TUPELO • Writers for the American Family Association (AFA) Journal in Tupelo recently won awards for journalism at the Southern Christian Writers Conference (SCWC) in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Held each year in June, the conference attracts writers and aspiring writers from across the Southeast.
Randall Murphree has been editor of the AFA Journal for 36 years, and he said his award-winning writers are part of the reason he still loves coming to work.
“I have the best job at AFA,” he said. “I get to work every day with all these talented people, and we have the luxury of approaching the issues from an unapologetically Christian perspective.”
Murphree said the conservative Christian publication dates back to AFA’s beginnings in 1977, when the group was founded by Tupelo-area United Methodist pastor the Rev. Don Wildmon.
“It goes all the way back to when Don Wildmon founded AFA,” he said. “That original newsletter was the precursor to the AFA Journal, which now circulates to about 160,000 homes and has a staff of six in-house writers. We haven’t always had that luxury.”
Three AFA Journal writers – Joy Lucius, Anne Reed and Robert Youngblood – took first place, second place, and honorable mention, respectively, at this year’s SCWC in the magazine article category.
First-place winner Lucius spent many years teaching creative writing in public schools in north Mississippi before coming to work for the AFA Journal. She said her story, “Remember The Prisoners,” was inspired by a book she read in high school.
“I read Richard Wurmbrand’s ‘Tortured For Christ’ in the library at Vardaman High School,” she said. “It impacted me so much, and I’ve just always loved the subject of persecuted Christians.”
As with many writers, Lucius said her main challenge was brevity.
“It’s such a deep topic,” she said. “It was hard to put it into two pages. That’s always my problem: being verbose.”
Reed won second place with her story, “Jews Help Christians Help Muslims.” She said the story was based on the work of a group with which she has first-hand familiarity.
“I wrote about Friendships,” she said. “They’re based in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and they send ships all over the world doing medical relief and humanitarian missions. My husband and I were full-time crew before we came here.”
Reed said her story centered around the group’s recent relief efforts in a notoriously volatile region.
“Friendships set up a medical camp on the border of Syria and Israel,” she said. “They were serving Syrian refugees in a demilitarized area near the Israeli border. Most of the people they served were basically homeless; living in tents and delapidated buildings.”
Reed said she was able to witness the group’s work firsthand.
“I was able to go there in February of 2018,” she said. “I got to see the Israeli government working together with Friendships to serve those people. It was mostly Americans, but there were others from all over the world working under the umbrella of that group.”
Youngblood received honorable mention for his story, “The War Within.” Youngblood served in the military before coming to AFA, and he said his story focused on the difference between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and “moral injury.”
“PTSD is different than moral injury,” Youngblood said. “The Moral Injury Project at Syracuse University defines moral injury as ‘damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person perpetrates, witnesses, or fails to prevent acts that transgress one’s own moral beliefs, values, or ethical codes of conduct.’”
Youngblood said both PTSD and moral injury leave many veterans feeling lost and hopeless.
“Veterans commit 22 suicides per day,” he said. “A lot of times when these soldiers come home they don’t know their place in the world any more. That in itself is a moral injury.”
Editor Murphree said he and the staff at AFA Journal hope to stay true to the organization’s original mission.
“Don Wildmon’s vision was for people to be engaged in the culture,” he said. “We’re still activist-oriented and we hope through our writing to move people to get involved.”