Book Review: A Way Beyond Death

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“A Way Beyond Death,” by Jemimah Wright.

“A Way Beyond Death,” by Jemimah Wright recounts the struggles and unceasing missionary work of a married couple, Marcia dos Santos and Edson Suzuki, in the Amazon jungle.

The couple works tirelessly to help the indigenous Indians in the area to combat their own tribal customs of infanticide and suicide, and eventually succeeds at getting new laws enacted to protect indigenous children who are at risk.

Facing challenges ranging from illnesses, threat from wild animals like jaguars, and sometimes even from those whom they are trying to help, Marcia and Edson rely on their faith in incredible situations.

Marcia describes her first encounter with the Surawahá as she and her husband prepare to live in the tribe’s community.

“Immediately they started to inspect me. They couldn’t tell if I was a man or a woman under all my clothes. I had hands grabbing me from every direction. The Surawahá were so intrigued by me that they wanted to take my clothes off to ins pet me more. As quickly as they tried to peel away my clothing, I put it back on.”

After that embarrassing welcome, the tribe celebrates the couple’s arrival by dancing all night.

In her first week there, Marcia learns of the tribe’s suicide custom: “If a person has no value among the Suruwahá or is not liked, when that person eats kunaha he or she is left to die. But if the person is much-loved, then everyone does all they can to bring the person back.”

Her first experience with this happens when an 18-year-old boy sucks the poisonous juice from the root, giving his desperate family only 30 minutes to save him. When the family gives up, accepting the boy’s death, they leave him alone, but while Suzuki continues to pray over him, he gasps and starts breathing again.

The book is well-written, and engaging. In fact, it is difficult to put it down because the challenges the couple faces are so interesting and difficult to imagine. I wanted to finish the book as quickly as possible to find out what would happen next.

Culture Smart: Guatemala

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Culture Smart’s Guatemala book

The “Culture Smart!” book series is a great way to gain insight into your sponsor child’s culture and country.

I recently read Culture Smart’s Guatemala book for the second time in preparation for my upcoming Compassion tour to that country.

The books are fairly short; the Guatemala book was only 136 pages, starting out with a chapter giving a brief history of the country, its geography, climate and even politics.

Other chapters cover topics like values, religion, customs and traditions, home life, travel, business customs and communicating. Often the book highlights differences in the cultures of Guatemala’s Latino population and its Maya population as well.

In this series, I’ve also read Culture Smart’s books on Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia and Ireland.

There are books available for many more countries, including these countries where Compassion works: India, Ecuador, Thailand, Colombia, Brazil, Uganda, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Peru, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Philippines, Dominican Republic, Ghana and Mexico.

Go Into All the World – Book Review

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“Go into all the World,” by David Chalmers

If you’ve ever wanted to visit your sponsor child, but wondered whether it is worth the money, David Chalmers’ new book, “Go into all the World,” just might convince you to take the leap. It’s the oft-debated question among sponsors: do I use my resources to sponsor more children and send more gifts or to visit my children in person? The stories recounted in this book show how a visit really allows you to be the hands and feet of Jesus. In his book, David shares his adventures in visiting his sponsored children throughout Central and South America and the Philippines. He describes the highs and the lows of meeting your children in person, from the beauty of a child trusting you so fully that she falls asleep in your arms to the harsh realities of some very difficult situations in which he finds his children living. In discussing a visit to one of his children’s homes, David writes: “It’s times like that when I fully grasp the significance and impact of a sponsor. God is using me to literally be a father to the fatherless, to give Laura words of encouragement, which she doesn’t necessarily get from anywhere else.” But it’s not all serious, heart-wrenching moments. Well, a lot of it is, because it’s God working on and through a man as he travels great distances to shower his children in love. But David also shares lots of tales of fun and laughter as he celebrates his birthday at a Compassion project, plays the drums for the children every chance he gets and introduces everyone to Australian football, or “kicking the footy.” (I think that’s the right phrase!) David is a humble and caring man, who at one point sponsored as many as 50 children through Compassion. Most recently, he spent a year in the Philippines working at an orphanage, and now he is back home in Australia, where he is a teacher. You can learn more about David by visiting his blog by clicking here. You’ll get a thorough review of Compassion’s sponsorship program in reading this book. I highly recommend it. “Go into all the World,” can be purchased by clicking here, here, here or here. David describes a sponsor’s role quite well when he writes: “The one thing I can tell you after visiting so many of my kids is that in my own strength I alone am completely inadequate for the job of releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. It is God alone who can release them and give them joy, hope, freedom and an opportunity to dream, despite their circumstances. I am merely an instrument he is using to show these precious people his love for them. There is nothing I’d rather be doing.” Read “Go into all the World,” and maybe you, too, can become God’s instrument in showing His love to His children.

A Long Way Gone

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“A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah is a heart-wrenching, auto-biographical account of a young boy’s struggle to survive the violence of Sierra Leone’s Civil War in the 1990s.

The story begins with young Ishmael and his brother and friends heading off to another village together to perform rap songs, which is one of their favorite pastimes together. Their youthful exuberance is forgotten as war breaks out, and they return home amid grisly and bloody violence, unable to find their families.

The boys set out together, searching for their families, struggling to feed and shelter themselves. They face unbelievable obstacles during this time, but most poignant is the unease and suspicion adults in other villages feel toward them. Where in peace time, the children would have been taken in, cared for and fed, instead the children are seen as the enemy in a war-torn world where even young boys are joining in perpetrating the violence ravaging the country.

After much personal loss, Ishmael is captured, handed a gun and pressed into service. It’s common for his superiors to ply Ishmael and other young soldiers like him with cocaine and other drugs while encouraging them to commit acts of unspeakable violence. Normally a good-natured boy, Ishmael is surprised by his own actions during this time.

A new stage in his life begins when he is chosen by a commander to leave the war with a UNICEF representative. Ishmael is taken to a safe home for boys just like him, where he spends months working through the violence he has experienced and his drug addictions. He is only 15 years old at this time. Though his parents are gone, his father’s brother is located, and he graciously takes Ishmael into his own family, which is a mixture of other nieces and nephews as well.

While living with his uncle, safe and in a stable family situation, Ishmael is chosen by UNICEF to represent the children of Sierra Leone at a U.N. meeting in New York City. His uncle, a loving and caring man, jokes with him about this opportunity, and doesn’t believe Ishmael really is traveling to the United States until he calls home from New York City to check in with his family.

Ishmael returns home to his uncle’s family to continue his studies, and just as it seems there has been a happy ending for Ishmael, the civil war, which had been isolated to the country’s more rural areas up to this point, breaks out in the city where he is living. Food becomes scarce, survival is once again a struggle, and Ishmael fears he will be recognized by his former fellow soldiers and pressed into service again.

He flees to the United States to live with a mentor, whom he met during his visit there, and finishes high school and college. Currently, he is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee and speaks before many groups regarding children affected by the war.

This is a well-written story of human strength and endurance, made even more incredible by the fact that the main character is a child. It is difficult to read at times because it causes the reader to be emotionally invested in the lives of the children depicted. Ishmael lives through years of adversity and comes out able to put his experience to good use in helping others, and that is inspiring.

Passport Through Darkness

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Kimberly Smith is a woman who spent many years living two realities: one as an American mother and another as a missionary fighting for orphans living in some of the most dangerous areas in the world.

Her book “Passport through Darkness” shares some of her adventures, while contrasting these two roles in which she lived.

When Kimberly and her husband, Milton, first became involved in missionary work, it was together, as a team. But Milton’s health problems soon made it obvious that his role on their team would be providing support from home, while Kimberly would travel alone to the areas where they were battling human trafficking and the sex slave industry.

This was a difficult arrangement for both of them as they relied on God to guide them. Kimberly faced unimaginable difficulties on the ground in Sudan while trying to found an orphanage there. She witnessed death, disease and desolation regularly, only to return home to face marital struggles.

She and her husband displayed great strength and faith as they battled through.

In 2003, they founded Make Way Partners, which is an organization that strives to help women and children to escape human trafficking and forced prostitution in areas that are considered too dangerous, expensive or remote for most people to go.

Some of the situations Kimberly faced are very difficult to read about, as they are so upsetting. For example, the children in Sudan for whom Kimberly worked to build an orphanage often spent their nights sleeping in trees to remain safe from wild animals in the night. At one point, Kimberly was asked to keep track of how many orphans in the area were dying. Over a 10-month period, she counted 278.

This book is eye-opening and an amazing testimony to obeying God’s calling in your life.

You can learn more about Make Way Partners by clicking here.

An Invisible Thread

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“An Invisible Thread” by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski

Laura was a successful advertising executive in New York City when she passed 11-year-old Maurice on the streets one day. She hardly noticed him at first.

“His words were part of the clatter, like a car horn or someone yelling for a cab,” she wrote. “They were, you could say, just noise – the kind of nuisance New Yorkers learn to tune out.”

But something stopped Laura in her tracks, and she walked back to Maurice, invited him to McDonald’s, and began a relationship that would change both of their lives. The two began to meet weekly, and before long, Laura even included Maurice in her own family’s holiday celebrations.

“An Invisible Thread,” by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski, tells a fascinating and moving story of two people from vastly different worlds.

Their worlds were so different that when Maurice found out Laura had tracked him down to the public housing apartment he shared with many relatives, he begged her never to return there for her own safety.

“You have to promise me you’ll never go back there again,” he said. The child was trying to protect his adult mentor.

But Laura and Maurice had in common the pain of childhoods marked by chaos. Laura grew up navigating her own father’s violent alcoholic outbursts, which seemed to give her a special understanding and empathy for Maurice.

Laura tried to create a comforting routine for Maurice with weekly dinners, laundry washing, and even making him lunch for school daily. It was the kind of routine that those who have lived without really can appreciate.

Maurice requested that his lunch be give to him in a paper bag each day. He said, “Because when I see kids come to school with their lunch in a paper bag, that means someone cares about them.”

Despite warnings from friends and loved ones that she was possibly becoming too close to this child, Laura forged ahead, enjoying a relationship that has continued into Maurice’s adulthood. It is a friendship that has survived ups and downs in both their lives.

Laura’s decision in that brief moment so many years before changed two lives for the better. This is an uplifting story of love and trust.

Call of a Coward

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This adventure begins when a New Jersey mother finds herself driving through Mexico with her husband and daughter, leaving behind her middle-class life to live in a Mayan village in Guatemala.

And that is just the beginning for Marcia Moston, author of “Call of a Coward.” At only 142 pages, this book is a quick read, but it’s packed with action throughout, and it paints a vivid picture of life as a missionary in Guatemala.

Moston shares her fears and reservations about the move, spurred on by her husband, who had recently returned from a mission trip. She shares the difficulties encountered in their journey, and also the deep relationships forged with people she met along the way.

As if driving through the entire country of Mexico weren’t enough to test anyone’s faith, this mother must learn how to survive and care for her family in a world very different from her own.

After her first trip up the mountain to the village, on a road without guardrails that barely accommodates two vehicles, she swears she will never take the road again, and that is only one challenge she must overcome.

Without the help of a grocery store or refrigerator, Moston must learn to feed her family. She accompanies a fellow missionary to the village butcher, who kills a cow every Saturday and hangs it from the rafters. As customers choose the piece they want, the butcher chops it off for them. The author laments this is a far cry from the styrofoam packages to which she is accustomed.

Throughout the book, the author worries she is unworthy and incapable to answer God’s call in her life, and she often questions whether He has picked the right person. When her journey takes her from the Mayan village to a small church in Vermont, she is left wondering whether her time in Guatemala was useful.

But as often happens, it all makes sense in the end, and her faithfulness is rewarded.

When Invisible Children Sing

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“When Invisible Children Sing,” by Chi Huang

As a fourth-year medical student in 1997, Chi Huang took a break in his training to provide medical care in two orphanages in La Paz, Bolivia. The book “When Invisible Children Sing,” details his experiences on this mission.

When Huang arrives in Bolivia, he is met by a no-nonsense nurse who puts him straight to work in the girls’ orphanage, Yasella Home for Street Girls. His first patient is a teen girl named Mercedes who cuts herself with razor blades. He discovers more than 20 razor blade scars on one arm, including a fresh cut needing treatment. The 15-year-old’s other arm is the same.

After treating Mercedes’ arm, Huang discovers the teen also has a venereal disease. This is Huang’s welcome to the world of Bolivian street children, and it’s only the beginning of his adventure.

Huang also works at a boys’ orphanage, Bururu Home for Street Boys. The word bururu is what street children say when they are cold.

Despite long hours at both orphanages, it is Huang’s desire also to treat the children living on the streets of La Paz, those who either don’t want to live in an orphanage or aren’t welcome in one. To do this, he must visit the streets late at night, when the children and many undesirable adults inhabit the city streets.

Huang shows great patience in gaining the trust of these children, though he is faced with many difficult situations. He discovers the children are always high from sniffing paint thinner, which they do to stay warm and to escape their realities. He also learns that there are certain adults who wish to clean up the streets by rounding up the street children, abusing and even killing them.

Despite these and many other obstacles, Huang is able to show Christ’s love to these children, to gain their trust, and to help some of them. Today he is the founder of the Bolivian Street Children Project.

This book is difficult to read at times because of the devastating situations in which the children live. It is well-written, and provides a very clear and touching description of these children’s realities.

For more information on the Bolivian Street Children’s Project, you can visit http://www.kayachildren.org.

Kisses from Katie

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“Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption” by Katie J. Davis

It’s not often that you run across someone who has determinedly decided to forgo the “American Dream,” but that’s just what a young woman from Nashville did.

At 18 years old, Katie Davis traveled on a short mission trip to Uganda over Christmas break during her senior year of high school. It was a trip that changed the course of her life, causing her to make decisions that surprised her family, boyfriend and friends.

Upon returning home after the trip, Davis continued to feel the Lord calling her back to Uganda. She decided to answer that call by giving up college and returning to the country that had captured her heart.

It was a shocking decision made by a young woman who seemed to have everything going for her. Her book, “Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption” tells that story.

Davis wrote, “I hadn’t realized what a transformation had taken place while I had been in Uganda, the spiritual richness I had experienced in material poverty and the spiritual poverty I felt now in a land of material wealth.”

Hers is an amazing story of faith and determination, and I can’t help but be in awe of how the years have played out for Davis. Facing extreme poverty, hopelessness, disease and sometimes death of those she cared for, it is incomprehensible that this young woman was able to hold up under such pressure.

But hold up she did, and years later, Davis remains in Uganda, making a difference every day.

Davis established a ministry called Amazima in 2008, which sends 600 orphaned and vulnerable children to school through an education sponsorship program. It also feeds lunch to more than 1,200 children in the slum community of Masese every week day. Amazima hosts Bible studies and worship services and implements vocational training programs in the area.

And as if all this weren’t a huge accomplishment, by the end of her book, Davis is in the process of adopting fourteen girls, who live with her in her home in Uganda. She cares for these children daily, as their mother, all the while, caring for members of her community as well.

Davis’ inspiring story is well worth reading, and for more stories after the book ends, visit her blog at http://www.kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com.

“I have learned that I will not change the world, Jesus will do that,” Davis wrote. “I can, however, change the world for one person. I can change the world for fourteen little girls and for four hundred schoolchildren and for a sick and dying grandmother and for a malnourished, neglected, abused five-year-old. And if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for.”

To donate to Davis’ ministry, Amazima, visit http://www.amazima.org.

The Queen of Katwe

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“The Queen of Katwe,” by Tim Crothers, is the story of an incredible young girl, who against many odds, surprises many by learning and mastering the game of chess.

Phiona and her peers are growing up in the Ugandan slums of Katwe, an area in the country’s capital city, Kampala, where children don’t know their birth dates or even how to spell their own names. It is a place where children struggle to eat each day, where parents die of AIDS regularly, and where families move from shack to shack, living wherever they can afford.

In this life of day-to-day survival, one young man, Robert Katende, working for Sports Outreach Institute, begins a ministry first focused on soccer, then on chess, and the game captivates the children of the area. Katende relates well to these children, as he, too, grew up in the severe poverty of Katwe. In fact, Katende’s story of survival and pulling himself out of the slum is quite as impressive as Phiona’s.

Considering these circumstances, it’s no wonder that a bowl of porridge is what first attracted the children to Katende’s group.

Phiona is a bit of a late-comer to the group, but after following her brother there one day, she becomes a fixture. She learns the game first from a much younger girl, but soon surpasses many in playing ability. She later practices using bottle caps and a chessboard drawn on scraps of cardboard.

As Phiona travels out of the country and experiences other cultures, her eyes are opened to the fact that there is more out there, more to reach for, than Katwe. On these trips to chess tournaments, she sleeps in hotel rooms on real beds and eats from buffets with endless amounts of foods offered. But after each tournament, she must return to the reality of her home.

It won’t be an easy road for her to reach her goal of becoming a Grandmaster, as many young women much more privileged than Phiona can attest. But where she had nothing to strive for before, she now has a goal and, more importantly, hope.

Too Small to Ignore

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Sometimes when a book relates upsetting stories, and especially when those stories involve children, I have to take frequent breaks from reading. I have to put it down and walk away so that the pain coming from the pages reaches me only a little bit at a time.

Wess Stafford’s book, “Too Small to Ignore,” was definitely one of those books.

It took me quite a while to get through it. It was well written, but the stories of child abuse and children in poverty were very difficult to read.

Stafford was a child of missionaries who spent part of his childhood in Africa. There, he essentially led two lives.

One was the idyllic childhood in the small African village where his parents were working. There he enjoyed learning and growing in a close-knit community, watched over by many loving adults. It was there that he also witnessed poverty firsthand. As a child, he saw many close friends in the village die, giving him his first glimpse of the destructive effects of poverty.

The other life Stafford led was at the unspeakably abusive boarding school he attended each school year with other children of missionaries. Here children were punished, beaten and abused daily in unfathomable circumstances.

Stafford used these situations in his life for good, though, committing his life to helping children in poverty. Today, he is the CEO of Compassion International, an organization that serves children in 26 countries, with a strong commitment to Christ, children, church and integrity.

Despite the difficult obstacles Stafford faced as a child, he has become a champion of children everywhere. He urges readers to rethink the importance of children and their role in our lives, putting them first, treasuring them and pouring our time and love into them, whether they are our own children or children in a faraway village.

As he explains the effects of both financial and spiritual poverty on children, he challenges the reader, “Now that you know, what will you do?”

This book is eye-opening, thought-provoking and inspiring, and I highly recommend it.

Unshaken

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Dan Woolley traveled to Haiti in January 2010, where he was working for Compassion International. He and co-worker David Hames were there to shoot video and photographs documenting Compassion’s work in Haiti.

After a day in the field, the two arrived at Hotel Montana, and as they walked through the lobby, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit. The hotel collapsed on top of them.

Woolley survived, but Hames did not.

More than 200,000 people were killed in the earthquake, and more than 3.5 million people were affected.

“Unshaken” is the riveting story of Woolley’s survival. Trapped beneath the hotel rubble, Woolley used the flash from his camera to light his path to an elevator car, where he waited 65 hours for rescue.

He suffered a broken foot, a bleeding gash to his leg and a head injury, as well as dehydration. Alone in the dark, he also battled depression, hopelessness and guilt over a strained marriage and home life. He turned to God for help.

Woolley scribbled emotional goodbye letters to his wife and two young sons in his journal as he spent those long hours thinking he would never see them again.

From the time the earthquake hits to Woolley’s dramatic rescue, his story keeps the reader anxiously engaged.

“Unshaken: Rising from the Ruins of Haiti’s Hotel Montana,” is written by Dan Woolley with Jennifer Schuchmann contributing.

For information on Compassion’s ongoing work in Haiti or to sponsor a child in Haiti, go to Compassion’s web site at http://www.compassion.com.

One Thousand Gifts

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Ann Voskamp begins her story recalling the tragic death of her toddler sister, who was run over by a truck in her driveway. She recounts the sadness and grief that overtook her family during that time.

Through this and other personal stories, Voskamp gives readers a look at events in her life that might lead anyone to search for happiness.

Instead, Voskamp accepts a dare from a friend to write down a thousand gifts from God to her. As she adds these gifts and blessings to her list daily, she finds joy and peace.

It is a captivating experiment because the reader begins to see that in a life full of thanks, there is not much room for the opposite.

Voskamp’s writing style is poetic, artistic and simply beautiful to read, and her journey is beautiful as well.

For more talented writing by Voskamp, check out her blog at http://www.aholyexperience.com.