and humanity no longer reflects His image. There needs to be reconciliation.
Second Corinthians 5 helps us to see that the reconciling power of God can bring forgiveness and reunite us to Himself and each other: 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
God did his part by sending Christ to die for us and forgiving our sins when we repent (v. 19b; 1 John 4:9). Now, as members of God's Kingdom community, we must pray and labor to be messengers of God's reconciling power (v. 19). We have been given a status in the world, God's ambassadors (v. 20). An ambassador is one of high rank who represents the nation or country of which they are a part. This is a high and humble task we as Christ-followers have. We can help heal the fractures and calm the tensions of our land. How then can we join God in reconciliation? Four things I suggest:
- Lament over the heartbreaking stories of injustice, evils, and wickedness in our land
- Confess that we have not done all we are called to do
- Repent of any personal sin of racism
- Seek genuine peace with God and man by committing to listen and learn from one another
Question for Reflection: What part of reconciliation do you need to work on?
Prayer: Christ, our reconciler, we praise you for the ultimate sacrifice on the cross that covered the penalty for our sin and reconciled us back to our God. Thank you for the gift of being your ambassador and messenger of reconciliation in the world. Please help us to be faithful. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Rev. Undra Parker earned his bachelor's degree in 2010 from the Anchorage campus and a master's degree in Christian Ministry in 2012. He is pastor at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Anchorage, an Air Force veteran and an adjunct professor of Bible for Wayland, where he was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award for Anchorage in 2018. His wife Mildred, a 2014 WBU graduate, serves in ministry alongside him.
From the History Files
This month's history excerpt is taken from the WBU History Book produced during the centennial celebration, rolling back the calendar 100 years to what life was like in the other '20s, specifically when Dr. McDonald made the move to president.
An old proverb states that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In 1926 Wayland students Jimmie Smith and Jim Hairston were so intent making their way to Wayland that they left their home in San Marcos on foot and set out hitchhiking across Texas toward the High Plains. They had no money for transportation, but “were determined, however, to enter Wayland College.” As the story goes, they caught rides in everything from Cadillacs to mule carts and made the 700-mile journey in three days. Although difficult, their journey was nothing compared to what lay ahead for the next Wayland administration.
George Washington McDonald originally took the post as president on an interim basis when E. B. Atwood resigned in November of 1923. McDonald, who had taught mathematics at Wayland since 1918 was already the longest tenured faculty member at the school. By February of 1924, the Board of Trustees saw fit to install McDonald as president at a salary of $3,000 per year, ushering in the longest and most trying presidential administration in the school’s history.
McDonald was born in Brazos County, Texas, at a crossroads known as De Leon about 20 miles from Bryan, in 1875. He was one of 12 children. His father, Richard, was a farmer/rancher who owned a lumber yard outside of De Leon at Rogers Prairie, which was later called Normangee.
Unlike his predecessors, McDonald was not a preacher. He was called to teach. He graduated from Rogers Prairie at the age of 17 in 1892. He immediately began his teaching career at Rogers Prairie and worked his way up to superintendent. McDonald saw the need for additional education, however, and began study at Baylor, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1903. He attended Baylor at the same time as Wayland’s first president, I.E. Gates and B.H. Warren, who served as a history professor at Wayland. McDonald continued to work on his education throughout his professional career, earning a master’s degree from Baylor in 1923. In 1943, McDonald received an honorary Doctorate of Letters degree from Howard Payne University.
From 1903-1915 McDonald served as superintendent of schools at Santa Anna, where he met and married Tonie Hemphill on September 23, 1908. He stayed there until 1915 when he returned to Normangee (Rogers Prairie) for two years. In 1918 at the age of 43, McDonald and his family moved to Plainview, in part due to his asthma, where he began teaching math at Wayland and served as the boys’ dormitory supervisor. He continued to teach math, as did his wife, during his presidency until the work load became too heavy.
McDonald became a favorite among the student body and in 1923 was named dean of the college. The 1923 yearbook was dedicated to McDonald “whose unselfish labor and devotion to the upbuilding and maintaining of the high standards of this institution is known to all, and whose faithful Christian character has caused him to be loved and admired by all the students and friends of the college.”
Plainview was growing rapidly at the time McDonald took office as president. The housing market couldn’t keep up with the demand as people continued to move into the area. Things looked promising for the school. By December of 1924, enrollment was 275 students and growing. According to the Baptist Standard, the community was supporting Wayland in a “charming manner.” The Chamber of Commerce and other organizations and clubs decided to provide equipment for the library and science labs. But in April of 1924, West Texas experienced the worst sand storm ever to hit the area and with it came the winds of change.