Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Story Bible: 66 Favorite Stories by Jan Godfrey and Paola Bertolini Grudina





I've had the chance to review My Story Bible: 66 Favorite Stories by Jan Godfrey and Paola Bertolini Grudina. This story Bible is all about wanting to put God's Word in a child's heart. This book has 144 pages and measures 8 1/2 by 9 3/8 inches and is hard covered - making it highly durable for even the youngest child.


There are sixty six stories that begin at Creation and end in Revelation with their being no more tears as the Believers are taken to Heaven. The stories are in an easy to read and understand format so that it keeps the child's attention and are short in length, again to provide for short attention spans. Scripture references are given so that the parent can delve more deeply in life applications on the child's maturity level. Oftentimes, Bible stories are told, but not enough emphasis is put on how to apply those stories to our lives.


The beautiful illustrations adorn the pages, again keeping the child's attention. Done in a simplistic style that relates to the child it helps to tie the story together and bring about understanding. The page numbers are decorated with a cloud that really makes the page numbers pop if the child or parent are looking for a specific story. The titles of all the stories and their corresponding page numbers are listed in the back in the 'index of Bible Stories', making it easy to find all the stories in the Story Bible.


If you are a parent, Grandparent, Aunt, Uncle or just a friend or caretaker of children who wants to impart God's Word to children this is a great way to do that. From the hard cover protecting it and the pages from the hands of little children to the beautifully illustrated pages, the true stories are sure to bring an understanding and enjoyable moments. Written by Jan Godfrey, with a gift for storytelling, children will enjoy listening to their loved ones reading to them from this book. This book can be purchased from Tyndale and is geared for ages 3 to 6, and older siblings can read it to the younger ones.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Think No Evil by Jonas Beiler



I have an extra copy of Think No Evil by Jonas Beiler, a story of forgivness that we all need to embrace Christians and non-Christians alike. You'll find my FIRST blog tour post about the book below.

Since I have an extra copy I am offering a giveaway so keep reading for rules and how to enter :) It'll be simple I promise.

Open to US residents only, sorry Canadian friends and readers.

Contest to run through October 5th, 2009 - so you have one week to enter and win this wonderful book! Make sure you leave me a way to contact you, either and email, blog, etc - if I can't contact you and you win I'll have to choose someone else.

Leave me a comment telling me of a time (you don't have to give me specific details) when it was hard to forgive and how you gave it (through God's power alone?).

Think No Evil by Jonas Beiler

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Think No Evil: Inside the Story of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting...and Beyond

Howard Books (September 22, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:





Jonas Beiler grew up in a strict and traditional Old Order Amish family during the 1950s. Now he is the cofounder and chairman of the Angela Foundation. He is also a licensed family counselor and founder of the Family Resource and Counseling Center in Gap, Pennsylvania.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $23.99
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (September 22, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416562982
ISBN-13: 978-1416562986

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One: Gates Wide Open


It has become numbingly familiar. A man walks into a church, a store, a dormitory, a nursing home, or a school and begins shooting. Sometimes there is panic, sometimes an eerie quietness. But always bodies fall, almost in unison with the shell casings dropping from the gun. And always there is death. Senseless, inexplicable loss of innocent life. Within seconds, we begin hearing reports on our Blackberries or iPhones. Within minutes it is “Breaking News” on CNN, and by the end of the day it has seared a name in our memories. Columbine. Virginia Tech.

Or for me, The Amish Schoolhouse Shooting.

As I write this, it has been nearly three years since our community watched as ten little girls were carried out of their one-room school and laid on the grass where first responders desperately tried to save their lives. As a professional counselor and the founder of a counseling center that serves this area, I saw firsthand the effects this traumatic event had on our citizens. And as someone who grew up in an Amish household and suffered through my own share of tragedies, I found myself strangely drawn back into a culture that I once chose to leave. I know these people who still travel by horse and buggy and light their homes with gas lanterns, yet as I moved among them through this tragedy I found myself asking questions that, surprisingly, led me to back to a hard look at my own heart. How were they able to cope so well with the loss of their children? What enables a father who lost two daughters in that schoolhouse to bear no malice toward the man who shot them? And what can I learn—what can we learn—from them to help us more gracefully carry our own life burdens?

That last question is what prompted me to attempt to share what I have learned from the families who lost so much that day. The Amish will be the first to tell you they’re not perfect. But they do a lot of things right. Forgiveness is one of them. In my counseling, I have seen how lesser tragedies destroy relationships, ruin marriages, and turn people’s hearts to stone. Life throws so much at us that seems unfair and undeserved, and certainly the shootings at the Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania were both. And yet, not a word of anger or retribution from the Amish. Somehow they have learned that blame and vengeance are toxic while forgiveness and reconciliation disarm their grief. Even in the valley of the shadow of death they know how to live well, and that is really the story that I want to share—how ordinary human beings ease their own pain by forgiving those who have hurt them.

It is a story that began decades ago when I knew it was time to choose.

-----

Little has changed in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania from the time I was a young boy to that fateful October day when shots pierced the stillness of our countryside. Towns like Cedar Lane and New Holland and Gap and Iva might have grown slightly, but as you drive through the hills and valleys along White Oak Road or Buck Hill Road, you’ll see the same quaint farms and patchwork fields that the Amish have worked for generations. Like most Amish boys, I learned to read in a little one-room schoolhouse and could hitch up a team of horses by the time I was twelve years old. I didn’t feel deprived because we didn’t have electricity or phones and it didn’t really bother me to wear the plain clothes that set us apart from my non-Amish friends. As far as I was concerned, being Amish was fine with me, except for one thing. I loved cars. I mean I really loved them. I couldn’t imagine never being able to drive one, but knew that’s what was at stake if I remained Amish.

In Amish culture, you may be born into an Amish family, but you must choose for yourself if you want to be Amish and that usually happens somewhere between the ages of sixteen and twenty one. You may have seen documentaries about Amish teenagers sowing their wild oats for a year or so before deciding to leave or stay within the Amish faith. While it’s true that Amish young people are given their freedom, in reality few teenagers stray very far from the Amish way of life. But all eventually must choose, and once you decide to stay and become baptized as Amish, you can never leave without serious consequences including being shunned by other Amish, even your own parents and relatives. I couldn’t imagine never being a part of my loving family, but I also felt a tug to explore life beyond my Amish roots, and I worried that it would hurt my father if I chose to leave. I remember once asking my dad why we did the things we did and he told me it was all about choice. We choose to live the way we do. It is not forced on us. So when I finally told him at age fifteen that I did not want to stay Amish, I know he was disappointed, but he was not harsh with me, nor did he try to talk me out of it. He respected my choice, which has profoundly shaped my thinking about the Amish. You can always trust them. They live up to their word. If they say they will do something, they will do it. You may have heard the expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Well, you would never hear that from an Amish parent. Whatever they teach their children, they back it up with their actions. My dad told me we had a choice and when I made a choice that he obviously wished I wouldn’t have made, he did not turn his back on me. He taught me an important lesson the way most Amish teach their children: by example. Many years later, in the wake of the tragic shooting, I would see Amish mothers and fathers teach their children about forgiveness the same way.

I left the Amish community, but I never left my family, nor did they abandon me. Because of that, I too would learn about forgiveness from my father’s example. Most of my brothers and sisters made the same decision to leave for their own reasons. But my parents remained Amish, and much of my world view is still seen through the metaphorical front windscreen of an Amish buggy.

-----

During those winter months after the shooting so much about our community was covered in stillness. The shortening days felt somber and subdued as we were constantly reminded of the girls that had perished. Normally the sights and sounds surrounding my home in Lancaster County filled me with a sense of nostalgia: the rhythm of horse and buggies clip-clopping their way down our back country roads or the sight of children dashing home from school through a cold afternoon had always been pleasant reminders to me of growing up as a young Amish boy. But that feeling of nostalgia had been replaced with a solemn feeling of remembrance.

Lancaster County is a unique community, the kind of which seems to rarely exist in America anymore. Many of my friends come from families that have lived in this same area for over two hundred years, some even before our country was formed—often we are still connected by friendships held long ago by our parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents. You will find roadside stands selling produce or baked goods, and it is not unusual for them to be left unattended, the prices listed on a bucket or box where you can leave payment for the goods you take. The vast majority of the county is farmland, and in the summer various shades of green spread out to the horizon: beautiful forests line the hills and drift down to waving fields of corn and tobacco and hay.

In the fall months many of the small towns sponsor fairs or festivals, some established for seventy-five years or more. They were originally conceived for local farmers to bring and sell their harvested goods, but like much of the commerce in this area, they were also social events—an opportunity to get caught up with friends you hadn’t seen in a while. I can imagine that back in the day they were joyous times, the crops having been brought in, the community coming together to prepare for a long winter. Nowadays we still go to the fair every year and sit on the same street corner with all of our friends, some of whom we haven’t seen all year but can count on seeing there at the fair. The parade goes by, filled with local high school bands and hay wagons advertising local businesses. Our grandchildren vanish into the back streets together, another generation of friendships, riding the Ferris wheel or going through the haunted house. I like to think that in thirty years they will be sitting on that corner, with their children running off to ride the rides with my friends’ great-grandchildren.

The Amish people live easily among us: good neighbors, hard workers, a peaceful people. They attend the same fairs with their children. Their separateness goes only as far as their plain clothing, or their lack of modern conveniences like telephones and electricity, or the fact that they have their own schools. I have many good friends who are Amish. While they choose to live their lives free of cell phones and computers, they still walk alongside us. They mourn with us when we lose loved ones, and we with them. We talk to them about world events. They volunteer on our local fire brigades and ambulance crews and run businesses within our community.

When the media converged on our community on that fateful October day, I guess I was an ideal person for the media to talk to: someone who grew up in the Amish community, now a family counselor familiar with the effects of grief and tragedy on people’s lives. So I served as a contact for the media, doing countless interviews and sitting on various panels, almost all of which were directed at the Amish response of forgiveness. It immediately became the theme for the media and the millions of people who watched in their homes or listened in their cars—this unbelievable ability to forgive the murderer of innocent children. But tragedy can change a community, and I wondered how the acts of one man would change ours.

Like many individuals, I had already experience my share of personal turmoil over things I could not control. I knew that when these overwhelming experiences of hurt and loss occur, the very core of your being is altered. In fact, having experienced these tragedies in my life, and being counseled through them, led me to pursue becoming a counselor myself. Eventually I went back to school to do just that, and I studied quite a bit on my own as well. In May of 1992, just up the road from Nickel Mines, my wife and I opened the Gap Family Information Center (later it became the Family Resource and Counseling Center), a place where people from our community can come to find healing from a variety of ailments, whether physical, emotional or spiritual.

As a trained counselor I spend a lot of time listening to people pour out the pain of their lives and can see with my own eyes how it has affected them. Nearly every time I speak with a couple whose marriage has been torn, or visit with a family who has lost a child, I am reminded that there are some hurts in life that never completely disappear.

But now, after the shooting, I understand even better how tragedies can affect individuals and communities. I think back to places like Columbine or the areas in the south affected by Hurricane Katrina and I can relate to the trauma they faced and continue to live with. Our community felt shattered after the shootings in that small schoolhouse. Sometimes, as I drove those back country roads or stopped to talk to Amish men, I could hardly bear to think about the pain those girls’ parents felt, or the innocence that our community had lost. But tragedies can also bring communities closer together, if forgiveness is allowed take hold, and if any good can come out of our loss it is this unique practice of forgiveness that characterize the Amish response to evil and injustice.

Word of the Amish communities’ decision to forgive the shooter and his family spread around the world through the media in a matter of days (ironically, from a culture with little or no access to the media). This in itself seems like a miracle to me—if you or I wanted to market a product or a concept to the entire world we could spend millions of dollars and take years and still probably could not accomplish it. Yet the Amish, who do not own phones or computers, captured the world’s attention with a simple, preposterous act. It was almost as if they were illustrating the lyrics of that chorus from the Seventies: “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

While the public was fascinated with the Amish take on forgiveness, they didn’t quite know what to do with it. Some people refused to believe that anyone could offer genuine forgiveness to their children’s killer. They suspected the Amish were either lying or deluding themselves. Others believed the forgiveness was genuine but thought the stoic Amish must be robotic, lacking the normal emotions experienced by you and me, in order to offer up such a graceful sentiment.

Neither is the case. Both misunderstandings find their origins in our culture’s false perception of what forgiveness truly is, and the state of mind of someone offering such unusual forgiveness. The Amish are neither liars nor zombies. They are just like you and me and offer a sincere forgiveness with no strings attached, no dependence on any reciprocating feelings or actions. But they also hurt as deeply as the rest of us over the loss of a child, or a loved one. True forgiveness is never easy, and the Amish struggle with the same emotions of anger and retribution that we all do. But they chose to forgive in spite of those feelings.

-----

About a year after the shooting I heard a story about one of the young girls who had been in the schoolhouse when the shooter entered. She was a survivor. She, along with her family and her community, forgave the man who killed those girls. But forgiveness does not mean that all the hurt or anger or feelings associated with the event vanish. Forgiveness, in the context of life’s major disappointments and hurts, never conforms to the old Sunday-school saying: “Forgive and forget.” In reality, it’s next to impossible to forget an event like the shooting at her schoolhouse.

This young survivor was working in the local farmer’s market when she noticed a man standing quietly off to the side of her counter. As she tried to concentrate on her work she found herself growing more and more agitated over the man’s presence. He seemed to be watching all the girls behind the counter very closely, occasionally starting forward as if he were going to approach, then stopping and standing still again, always watching and fidgeting with the bag he carried with him. There was something eerie about him. Was it the way he stood, or how intently he seemed to stare at them?

All around him the farmer’s market bustled with activity. The Amish were often the center of attention for first-time visitors to the market, so the Amish girl was somewhat used to being stared at, but something about that particular guy made her want to hurry the customer she was working with and then disappear into the back of the store. The difference between a curious stare and the way that stranger looked at her seemed obvious and stirred something inside her from the past.

Meanwhile, other customers walked between the long rows of stands, eyeing up the goods, making their cash purchases. The vendors took the money from each sale and crammed it into old fashioned cash registers or old money boxes. The floor was bare cement smoothed by years of wandering customers. The exposed ceiling showed iron cross beams, pipes and electrical wires. The whole place smelled of produce, fried food, and old books.

For many people outside of Lancaster County, farmer’s markets are the only place they interact with the Amish and their conservative dress—the men wearing hats, mostly black clothing with single-colored shirts and long beards, the women with their head coverings and long hair pulled into tight buns. Amish from Pennsylvania often travel to New York City, Philadelphia or Baltimore to sell their wares: fresh fruit and vegetables, home baked pies and cookies, quilts and handmade furniture. For some of the Amish that is their main interaction with people outside of their community as well. The Amish are hardworking, provide quality products, and almost all are outgoing in that environment and give friendly customer service.

But this particular girl, only months removed from the shooting that took place in the Nickel Mines school, got more and more nervous—she found her breath coming shallow and faster, so much so that her own chest rose and fell visibly. She looked around but no one else seemed to notice the man or her reaction to his presence. Her gaze darted from here to there, first looking at him, wanting to keep an eye on him, then quickly looking away if he looked in her direction. She tried to help the customer in front of the counter but concentrating was difficult.

Then she saw him approach. He strode forward, fishing around for something in his bag, then sticking his hand down deep and drawing an object out with one fast pull.

The girl cried out and fled to the back of the stand, shaking.

The man pulled the object out of his bag and placed it on the counter. It was a Bible, a random gift to the workers at the farmer’s market stand. He disappeared among the hundreds of browsing shoppers. The gentleman had no idea the scare he had just given the girl. No one outside the stand had noticed that something intense had happened. Everything continued on as normal—the shoppers wandered and the vendors shouted out their sales to the lingering crowds.

But in the back, the traumatized girl wept.

Not too long before, her schoolhouse had been hemmed in by police cruisers and emergency vehicles while the sound of a handful of helicopters sliced through the sky. And the thunderous crack of rapid gun shots had echoed back at her from the rolling hills.

Forgiveness is never easy.

-----

During those solemn winter months following the tragedy in our community, my wife, Anne, was running errands in the countryside close to the place where the shootings had taken place. That particular area of southern Lancaster County, about sixty miles east of Philadelphia, was an alternating blanket of farms and forest. The trees stood bare. The fields in November and December and January were rock hard, and flat. Where spring and summer bring deep green and autumn blazes with color, winter often feels quiet and stark.

Anne, my wife, also grew up Amish, and we both understood the questions blazing up within that community in the wake of the killings: Should their schools have more secure steel doors with deadbolts to keep intruders out? Should they install telephones in the one room school houses in case of emergency, a serious break from their traditional decision to shun most modern conveniences? Should the gates that guard the entrance to most of their schools’ stone driveways be kept closed and locked to prevent strangers from driving on to the premises?

Anne came to a stop sign at a “T” in the road. She could only turn right or left. The roads rolled with the gently sloping landscape or curved along the small streams. A handful of scattered homes broke up the farmland that seemed to go on almost indefinitely. But as she paused at that intersection preparing to turn, she noticed something: directly in front of her was a one room Amish schoolhouse, not the one where the shooting took place, but one of the many within that ten mile radius.

Most of those schools look the same: a narrow stone or dirt lane leading from the road and up to a painted cement block building with a shingled roof and a small, covered porch; a school bell perched on the roof’s peak; separate outhouses for the girls and the boys. In some of the schools’ large yards you can see the outline of a base path where the children play softball. Some even have a backstop. The school grounds often take up an acre or so of land in the middle of a farmer’s field, usually donated by one of the student’s parents, surrounded by a three- or four-rail horse fence.

Yet there was something about this simple school that made my wife stop her car and park there for a minute. Part of it had to do with her thoughts of the children at the Nickel Mines school and all they had been through. She was also affected by visions of the parents who had lost children and their long road ahead, knowing as she does how heart-wrenching it is to lose a child. But on that particular day, in the wake of all the questions brought up within the Amish community about how they would deal with this disaster, there was one thing that immediately stood out.

The front gate was wide open.

We have all seen what happens in a community when people allow unforgiveness to rule their hearts. Lawsuits abound, separating the perpetrator and their family from those who were wronged, and in this separation the healing process is slowed dramatically. When forgiveness is withheld walls are built within a community and division occurs, leading to isolation and further misunderstanding. Anger and bitterness take hold.

The parents of those girls who were killed, along with their family members and neighbors, decided not to allow the shooting to further separate them from their neighbors. There were no lawsuits filed by the victims’ families against the shooter’s estate or the emergency services or the government, as is so often the case. They would not permit anger or fear to drive them into installing telephones, modern conveniences that their way of life had survived so long without. They would trust God to protect them, leaving the gate open to their hearts and to their communities, and move forward with forgiving hearts.

Given what happened, could that really be possible?

******************************************************************
Think No Evil
Inside the Story of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting . . .
and Beyond


Jonas Beiler
with Shawn Smucker


Howard Books

West Monroe, Louisiana


[Refer to P4P regarding inclusion of purpose statement.]

Our purpose at Howard Books is to:

Increase faith in the hearts of growing Christians
Inspire holiness in the lives of believers
Instill hope in the hearts of struggling people everywhere
Because He’s coming again!


[Howard Logo] Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

www.howardpublishing.com


Think No Evil © 2009 Jonas Beiler


All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Howard Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.


Published in association with Ambassador Literary Agency, Nashville, Tennessee


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data TK


ISBN 978-1-4165-6298-6

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


HOWARD and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


Manufactured in the United States of America


For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact: Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-866-506-1949 or business@simonandschuster.com.


The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event, contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at www.simonspeakers.com.


Edited by Cindy Lambert

Cover design by TK

Interior design by TK

Photography/illustrations by TK


[Permission information regarding Bible translations used (See "Bible Version Lines" list) TK]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pillsbury Back to School Cookies giveaway


Well school has started again and Pillsbury has back to school shaped sugar cookies. They are fun and easy to bake. This giveaway is provided by MyBlogSpark and one winner will recieve an insulated lunch bag, ruler, pencil sharper, pencil box and a coupon for a free package of Pillsbury back to school shaped sugar cookies. These cookies are available for a limited time only and my contest runs through Monday September 28th.
To enter you must be a U.S. resident just leave me a comment telling me your favorite back to school tradition.
Make sure to leave me a way to contact you :)


Sunday, September 20, 2009

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Alone with a Jihadist by Aaron D. Taylor

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Alone with a Jihadist

Foghorn Publishers (October 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Aaron D. Taylor was raised in a Midwestern charismatic church with the belief that Christians had a duty to take up arms in defense of their government and the ideals of freedom. He supported our actions in Iraq and asserted that only one political party was the appropriate home for true believers of God. After a meeting in London with Khalid, a militant jihadist, Taylor came away with a deep questioning of the ideals that, up to that moment, formed a cornerstone for his theology. In Alone with a Jihadist, Aaron Taylor shares his personal revelation that Christians are not to be supporters of military or other violent solutions to the world’s problems.


Visit the author's website and blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $18.99
Paperback
Publisher: Foghorn Publishers (October 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1934466123
ISBN-13: 978-1934466124

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


What have I gotten myself into this time? Here I was sitting across the table from Stephen Marshall, the director of a feature length documentary film called Holy War, a film examining the role of religion in the post 9/11 clash between the West and Islam. Stephen and I were sitting in an underground café in London discussing what I was about to do the next day. In less than 24 hours, I was about to be stuck in an abandoned warehouse for several hours with a radical jihadist who wanted to destroy me, my country, my religion, and every- thing else I held dear.

As a 28 year-old evangelist born and raised in Jefferson County Missouri, a rural county outside the suburbs of St. Louis, the idea of representing Western Civilization in an epic debate seemed a bit far-fetched. I imagined what the cultural elite in Europe would think if they knew a Christian missionary from the Bible Belt was their de facto representative for defending their civilization over and against Islamic civilization. The thought suddenly struck me as humorous. How in the world did I get here?

It all started when I was a young child attending a missionary conference at my charismatic mega-church. As long as I can remember, I’ve always had a knack for adventure and a zeal for the things of God. When I was between the ages of 8 and 10, my church invited missionaries from all over the world to display exhibits and share about their ministries at an event they called the World Harvest Conference. Seeing the missionaries dressed in exotic costumes and hearing their stories made me want to “abandon it all for the sake of the call” just as they had done. For a young child who rarely traveled, the prospect of spending my life in a far away place and learning another language captured my imagination and gave me a vision for the future. By the time my uncle Charlie took his first trip to Africa, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to be a missionary too.

My first missionary trip was in 1993 to the country of Poland. A missionary from our church named Jack Harris was scheduled to conduct an evangelistic crusade in the town of Wroclaw, so he decided to take a group of select young people from our church’s youth group to help advertise the meetings during the day, and most importantly, get a taste of the mission field. For days our team did mimes on the streets and invited people to come to an evangelistic crusade at night. One afternoon as we were all resting in our hotel rooms, I read a book by evangelist Mike Francen called A Quest for Souls. Francen was personally trained under the legendary T.L. Osborn and saw many of the same miracles that T.L. and his wife Daisy had seen throughout their 50-years of ministry together. For a 15 year old raised in the charismatic movement, looking at pictures of 100,000 people lifting their hands to receive Jesus as Savior was like an adolescent baseball player looking at a picture of Babe Ruth knocking the ball out of Yankee Stadium. For me, the choice was very simple. How could I stay in America and preach the gospel to those who have already heard when there are millions of people around the world who have never had a chance to hear the gospel once? From that day forward, I decided to dedicate my life to becoming a world evangelist.

As soon as I graduated from high school, I was out the door and ready to change the world. During my formative years, my parents made tremendous financial sacrifices to put my brothers and me through Christian school, so we never really traveled much. But now that I had the freedom to determine my future, I found myself traveling to places far and wide. Places I never in my wildest imagination dreamed I would ever go. Places such as India, China, Tibet, Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Grenada, and Laos. Some of these countries were places where those who decide to follow Jesus often pay a terrible price of suffering and persecution and, yet, the joy on their faces reinforced to me that following Jesus is worth the cost, no matter what the cost may be.

In October of 2000, I met my beautiful wife Rhiannon in Dallas, Texas while we were attending the School of Missions at Christ for the Nations Institute. My wife and I were married on October 6th, 2001, approximately three weeks after 9/11. Shortly after we were married, we decided that we wanted to put our missionary training to use by taking the gospel to those of the Muslim faith. We wanted to minister in a country that has a Muslim majority, but also enjoys religious freedom; so after a year and a half of quiet and peaceful suburban living, we packed our bags and moved to the country of Senegal, located in West Africa.

While in Senegal we labored, we cried, we prayed, and we met a lot of fascinating people along the way. Most of our family and friends thought that we were crazy evangelizing Muslims, especially since this was shortly after 9/11, but the fact is our interaction with Muslims was entirely peaceful. Not once did we come across someone who hated us and wanted us out of the country. Although God allowed us a measure of success in Senegal, sometimes life throws curve balls. After 16 short months of missionary living, my wife and I moved back to the U.S. to help my mother-in-law who eventually died of cancer in March of 2005.

It wasn’t long before I was off traveling the world again. This time I found myself traveling to Pakistan—a place largely overrun by radical jihadists sympathetic to the likes of people like Osama bin Laden. Neither my wife nor I wanted to be a prime target for kidnapping or execution, so we decided to concentrate our ministry primarily on the Christian minority, encouraging them in their faith and equipping them with Bibles and other tools for witness and evangelism.

It was shortly after my first trip to Pakistan that I met Stephen Marshall. One day as I was checking my e-mail, I noticed an ad I had previously overlooked in a mass e-mail for missionary mobilizers. The headline read, “Hollywood Production Company looking for a young missionary who travels the world to participate in a feature-length documentary.” A few days before I saw the e-mail, I already felt I had a direction from the Lord to begin engaging secular media with the gospel, so when Stephen responded to my reply a few days later, I was pleasantly surprised—and overwhelmed. Representing a Christian perspective to the secular media is a tall order, especially when you don’t have any control over the editing process. Almost immediately after I got off the phone with Stephen I wondered if I’d bitten off more than I can chew.

Unfortunately for me, there was little time for second-guessing. Within a few short weeks, Stephen came to my home to interview me and ask me just about every question under the sun regarding my faith, family, and political views. The last thing I wanted to do was to isolate myself unnecessarily from those outside the conservative evangelical fold, so I tried to be as diplomatic as possible when Stephen asked me questions about 9/11, the Iraq War, free-market capitalism, George Bush, and the Republican Party. Little did I know that the microscopic examination of my faith, on that weekend was only the tip of the iceberg. There was still much, much more to come.

Within a few short months, Stephen traveled with me to Pakistan to observe my preaching and to get a first-hand look at the oppression of Christians in a nation largely populated with radical Muslims. It was during the trip to Pakistan that Stephen began speaking to me about a very outspoken jihadist who lived in London named Khalid. I had seen Khalid on CNN and knew that he was an Irish convert to Islam who had grown up in a Catholic family. After the trip to Pakistan, I honestly thought my role in the film was over. In my mind, I had behaved like a good Christian and had a rare opportunity to expose the plight of the Pakistani Christians to the world.

Little did I know that a few months later, after delivering a sermon at a Pentecostal church in Brazil, a man would walk up to me and tell me that I was supposed to go to London before the end of the year and that, if I would go, then God would give me a great victory. Taking this as a word from God, I thought that maybe I could go and talk to Khalid, find out how he thinks and see if I could persuade him to accept the way and teachings of Christ. It wasn’t long before the producers caught wind of the story and decided to set up a meeting between the two of us for the purpose of capturing the conversation on film.

I don’t think words can describe the pressure I felt during the two days of what turned out to be an intense debate with Khalid. Not only did I have to make my case for Christ to Khalid, I also knew that I had to be a faithful representative of Christ to the average non-Christian watching the film, many of whom are already convinced in their minds that those who hold to a fundamental belief in Scripture are destined to drag the world into a premature Apocalypse. To top it off, I knew there were American soldiers in Iraq in harm’s way and the last thing I wanted to do was to dishonor their service. The fact that the weather was unusually cold and gloomy, and that we were meeting in an old abandoned warehouse, made the atmosphere tense from the start. When Khalid walked into the room with his fiery eyes, intense gaze, and a grey t-shirt with the words “Soldier of Allah” written on the front, I knew the next few hours were not going to be a picnic.

The meeting didn’t quite go as I expected.

It took all about two minutes for me to realize there wasn’t going to be the Dr. Phil moment I had imagined with me helping Khalid to see that deep down inside there’s an inner child waiting to be loved. Within no time, Khalid began venting all of his anger, frustration, and rage against my religion, my country, Western Civilization—and me. In the beginning, I did my utmost to keep the conversation on a theological level. Having lived in a Muslim country and studied the basic tenets of Islam, I knew how to engage Muslims in friendly conversation regarding the merits of Christian belief. Most Muslims I had met up until this point were surprisingly generous about their view of the Bible and the fate of Christians on judgment day. Khalid, on the other hand, made no apology for his belief that every single Christian who has ever lived is heading straight for hell. The way Khalid raged about Iraq, Afghanistan, George Bush, and Tony Blair, I was sure that, in Khalid’s mind, the hottest flames in hell are reserved for those who put them in office.

The most frustrating part for me was the more I tried to shift the conversation to theological matters, the more determined Khalid was to condemn the evils of Western Civilization and, in particular, U.S. foreign policy. After sitting and listening for what seemed like hours, besides the occasional interjection here and there, I finally decided to engage Khalid on one of the primary moral objections to political Islam, and that’s the issue of religious freedom. For years I’ve felt that there’s a double standard in the liberal media when it comes to the issue of religious freedom in the Islamic world. I always get annoyed when I read news- magazines or hear cable news commentators herald a country like Malaysia as an Islamic paradise for democracy when I know full well that ethnic Malays who decide to switch their religion from Islam to Christianity (or any other religion for that matter) have historically faced imprisonment, torture, and the threat of execution.

Ready for a good debate, I finally stopped Khalid in mid-sentence and blurted out, “Freedom of religion in Islam is a façade. There is no such thing as freedom of religion in Islam.”

Expecting to hear a rebuttal, I was genuinely taken aback when Khalid so nonchalantly replied, “No there’s not. We don’t believe in freedom and democracy. We believe democracy is just a manifestation of man-made law.”

Freedom and democracy equals man-made law? As an American culturally conditioned to think of the words “freedom” and “democracy” as inalienable rights endowed by our Creator, the idea that another human being could consciously reject these values was intriguing to me. The association of democracy with man-made law also had a ring of logic to it. After all, we all know that the U.S. Congress and the British Parliament don’t wait for a heavenly finger to write on tablets of stone before passing legislation. Still trying to keep the conversation on a theological level and with little time to think, I responded, “You see that’s the difference, because the Bible says in the New Testament, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Wasting no time, Khalid replied “Yes, but what does that mean? Nobody knows what that means. Not very clear.”

Not very clear? What’s not clear about living in freedom from legalistic rules and regulations? I thought perhaps I needed to state it another way.

“If society is going to change, then hearts have to change,” I said.

Khalid wasn’t buying it.

“You still haven’t described how you would implement the Bible as a way of life or in government. I’ll be honest with you. I’m gonna pin you down. I don’t think you can. I don’t think you can, because you can’t. With the Bible, how would you address the pedophilia, the prostitution, and the homosexuality from a governmental point of view? How would you address that? You’re in charge tomorrow all right? You are the president of the United States, how would you address these problems?”

How would I implement the Bible from a governmental point of view? Now that was a good question. In my mind, I could hear the calm reassuring voice of my senior pastor saying something like, “Now, Aaron. Remember that Christianity isn’t about trying to regulate society by setting up earthly governments. It’s about forgiveness of sins and a right relationship with God.”

“That’s right pastor,” I thought to myself “but that doesn’t really answer his question. If I’m going to make the claim that my faith is the right one, certainly I need to show that if everyone, or at least the vast majority of people, embraced my faith, then society would be better off. After all, there are moral implications to living out the gospel, and these implications aren’t limited to the private sphere.”

In my heart I knew that Khalid’s question was far from insignificant. Even though I knew the standard answer that the purpose for Jesus coming to earth was to die on the cross for our sins. Even though I knew that the gospel is about God’s love for sinners, not about sinners striving to achieve moral perfection. Even though I knew that the theme of the Bible is grace and redemption, not condemnation and legalism, there was something in Khalid’s question that caused my heart to sink. I knew that Khalid’s challenge wasn’t something I could dismiss lightly.

“First of all, as Christians, we want godly government.” I responded. Perhaps it was a lame answer, but it was all I could think of at the moment.

Unfortunately, Khalid didn’t have time for introspection. He wanted an answer right then and there.

“What is godly government? I don’t understand. What is godly government? How about a punishment system? Let’s pin you down. How about a punishment system? For example, what kind of punishment would you have for homosexuality?”

“That’s a good question because Jesus said, ‘He who is without sin let him cast the first stone.’ Jesus was going more for the heart on that one. Jesus showed that you can have law, but then what’s law without mercy?” I replied.

Khalid didn’t have time for moral philosophy. He wanted an answer.

“So you really don’t know what to do about it do you? That’s okay. I don’t expect you to know because the reason why you don’t know is because the answer is not in there. I wouldn’t expect you to know. Let me tell you what we do with homosexuals, okay? They are to be taken to the top of a mountain and thrown off and killed. It’s capital punishment. For the one who is an adulterer, if they are unmarried, a hundred lashes. If they’re married, stoned to death. This is Islamic Sharia. It’s comprehensive. I don’t expect you to know. I’m not trying to expose you. I’m trying to be honest with you because you are holding a completely corrupted message that doesn’t tell you what to do in these situations. So you shouldn’t know.”

At this point I was thinking Keep going Khalid. You are really hanging yourself here. As an evangelical Christian frustrated at how the media so often lumps my people into the same category as radical Islamists by throwing around the word fundamentalist, I wanted the potential audience to see what a real fundamentalist looks like, so I calmly replied,

“You say that homosexuals should be stoned and killed.”

“I didn’t say that. God says it.” Khalid replied in a matter of fact manner.

“I think that’s nuts because Jesus said, “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”

Khalid took the bait.

“That’s why you are going to hellfire and I’m going to Paradise if I die as a Muslim and you die as a disbeliever. In Islam, you have to follow the message of Mohammed. I don’t want you to go to hell.”

I found it amusing that Khalid didn’t want me to go to hell. That was the reason why I was there, because I didn’t want him to go to hell. The problem was that I was cold, jet-lagged, and mild-tempered while Khalid was hot, awake, and ready for a fight. But the last thing I wanted to do was fight. I didn’t want the world to see two religious extremists at each other’s throats and I certainly didn’t want this to turn into a stereotypical match of “You’re going to hell” “No, You’re going to hell.” So I decided to put one of the principles of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People into practice. Seek first to understand, then to be under- stood. I decided to listen to what Khalid had to say—and Khalid wasted no time in saying it.

“I believe the Islamic arguments are stronger than the arguments for Christianity. Only because I’ve studied them both. And when I read the Koran, believe me Aaron, I swear to God, from my heart to your heart. I just read it and, I was a little bit angry at first. At first, I said, how come this was kept away from me? Who kept this away from me for all of my life and let me lead a miserable existence for 34 years without knowing the truth? Let me think that alcohol is okay, let me do whatever I want because of vicarious atonement. One man gets slaughtered on a cross by the Jews and, all of the sudden; everybody can do whatever they want. Pedophiles, Homosexuals, do whatever you want. No individual responsibility. No consequences for your actions. That’s what your belief hinges on.”

One man gets slaughtered on the cross by the Jews and, all of the sudden; everybody can do whatever they want? No individual responsibility? No consequences for your actions? That’s what my belief hinges on? I knew that the picture Khalid was painting was a gross distortion of the Christian faith, but at this point, it really didn’t matter. Khalid had a preconceived notion in his mind about what I believed and there was little I could do to change his perception. Finally I said:

“You talk a lot about the ideal society, you say that Mohammed is the final prophet, Islam is the true religion because it gives a comprehensive guide to life that’s politically and economically sufficient. I would dispute you in saying the Bible doesn’t give a comprehensive guide to life. I would dispute you in saying that, because the Bible does have a lot to say about government. The Bibles does have a lot to say about, not only outward righteousness, but inward righteousness. So, just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean that I as a Christian can’t look in my Bible and see everything that I need to know to live a righteous life.”

Khalid’s reply was very revealing.

“But, Aaron. I don’t need to look at the book. I can look outside the door at your own society. I can see the prostitution. I can see the adultery. I can see the cheating. I can see the moneymakers, the interest, and the society. Every evil, the pedophilia, the homosexuals allowed to run rife. Nothing is addressed. Evil is allowed to run rampant, okay? And you just keep propagating peace and love and all that sort of thing and it’s not really good enough. And, as I say, I don’t have to look at the book. I just have to look outside the door. I can see a manifestation of everything in there. Everything bad in your society.”

The one thing I appreciated about Khalid was that he made it easy for me to summarize his moral arguments. Christianity is evil because Western Civilization is evil. The two are inextricably linked. Now that Khalid was on a role, he decided to shift the conversation to politics. That’s when things started to get interesting.

“In the last election, you come from America right? Who did you

vote for? Did you vote for anybody?”

A bit caught off guard, I answered, “Well, yes I did, but let me ask you a question.”

Khalid cut me off mid sentence.

“It’s a simple question. You did vote for somebody? And what do the people that you vote for do? Explain what they do. Look I’m gonna tell you right? I’m gonna tell you what the people you vote for do. They make law and order. They don’t make ice cream. In the House of Representatives and the House of Commons here. They make law and order. They decide what’s forbidden and they decide what’s allowed. This is called man-made law. Now, do you think God wants us to live by His law or man made law? He wants us to live by His comprehensive law and order. He always did. Why do you think Jesus was persecuted? Because He spoke out against the George Bushes and the Tony Blairs of His day. He was called a fundamentalist, terrorist, and an extremist, new laws of terrorism brought in. So He’s arrested, tortured. Is this starting to sound familiar? It should to you, because it’s what’s happening to Muslims today. Whenever a messenger was sent and he changed the whole of society, he was always terrorized, persecuted, and imprisoned. This is a sign of the people that are speaking the truth. And we believe that man-made law is a big disease. So you’re saying that you believe in the law of God and you want to be obedient, but yet you’re voting for people like George Bush who are mere men.”

“Jesus was an Islamic Fundamentalist?” I thought to myself, “Now that’s one for the loony bin.” The Koran was written approximately 600 years after the events surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus, which is why no serious historian accepts that Jesus was a Muslim, unless they accept it by blind faith. According to the Koran, Jesus wasn’t a friend to sinners, nor did He actually die on a wooden cross. In the Koran, Jesus was a Muslim who prayed five times a day facing Mecca, fasted during the month of Ramadan, and made it his aim to implement the Divine Sharia on the whole of society. The problem with this idea is that both the Bible and history agree that Jesus was a threat to the religious establishment of His day. Khalid obviously had it backwards, but the fact that he had it backwards underscored something very revealing about the historical Jesus in my mind. The people that Jesus condemned the most were the Pharisees—the ones who ruled over others in the name of God with the power of the State behind them. In a strange way, Khalid’s crazy idea served to reinforce the point that he was making. The Jesus of the gospels left us with neither a legal system nor a socio-economic system for creating an ideal society.

Now that Khalid knew he had my attention, he decided to walk me through the finer points of his worldview as a maestro would with an inquisitive pupil.

“Islam is not religion; you probably think Islam is a religion. It’s not. It’s a pure divine belief. Comprehensive. We had a divine social system, economic system, political system, private system, and a system of what to do when somebody invades your land, what to do when somebody invades your home. We’re onto the

concept which a lot of people are talking about today, the issue of fighting or jihad in Islam. Jihad in Islam is one of the things that protect the Muslims around the world.”

“So jihad is primarily defensive?” I thought to myself, “Does that include 9/11?”

Khalid and I had an extensive debate on that one—and a host of other topics. For hours upon hours for two days straight Khalid and I went back and forth on just about every topic imaginable: the prophethood of Muhammad, the crucifixion, the divinity of Jesus, the inspiration of Scripture, Osama bin Laden, Iraq, Afghanistan, the War on Terror, democracy, freedom of religion, the role of women, the persecution of Christians in Muslim lands, the finer points of Sharia law.

In many ways, I felt that I took a beating in my debate with Khalid, though I still walked out of there with my head held high. Rather than feeding the fire-breathing stereotype of a my-way-or-the-highway American evangelist, I decided in the end to make a symbolic attempt at reconciliation. Though Khalid left me with little hope of reconciliation between the West and Islam, I found out later that my presence did have a disarming effect on Khalid—somewhat. Khalid conceded that I wasn’t what he expected and, t the very least, he confided to me that I helped him see that merican Christians are also concerned about the moral issues he’s concerned with and that not every American Christian agrees with U.S. foreign policy.

Then I returned home.

For weeks I walked around in a daze. I couldn't get the thought but of my mind that if Khalid and his repeated threats to fight with all means necessary until U.S. troops are removed from Muslim ands, if his ideas represent only 10% of the 1.3 billion Muslims of he world, then we are looking at a problem of global significance. Hearing the rage and frustration of Khalid helped me to see that he anger and frustration of millions of Muslims directed at America and Western Civilization didn’t emerge from a vacuum. And how many jihadists does it take to execute a terrorist attack capable of destabilizing the world order? Only a handful. All I could think of was America is not ready for this.

But then another thought struck me.

As I poured myself into watching documentaries, reading scholarly journals online, and scrutinizing the TV news, I realized that something was changing on the inside of me, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. After a couple of months I realized that something had happened during my debate with Khalid that I ever thought would happen. Khalid had presented an authentic challenge to my faith and I knew that if there was to be any victory at all, like the victory that was prophesied, then I would have to get to the bottom of the issue. Khalid’s charge was simple. Jesus didn’t leave the world with a comprehensive social system, economic system, political system, or any other kind of system to regulate society. At least Muhammad attempted to solve the world’s problems.

Tell me, preacher man. How would you implement the Bible from a governmental point of view?

I poured over the Scriptures for months with this question in mind. Did Jesus really leave us with nothing in terms of how to implement the Scriptures from a governmental point of view? Certainly he left us with something. Or did He? If He did, then we Christians in the West had better find out what it is and get off our lazy derrieres and do something. If He didn’t, then why didn’t He? If it turns out that He did not, then what are the implications for the War on Terror and the current clash between the West and Islam? After months of pouring over this simple question, I realized that my entire world had been turned upside down.


My take on the book:

I really enjoyed this book! I wasn't sure I wanted my typical American viewpoint upset but I know that when one grows comfortable they also grow apathetic and I didn't want that either. Aaron Taylor had his world shaken when he sat down with a Jihadist and discussed their views on religion and government and he wanted to share that. As a Christian I figured that God would want me to be a Republican and take an active roll in political matters but this book has made me think that may not be the case. Mr. Taylor uses a lot of Scripture to back up his views on non resistance and God's take on using war especially when it kills thousands of innocent civilians.

This book made me look at the way I percieve war and also pledging allegiance to the State, when as a follower of Christ who promoted peace and never pledged allegiance to anyone but God - made me wonder if what I am doing is right. This doesn't make one any less patriotic, in fact the Amish who are known for non resistance, are even themselves patriotic. It seems though it you are a 'regular' American and you feel pulled toward not saying the Pledge of Allegiance or you are against war then you must be unpatriotic and you can't possibly be an American. This is so far from the truth, while I am still torn on saying the Pledge, I know that God wants our full allegiance to Him, not to a country that promotes adultery, homosexual lifestyles and marriages, pornography and other ideologies that go against Him.

I recommend this book especially if you are a Christian who can't figure out why churches will promote war even though innocent civilians - men, women and children when their Saviour promoted peace and loving their enemies. If you're looking for a new way to look at our world, though Christ's eyes - this book is a good start. I'm not saying Aaron Taylor has all the answers, that won't come this side of Heaven, but he's got a great start. This book will also make some understand why it is that extremist Muslims don't appreciate Americans on their land - a very shocking reason. If you want you're eyes opened and want the use of Scripture to do so I recommend that this book be on your to-be-read list.

FIRST Wild Card Tour: A Cousin's Prayer by Wanda Brunstetter

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


A Cousin’s Prayer

Barbour Books; 1 edition (September 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Wanda E. Brunstetter is nationally recognized as an expert on the Amish community, and her book sales have topped the three million mark. Her books White Christmas Pie, A Sister’s Hope, and Allison’s Journey topped Publishers Weekly Paperback Religion Bestsellers lists in 2008. Her books have also received other honors, including the 2006 Reader’s Choice Award and the CBD Book of the Week. Brunstetter enjoys an uncommon kinship with the Amish and loves to visit their communities throughout the country.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books; 1 edition (September 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602600619
ISBN-13: 978-1602600614

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Prologue

Katie Miller’s stomach churned as she read the letter she’d just received from her cousin Loraine:

Dear Katie,

Wayne and I will be getting married the last Thursday of April. I’d like you to be one of my attendants.

Katie’s heart pounded. There was no way she could go to her cousin’s wedding, much less be one of her attendants.

“Who’s the letter from?” Katie’s grandmother asked, taking a seat on the porch swing beside Katie.

“Loraine. She’s getting married in April, and she wants me to be one of her attendants.” Katie almost choked on the words.

“That’s wunderbaar. I’m sure you’re looking forward to going.”

Katie shook her head. “I don’t want to go.”

“Think how disappointed Loraine would be if you weren’t at her wedding.”

Katie’s gaze dropped to the floor. “I can’t go back to Indiana, Grammy.”

“Loraine and Wayne have been through so much. Don’t you want to be there to share in their joy?”

Katie shivered despite the warm Florida breeze. If Timothy hadn’t been killed on their way to Hershey Park last fall, she’d be planning her own wedding right now.

“Katie, did you hear what I said?”

Katie nodded, hoping she wouldn’t give in to the tears pushing against her eyelids. “If I hadn’t freaked out about a bee in the van, Timothy, Paul, and Raymond would still be alive.” Katie drew in a shaky breath. “Jolene wouldn’t have lost her hearing, either, and Wayne would still have both of his legs.”

“You’re not to blame, Katie. It was an accident. It might have happened even if you hadn’t been afraid of the bee.” Grammy touched Katie’s arm. “You need to accept it and go on with your life.”

“I–I don’t know if I can.”

“Timothy wouldn’t want you to continue grieving for him. He wouldn’t want you to blame yourself for the accident.”

“You’ve said that before.”

“Then you ought to listen.” Grammy took hold of Katie’s hand. “Let’s go inside so you can write Loraine and let her know you’ll be at the wedding.”

“I–I’m afraid to go. The thought of traveling alone scares me. I don’t think I can deal with all the painful memories that are there.”

“Will you go to Loraine’s wedding if I go with you?”

“What about Grandpa? Would he go, too?”

Grammy shook her head. “He has things to do here.”

Katie couldn’t imagine what things Grandpa would have to do. He was retired and spent a good deal of his time at the beach.

“What about it, Katie?” Grammy asked. “Will you go to the wedding if I go along?”

Katie sat for several seconds, thinking things through. Finally, she gave a slow nod. It would be easier going back to Indiana with Grammy along, and as soon as the wedding was over, they’d come back here.





Chapter 1


“It sure is good to have you home,” Katie’s father said as they headed down the road in his buggy toward Uncle Amos and Aunt Priscilla’s house. He glanced over at Katie and smiled. “Your mamm said Loraine was real pleased when she got your letter saying you’d be one of her attendants.”

Katie clutched the folds in her dress as she stared out the window. She didn’t know why she felt so edgy. She hadn’t felt like this when she was in Florida. She’d been depressed after Timothy died, but not quivery inside the way she’d been since she’d climbed into Dad’s buggy. She was grateful they didn’t have far to go.

Dad motioned to what was left of the barn they were passing. “Take a look at the devastation from the tornado that hit this past winter. That terrible storm affected nearly everyone around these parts in some way or another.”

“No one was killed, though, right?”

“No, but some were injured, and the damage was great. Many, like Wayne’s folks, lost their homes, barns, and shops. It’s a good thing the house Wayne started building before he lost his leg didn’t sustain any damage from the tornado,” Dad said. “Several of the men in our community finished it for him, and Wayne’s folks have been livin’ in it ever since.”

“Will they continue living there after Loraine and Wayne get married?” Katie asked.

Dad nodded. “At least until their own house is done.”

Katie knew from some of the things Loraine had said in her letters that she and Ada hadn’t always gotten along so well. She wondered how things would be having them both living under the same roof.

“Look at the Chupps’ place.” Dad pointed to the left. “They lost their barn, his buggy shop, and the house. Only those who’ve actually seen the destruction of a tornado like we had here can even imagine such a sight.”

Katie gripped the edge of the seat. “I don’t understand why God allows such horrible things to happen.”

He shrugged his broad shoulders. “It’s not our place to question God. His ways are not our ways.”

Katie clamped her teeth together in an effort to keep from saying what was on her mind. Dad wouldn’t understand if she told him how angry she was with God for taking Timothy. He’d probably give her a lecture and say it was Timothy’s time to die, like he’d said to her on the day of Timothy’s funeral.

“Do you know how long you’ll be helping at Loraine’s?” Dad asked.

“Probably most of the day, since I’m sure there’s a lot to be done before the wedding. You can come by sometime before supper and pick me up, or I can ask someone to give me a ride home.”

“I don’t mind coming back for you. I’ll be here around four, okay?”

“That’s fine, but if we get done sooner, I’ll just ask for a ride home.”

“Sounds good.” Dad guided the horse up Uncle Amos’s driveway and directed him toward the barn. When they stopped at the hitching rail, Dad turned to Katie and said, “Have a good day, and don’t work too hard. You’re lookin’ kind of peaked today.”

“I’ll be fine, Dad.” Katie climbed out of the buggy and headed to the house. She wasn’t fine at all. It seemed strange being back here again. She’d only been gone from home a little over six months, but it seemed a lot longer.

She noticed several people in the yard, pulling weeds and planting flowers, but didn’t see any sign of Loraine or her folks. She figured they must be in the house.

When she stepped onto the back porch, she drew in a shaky breath. She wished Grammy or Mom would have come with her today, instead of going shopping in Shipshewana. Katie figured since Mom and Grammy hadn’t seen each other for several months, they probably wanted to spend some time alone.

Just as Katie lifted her hand to knock on the back door, it swung open. Loraine stepped onto the porch and gave Katie a hug. “It’s so good to have you home! Danki for coming. It means a lot for me to have you and Ella as my attendants.”

“Danki for asking me.” Katie forced a smile. In some ways, it was good to be here, but she felt as out of place as a chicken in a duck pond.

“I just wish Jolene could be here, too.”

“She’s not coming?”

“Huh-uh. Her aunt’s been dealing with carpal tunnel on both of her wrists, and she recently had surgery to correct the problem. Jolene thought it’d be best if she stayed in Pennsylvania to help out.”

“That makes sense. But do you think Jolene will ever come back to Indiana?” Katie asked.

“I hope so.” Loraine opened the door and motioned Katie inside. “Ella and her sister Charlene are in the kitchen. We decided to have a snack before we head out to the barn to help decorate the tables for the wedding meal.”

When Katie entered the kitchen behind Loraine, she saw Ella and Charlene sitting at the table.

Ella jumped up, raced over Katie, and gave her a hug that nearly took Katie’s breath away. “It’s so good to see you! We’ve all missed you so much!”

Katie smiled. “I’ve missed you, too.”

“Would you like a glass of iced tea?” Loraine asked.

Katie nodded and took a seat at the table.

“How about a piece of my sister’s appeditlich friendship bread?” Charlene motioned to the plate of bread on the table.

“I’m sure the bread’s delicious, but I’m not really hungry right now.”

“As skinny as you are, you oughta eat the whole loaf.” Charlene’s eyebrows lifted high. “Are you sure you’re not hungry?”

Katie shook her head.

Ella shot her sister a look of disapproval, but Charlene didn’t seem to notice. She was busy cutting herself another hunk of bread.

“Didn’t you have a birthday last month?” Charlene asked, her mouth full.

Katie nodded. “I turned twenty.”

Charlene grabbed her glass and took a drink. “You’d sure never know it. Why, you don’t look like you’re more than sixteen.” She pointed to herself. “I look older than you.”

Katie groaned inwardly. She didn’t need the reminder that she looked young for her age. She couldn’t help it if she was short, petite, and had the face of a teenager. At least I act more mature than my sixteen-year-old cousin, she thought.

“I got a letter from Jolene last week,” Ella said. “She won’t be coming to Loraine’s wedding because—”

“She already knows,” Loraine interrupted. “I told her about Jolene’s aunt when we were out on the porch.”

“I wonder if Jolene’s using her aunt’s surgery as an excuse not to come home. She might be afraid that she won’t fit in with the rest of us now that she can’t hear,” Charlene put in.

Ella shot her sister another look. “I’m sure that’s not the reason. Jolene would never make up an excuse not to come to the wedding.”

Katie’s shoulders tensed as she shifted her gaze to the window. What would her cousins think if they knew she hadn’t wanted to come home for the wedding? Did they have any idea how hard it had been for her to make the trip? Even with Grammy along, Katie had felt anxious on the bus ride. Every horn honk and sudden stop had sent shivers up her spine. She knew she couldn’t have made the trip home alone. Even though she wasn’t looking forward to riding the bus again, she looked forward to going back to Florida where there were no painful reminders of the past.

Loraine stood. “Would anyone like to see my wedding dress?”

Charlene’s hand shot up. “I would!”

“Me, too,” Ella said.

Katie nodded as well.

“I’ll be right back.” Loraine scurried out of the room.

Charlene nudged Katie’s arm. “What’s it like in Pinecraft? That’s where your grossmudder lives, isn’t it?”

Katie nodded as she fiddled with the edge of the tablecloth. “As you know, Pinecraft is the section of Sarasota where many Plain People have homes or come to rent. It’s a nice community.”

“Is it true that there are no horses and buggies?” Charlene asked.

Katie nodded. “Unless they’re going out of the area and need to hire a driver, everyone either walks or rides a bike.”

“Do you go to the beach very often?” Ella questioned.

“Jah. Grandpa and I go there a lot. We enjoy looking for shells, and Grandpa likes to fish.”

Charlene sighed. “I wish I could visit Florida sometime. I’m sure I’d enjoy being on the beach.”

“Maybe you can visit me there sometime.”

Ella’s eyes widened. “You’re going back?”

“Of course. My home’s in Pinecraft now.”

The room got deathly quiet. Ella and Charlene stared at each other as though in disbelief.

Katie figured it was time for a change of subject. “Who did Wayne choose to be his attendants?” she asked.

“Jolene’s bruder, Andrew, and Freeman Bontrager,” Ella replied. “Wayne and Freeman have become good friends since Freeman and his sister, Fern, moved back to Indiana a few months ago.”

“Freeman opened a bicycle shop,” Charlene added. “Mom and Dad bought me a new bike for my birthday in February.”

“Oh, I see.” Katie stifled a yawn. She’d had trouble falling asleep last night.

“Freeman won’t be helping here today because he has lots of work at the shop.” Charlene sipped her iced tea. “You should see all the bikes he has. I’ll bet he’d do real well if he had a shop in Sarasota, since so many people ride bikes there.”

“Here it is,” Loraine said, sweeping into the room with a khaki green dress draped over her arm. “I’ll wear a full white apron over the front of the dress, of course.” She held it out to Katie. “What do you think?”

With trembling fingers and a wave of envy, Katie touched the smooth piece of fabric. “It–it’s very nice.”

“Are you okay?” Loraine asked with a look of concern. “Your hand’s shaking.”

Katie dropped both hands into her lap and clutched the folds in her dress. “I’m fine. Just a bit shaky because I didn’t have much breakfast.”

“Then you oughta have a piece of this.” Charlene pushed the plate of friendship bread toward Katie. “You’ll blow away in a strong wind if you don’t put some meat on your bones.”

Katie ground her teeth until her jaw began to ache. One of the first things Mom had said to her when she’d arrived home was that she needed to gain some weight. Of course, Dad had mentioned it, too.

“Charlene’s right.” Ella spoke up. “If you’re feeling shaky, then you should eat something.”

“Maybe you’re right.” Katie grabbed a piece of bread and took a bite. Then she washed it down with a sip of iced tea.

Bam! The screen door swung open, causing Katie to nearly jump out of her seat. Walking with a slow, stiff gait, Wayne entered the room. His face broke into a wide smile when he saw Katie. “Wie geht’s?”

“I’m fine.” The lie rolled off Katie’s tongue much too easily. She was getting used to telling people what she thought they wanted to hear.

Wayne moved across the room and stood beside Loraine’s chair. “We’re sure glad you could come for the wedding.”

Katie forced a smile and nodded.

“Would you like to see my new leg?” Before she could respond, Wayne pulled up his pant leg, exposing his prosthesis.

Katie bit back a gasp. “D-does it hurt?” She could hardly get the words out.

“It did at first, but I’ve pretty well adjusted to it now.” Wayne took a seat beside Loraine. “It could have been worse, and I’m grateful to be alive.”

Uneasiness tightened Katie’s chest, and she blew out a slow, shaky breath. Seeing him like this was a reminder of what she’d caused—and what she’d lost.

Wayne reached around Ella and grabbed a piece of bread. “Looks like you’ve been baking again, huh, Ella?”

She nodded. “It keeps me busy when I’m not helping my daed in his business.”

“Those wind chimes he makes are so nice,” Loraine said. “I might buy one soon, to hang on our porch.”

“You won’t have to do that,” Charlene said. “Dad and Mom are planning to give you one of his nicest sets of wind chimes for a wedding present.”

Ella poked her sister’s arm. “It was supposed to be a surprise.”

Charlene covered her mouth. “Oops.”

Loraine poured another glass of iced tea and handed it to Wayne. “How are things going outside?”

“Pretty good. By the end of the day, I think your folks’ yard will look like a park.” He grinned and lifted his glass to take a drink. “This sure hits the spot. It’s getting mighty warm out there. Much warmer than normal for April, I think.”

“That’s fine with me,” Loraine said. “A warm spring day is exactly what I wished we’d have on our wedding day. I hope the weather stays just like it is—at least until Thursday.”

Katie stared out the kitchen window, blinking back tears of envy and frustration. I’d give anything if it were me and Timothy getting married in two days. Oh, Lord, please give me the strength to get through Loraine’s wedding.








I enjoyed Wanda Brunstetter's newest book, A Cousin's Prayer, book 2 in her Indiana Cousins series. As the series says this is set in an Amish community in Indiana, and Katie Miller returns to the Indiana community from the Amish in Florida for a friend's wedding. She is dealing with emotions when she lost her betrothed in book 1. Thankfully a friend helps Katie to see what she is going through and makes her obtain the help she needs to get healing.


Wanda Brunstetter has again written a wonderful book that gives the reader a true glimpse into the Amish culture and one that is sensitive to their cultural proclivities. There are no untoward romantic scenes, which really makes it an enjoyable Christian read. The characters focus on God, relying on Him to see them through the tough times. I will say I did find myself becoming somewhat frustrated with Katie's continued anguish and confusing thoughts, but I also know that in the real world those suffering from loss, grief and guilt can be overcome with these feelings and that is what Wanda Brunstetter is trying to get the readers to see how overwhelming grief can be but with the right supports and God in your corner healing is possible.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Family Guide to the Bible by Christin Ditchfield


A Family Guide to the Bible by Cristin Ditchfield is a wonderful way for Christian parents to gain a better understanding of the 66 books of the Bible in order to better learn more about God's Word and be equipped to teach their children Biblical truths. Cristin Ditchfield is a popular conference speaker and has authored more than fifty books including three others in the Family Guide series.
From Crossway's site: "A Family Guide to the Bible takes readers on a fun and exciting tour through all sixty-six books of the Bible and offers parents, grandparents, and teachers a better understanding of the Scriptures so they can help the children in their lives know what is in the Bible, where to find it, and how it all fits together. As Christians become more familiar with God’s Word, they will gain greater confidence as they share what they believe with their family and friends, help answer questions concerning the Bible, and encourage others to grow deeper in their walks of faith."
I will begin by saying this is a wonderful addition to any family or churches library to access information on the Bible in a way that is easy to read and understand. We start by receiving a short history lesson on where the Bible comes from and then Cristin Ditchfield answers the question, can we trust the Bible? Then we delve into the message of the Bible, what is it all about? These first chapters give great background information about the Bible in simple enough terms for a child to understand but complex enough that it isn't going to bore adults - this is a hard line to tow and one that Cristin Ditchfield has accomplished.
All books are included, Genesis through Revelation, and the chapters that talk about each book are divided into Old Testament and New Testament. These do not contain the Catholic books, but much information can still be gleaned from those who are Catholic. The books are in order as they appear in the Bible, making them easy to find in short order. In each book's chapter we are given the name of the book, the author, who the author was writing to or the audience, the setting, the story, the message, words to know, did you know?, think about it, making the connection and more on this story in the Bible.
Did you know is a section that gives a little more information about what's contained in each book, an interesting tidbit that makes learning about that book a little more fun. Think about it, gives the reader something to think about as they read and delve deeper into the message of the Biblical truths. Making the connection ties everything together from the time the message was written to our lives now. The author backs everything up using Scripture and gives the reference, this book can be used with any version of the Bible that is preferred by the reader, another reason this is easy to use.
Also included in this book are ways to study the Bible, such as choosing a translation, using a concordance, Bible dictionary and encyclopedia. Study tips for personal Bible study, family devotions and Bible reading plans are also included. She also has a section that tell what stories from each Old and New Testaments should be known by everyone, along with Bible heroes (men, women, children and teens), the Miracles and Teachings of Jesus, what the Bible teaches us about Heaven and various Scripture to help celebrate holidays, sharing the faith, guard your heart and face your fears. Maps of Bible lands are also in the back of the book along with one showing what the lands look like now.
Again this is a wonderful resource to have on hand for planning devotions, personal study or even planning a Sunday school lesson. This book can truly be used by any Christian that wants to learn more and teach the children in their life more Biblical truths and not just stories that don't relate to their lives. At a time when there are many children and young people leaving the church this book can help guide parents in actually teaching pertinent information and keep their children from leaving their faith.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How Do I Love Thee by Nancy Moser


I was given the chance to read How Do I Love Thee? by Nancy Moser though Bethany House's blogger review program. When I requested this book I had no idea what kind of life Elizabeth Barrett lived nor have I ever read her poems or any of Robert Browning's. This book is fiction but does pull actual events from Elizabeth's life as she lives all but a recluse.

The summary of the book from Bethany House: "Elizabeth Barrett is a published poet--and a virtual prisoner in her own home. Blind family loyalty ties her to a tyrannical father who forbids any of his children to marry. Bedridden by chronic illness, she has resigned herself to simply existing. That is, until the letter arrives... "I love your verses with all my heart," writes Robert Browning, an admiring fellow poet. As friendly correspondence gives way to something more, Elizabeth discovers that Robert's love is not for her poetry alone. Might God grant her more than mere existence? And will she risk defying her father in pursuit of true happiness?"

Having never read Nancy Moser's writing before I will say I was satisfied. Her writing in this book seems very deep and she captures the language of the period, which is very flowery with a depth to it that to some will have to be deciphered. This is not a book to read late at night when your eyes are drooping because of the language of the letters exchanged it can become confusing and you'll wonder what happened the next day. However, if you're a history buff and you like a lot of heavy more than fluff this book is right up your alley.

I liked the way Nancy Moser weaves history into the fiction, it makes it feel as if you are reading a non-fiction book even though you are not. She did include the historical facts surrounding Elizabeth Barrett's life and her 'illness' as well as her life after meeting Robert Browning. Also included is "Sonnets from the Portuguese", many of Elizabeth's sonnets were written for her eyes only but have been published.

So if you're a poem fan, fan of Elizabeth Barrett, or a fan of history then this book is a must read. Like above I would suggest you be fully awake while reading because the heavy letters of Barrett and Browning could have you dozing off instead of enraptured by the story. This is not your usual romance - no racy scenes are described, or at least not what I read, so even a young, unmarried woman can read this book without fear of where her mind will wander. If you have never read Nancy Moser's books before I suggest you begin with this one.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Abide with Me by John H. Parker and Paul Seawright

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:







and the book:



Abide With Me (Includes a CD of 20 wonderful, favorite British hymns.)


New Leaf Publishing Group/New Leaf Press; Har/Com edition (May 1, 2009)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:





John Parker, Professor of English at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, has taught Shakespeare and other literary classes there for twenty-eight years. He holds the M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Tennessee, and also the Master of Arts in Religion from Harding Graduate School of Religion in Memphis. At Lipscomb and previously at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee, he has also taught classes in the Bible.

Paul Seawright is currently Chair of Photography at the University of Ulster. Previously he was Dean of Art Media and Design at the University of Wales, Newport, and the Director of the Centre for Photographic Research. His photographs have been exhibited worldwide and are held in many museum collections including The Tate London, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, International Centre of Photography New York, Portland Art Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

Paul has a Ph.D. in Photography from the University of Wales and was awarded a personal chair in 2002. He is an honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, currently chairing their Fellowship panel. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. He has published six books.


Visit the authors' website.

Product Details:

List Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 112 pages
Publisher: New Leaf Publishing Group/New Leaf Press; Har/Com edition (May 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0892216905
ISBN-13: 978-0892216901

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Abide With Me
A Photographic Journey Through Great British Hymns


Text by John H. Parker

Photography by Paul Seawright

Prologue


The focus of Abide with Me is place—the places in England and Wales where the great Britishhymns were written and where the stories of the men and women who wrote them unfolded: Olney (“Amazing Grace”), Brighton (“Just As I Am”), Stoke Newington (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”), Broadhembury (“Rock of Ages”), and many others. This book shows and tells about those places and what you would see if you visited them.


On the north coast of England, silhouetted against the gray sky and the dark sea, stand the ruins of Whitby Abbey. There in the sixth century a common sheep herder named Caedmon wrote the earliest surviving hymn written in English. In the centuries following—Middle Ages, Renaissance, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century—men

and women devoted to Christ and blessed with the gift of poetry composed the words of the English hymns sung in Britain, in America, and across the globe, generation after generation—sung in times of happiness, grief, joy, fear, and wonder. Here are the places those writers lived and their life stories.


Join us now for a stroll through the quaint Cotswolds, the beautiful Lake District, bustling

London, and the glorious poppy-bedecked English countryside as you meet the great minds whose works have inspired, uplifted, and carried us through the tragedies and triumphs of our lives. It’s a journey of the heart and soul—a meandering through your own spirituality.


Speaking to one another in psalms

and hymns and spiritual songs.

Ephesians 5:19

Lost & Found


Olney, on the Ouse River in Northampton, England, not far from Cambridge, was a small farming and crafts village in the late eighteenth century. As we drive into the market square this Sunday afternoon, we find a bustling and cheerful town with two popular claims. One is the annual pancake race on Shrove Tuesday when housewives run 415 yards from the marketplace to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, each carrying a pan holding a pancake, which she flips on crossing the finish line. The other is the curate and preacher for that church from 1764–1780, John Newton (1725–1807), and the vicarage, where he wrote perhaps the most popular hymn of all time, “Amazing Grace.”


The church was expanded during those years to accommodate the crowds who came to hear John, and its square tower still rises over the Ouse River. The sanctuary is large and impressive, and a stained-glass window commemorates the preacher and his hymn. Still, time has encroached a bit. His pulpit is now somewhat pushed back into a corner, though John Newton’s Pulpit is proudly displayed along one edge. John’s rather smallish portrait hangs on the stone buttress of one wall, sharing space between a fire extinguisher and a bulletin board where his name promotes a ministry in Sierra Leone. But after 230 years, it’s still John Newton whose story and hymn live on here.


John was born to a master mariner, who was often away at sea, and a mother who taught him Bible lessons and the hymns of Isaac Watts (see pages 38-41). But she died

when he was only six years old. At age eleven, after a few years of living with relatives or attending boarding school, he began sailing with his father.


In time John fell in love with Mary Catlett, daughter of friends of his mother, but in 1744 he was forced to serve on a naval ship. He records that while watching England’s coast fade as the ship sailed away, he would have killed either himself or the captain except for his love of Mary.


Later John managed to join the crew of a slave trade ship, the brutal traffic he so much regretted in later years. This life blotted out his early religious training and led him into bad behavior. Finally, though, when a fierce March storm one night in 1748 threatened to sink his ship, he prayed for the first time in years. And for the rest of his life he regarded every March 21 as the anniversary of his conversion. Relapses occurred, but after a serious illness he committed himself to God, returned to England, and married

Mary in 1750.


John worked for a while in civil service in the region of Yorkshire. But soon he became popular as a lay preacher, developing friendships with George Whitefield and John

Wesley, and began to consider the ministry. Although he studied biblical languages and theology privately, he received ordination in the Church of England only after completing

his autobiography, Authentic Narrative, in 1764, an account that caused influential religious leaders to recognize his spiritual commitment. The book was soon translated into several languages.


John’s principal sponsor for priesthood, Lord William Dartmouth, helped arrange the station for John in Olney, and for the next sixteen years he lived in the vicarage and

preached at St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s and in surrounding parishes. His religious devotion, remarkable personal history, and natural poetic skills gave John the gifts and preparation for writing hymns—especially one great hymn—but he needed a circumstance to prompt him. That came in 1767 when William Cowper moved to Olney.


William was one of England’s fine eighteenth-century poets, producing The Task (1784) and translations of Homer. He received an excellent literary education at Westminster

School in London and, at his father’s wish, studied for the bar. But he lived an often-miserable life. Depression, his distaste for the law, poverty, and an ill-fated romance with his cousin Theadora Cowper ruined any chances of happiness. More than once he attempted suicide.


During this trauma William found relief in the home of friends first made in Huntingdon—Morley and Mary Unwin, a religious and wealthy couple. When Morley died from a fall from his horse in April of 1767, Mary moved to Olney with her daughter Susanna to be near the renowned preacher John Newton. In fact, only an orchard stood between the rear yard of their house, Orchard Side, and John’s vicarage. Soon, William also came to Olney and moved in with them. The two poets became close friends, and by 1771 they were collaborating on what became one of England’s most successful hymnals, The Olney Hymns.


On a bright June afternoon we stroll with Elizabeth Knight in the garden of Orchard Side, now the Cowper & Newton museum, where she has been curator for more than thirty years. Nestled in the rows of flowers is an odd little summerhouse in which William gazed through its side and rear windows. Here he wrote most of the hymns in his part of the collection. After another lapse into depression, he wrote few others, but by that time he had composed his great hymns, “There is a Fountain” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.”


Leaving the Orchard Side garden, we walk through the site of the original orchard, to the back of the two-story brick vicarage, and look up to the last dormer window on the top right. Here, in this room, during the last two weeks of December 1772, John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace.”


In his book Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Hymn (Harper Collins, 2002), music historian Steve Turner records that John routinely wrote hymns to accompany his sermons and composed “Amazing Grace” in preparation for a New Year’s Day sermon on January 1, 1773. He also observes that the words of the hymn evidently paraphrase entries from John’s notebook. For example, the entry “Millions of unseen dangers” is rendered “through many dangers, toils, and snares” in the song. Turner gives these illustrations of Newton’s use of the Scriptures in the hymn:


Newton embroidered biblical phrases

and allusions into all his writing.


The image of being lost and found alludes to the parable

of the prodigal son, where the father

is quoted as saying in Luke 15:24,


“For this my son was dead, and is alive again;

he was lost, and is found.”


His confession of wretchedness may have been drawn

from Paul’s exclamation in Rom. 7:24,

“O wretched man that I am!

Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”


The contrast of blindness and sight refers directly

to John 9:25, when a man healed by Jesus says,

“One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind,

now I see.”


Newton had used this phrase in his diary

during his seafaring days when he wrote on

August 9, 1752,


“The reason [for God’s mercy] is unknown to

me, but one thing I know, that whereas

I was blind, now I see.”


Turner observes that this day of the introduction of “Amazing Grace,” in Lord Dartmouth’s Great House in Olney, was also the last that the despondent William Cowper came to church.


John and William published The Olney Hymns in 1779. The following year, 1880, William Cowper died, and John accepted a pulpit position at St. Mary Woolnoth Church in London. Audiences continued large here as well. Visitors today can pass through a wrought-iron gate and coffee shop at the entrance, walk through the church doors into the sanctuary, and view the ornate pulpit where the slave-trader turned preacher delivered sermons for the next twenty-seven years, becoming a major figure in the

evangelical portion of the Anglican Church. He died on December 21, 1807, and was buried with Mary at St. Mary Woolchurch in London. They were re-interred at the Church

of St. Peter and St. Paul in Olney in 1893. And he is primarily remembered for these touching words:


Amazing Grace (1772)

Ephesians 2:8-9


Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found;

Was blind, but now I see.


’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed!


The Lord has promised good to me,

His Word my hope secures;

He will my Shield and Portion be,

As long as life endures.


The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

The sun forbear to shine;

But God, who called me here below,

Will be forever mine.




My Opinion:

Abide with Me is a wonderful addition to any Christian's, regardless of denomination, library especially if you like hymns. To me, hymns are more than just old, out dated songs, but are a written of history of the church's love for Christ and the desire to worship Him as well as showing the history in the time they were written. Amazing Grace is my all time favorite hymn, it just shows how wonderful it is to be washed in Jesus' blood and be forgiven. Abide with Me will take you on a journey on the how and why a hymn was written as well as some background information on the one who penned the hymn.

The pictures in this beautiful hard bound book make it feel as if you are actually traversing the English countrysides where these hymns were written. There are pictures of the inside of the writer's homes, church and other places showing where the writer lived. Some of the composers that you visit in this book are John Newton, Henry Lyte and Sarah Flower Adams. Some of the hymns are Amazing Grace, Rock of Ages and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, among other beautiful, timeless hymns.

The book comes with a free 24 track CD of the hymns being performed by Ray Walker of the Jordanaires and other artists. The hymns are sung in rich tone and are beautifully done - so much so it may just turn someone who doesn't like hymns into a person who enjoys them. When I listened to the CD I could feel myself sitting in huge, cavernous cathedral listening to these songs at the time they were penned - it provided an extra sensory experience to go along with an already wonderful book.

If you want to know the story behind some of the greatest hymns written, I suggest you add this book to your library. If you don't know which was written for a sister's wedding in 30 minutes or which poet and hymnist would die ministering in India (amid other fascinating facts of these men and women of God) then I suggest this book to you from publishers, New Leaf Publishing.