If you had the opportunity to sit down and talk to someone on the other side of the world who has totally different religious beliefs than your own, would you do it? How about if this individual was believed to be the mastermind behind terrorist bombings that left many of your countrymen dead? Ahmad Hani Sa’id says Mark Taylor is the only journalist he is willing to give an interview to. Why is he so insistent on this particular man?
Mark is a former Marine who served in the Gulf War, during which time he formed a friendship with a Muslim young man who saved his life. Mark has often wondered what became of the young man, and suspects he may have something to do with the interview request. Tracy, Mark’s wife, begs him not to go. The CIA, on the other hand, wants him to go so that they can trail along and kill Sa’id.
Despite great trepidation, Mark accepts the assignment. The author does a powerful job of slowly building up the suspense, and doesn’t even get to the actual interview until page 273. Throughout the story, faith in Jesus is contrasted with faith in Muhammad. A faith based on love and salvation versus a faith based on violence and slavish rules. The message of the book comes through loud and clear: Jesus loves every person on earth, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist. Grace and forgiveness is offered to all, and it’s up to each person to chose who they will follow.
Yesterday I was in a Christian thrift-store, looking at their used book area, when I spotted a fiction shelf labeled “Antiques”. After looking at a few of them, it was obvious that these pre-dated the Janette Oke books. Was there really Christian fiction before her?
Yes, there have been authors here and there through the years who have published Christian fiction. There’s John Bunyan with his allegory “Pilgrim’s Progress” in 1678. Then there was the 1896 classic novel “In His Steps” by Charles Sheldon. There was fantasy-type fiction from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in the mid-1900’s. If you really want to go back, there’s Dante’s “Divine Comedy” in 1321. But I thought the Christian Fiction movement kind of started in 1979 when Janette Oke started cranking out books. Perhaps I was wrong.
I snapped a picture of the bookshelf with my cellphone, then pulled one book off and examined its dustcover. “Mount Up With Wings” by Rubye Kilgore Hancock” (1956) There was a description of the plot, followed by: “This is delightful Christian fiction.” Also on the shelf were:
“The Warm Summer” by Craig Massey (1968) about a 14-year-old boy who experiences a home business, a swindler, finding love, and getting to know God during the summer months.
“Highpockets” by John R. Tunis (1959) about a fictional baseball team and its rookie center fielder. with morals and integrity emphasized.
“With Healing In His Wings – by Orville Steggarda (1958) about a doctor who ministers to his patien physical and spiritual needs.
“Eternity In Their Hearts” by Lon Woodrum (1955) won 1st prize in Zondervan Publisher’s Christian fiction contest.
I was going to snap some more pictures of dustcovers from some of these books, but another customer was already looking at me rather oddly, so I resisted the urge. Suffice it to say that the history of Christian fiction has been a long and winding road, some of which has already gone down to obscurity.
Bridie is a young woman who was greatly influenced by a sweet, God-loving grandmother, but has forgotten her roots. Now she’s living with a meth-lab boyfriend in the middle of nowhere. When she see things going bad, she stuffs a duffel-bag with his drug money and makes a run for it. Bridie figures she can just start life over somewhere else and bury the truth.
The other main character is Alasdair, a small-town widower. He’s the pastor of the church that his father originally pastored. But he’s got things he’s trying to cover over too. His wife had been plagued by life-long depression, and the car accident in which she committed suicide has been covered up as a mere accident. Their three children are being neglected by Alistair, who is now depressed himself. His 13-year-old daughter is having her own issues, and gets caught shoplifting. She crosses paths with Bridie, and they become close as Bridie starts taking care of Alasdair’s children.
The church is not portrayed in a very flattering light throughout the book. The congregation seems mostly concerned with their image in the community. Alasdair just isn’t meeting their expectations. They seem embarrassed by the mental issues of their pastor and his now-dead wife, and the misbehavior of his daughter. Instead of trying to help him, they try to force his resignation. I was dismayed by the behavior of the church.
But the turning point comes when both Bridie and Alasdair both decide that it’s better to stop covering things up, and face any consequences of their sins and shortcomings. They get to the point where it doesn’t matter if they are rejected by church members, neighbors or townsfolk. The only thing that’s really important is to have things right with God and their family.
I have to say I’m glad that I stuck with the book to the end. Some parts seemed unrealistic, but other parts rang true to life. My favorite part was when the sweet grandma was talking to Bridie’s old boyfriend and trying to reach him with love. She was the character in the book that demonstrated true Christian faith. She never gave up, and never showed hate. It drove home the point that no matter how far we wander from God, He always loves us and will put people in our life to encourage us to come home to Him.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Holy Bible, Matthew 10:29-31 (NIV version)