Good Reads: Pursuing Justice (& Book Giveaway!)

Pursuing JusticeSocial justice, social good, and biblical justice are popular buzz words these days. But what do these terms really mean? And are they just a fad or do they embody a lifestyle that we ought to pursue?

In Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things, Ken Wytsma explores these questions and so much more. This is a book for those who claim to be followers of the justice movement, for those who have been jaded by these terms, and for every Christian earnestly seeking to live out God’s call for their life.

Wytsma takes the reader down a path of understanding exactly what biblical justice really means, how the thread of justice is woven throughout Scripture, and into an exploration of what this means for us as Christ-followers today. We see that: “Justice cannot be divorced from God’s heart and purposes – it permeates them…” This is not something we can simply glaze over and cast to the side as a nice-to-have. “Justice is a necessary part of God’s call in the Christian life.” Continue reading

Good Reads: Terrify No More

I finally got the chance to read a book that has been sitting in my stack for months, Terrify No More. It is written by Gary Haugen, the president & CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM).

It’s no secret that IJM is one of my favorite organizations (read my previous post about them here). For those of you who are unfamiliar, IJM is “a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression”. You can read more about them on their site.

As for the book, here is the official description from Amazon.comTerrify No More -Young Girls Held Captive & the Daring Undercover Operation to Win Their Freedom:

In a small village outside of Phnom Pehn, little children as young as five years old were forced to live as sex slaves. Day after day their hope was slipping away. Tireless workers from International Justice Mission (IJM) infiltrated the ring of brothels and gathered evidence to free the children. Headed up by former war-crimes investigator Gary Haugen, IJM faced impossible odds-police corruption, death threats, and mission-thwarting tip-offs. But they used their expert legal finesse and high-tech investigative techniques to save the lives of 37 young girls and secured the arrest and conviction of several perpetrators. Terrify No More focuses on this dramatic rescue story, and uses flashbacks to tell those of many other victims who were given a second chance at life by this amazing organization.

It is an intense book. At times it was very difficult to read about the abuse that these girls suffer day in and day out. Personally, out of every kind of evil that I can imagine in the world, none makes my stomach turn worse than child sex trafficking.

And while some of the graphic details included in the book were hard to confront, it is the reality for the 2 million children in the world who are trapped in the commercial sex trade (according to UNICEF, 2010).

I am always a proponent of awareness and education when it comes to issues like this. We all need to be made aware of what’s going on in our world, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. Only then can we be moved to help do something about it.

What fascinated me the most was learning how the IJM investigators work – how they gather information, go undercover for video evidence & facts, the complications they often face in getting the local governments & police to support them (who are often part of the problem), and finally how they go in (and sometimes very literally) pull the girls out to freedom. Their work & their courage amaze me.

I am so grateful that there are people in the world willing to risk everything for those trapped in these unspeakable situations.

One thing that Gary does a great job emphasizing is that while we can often feel hopeless in trying to help everyone, the team at IJM is always focused on the one. The one precious girl rescued from a brothel or the one man freed from a life of slavery in a brick kiln. Each is a tremendous victory.

And while I didn’t actually get to finish the book, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the issue of child trafficking and the admirable work that IJM does to fight it. I started telling the girl next to me on the plane about it and ended up giving my copy to her. I’ll have to get another one soon…

“Learn to do good; Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:17 (NKJV)

Good Reads: Heaven is for Real

My mom is in a book club, and often asks me for some suggestions. Knowing that she is coming into town this weekend, I wanted to get her something. Heaven is for Real is a book that just came out in November and has been generating a lot of buzz lately. It’s spent several weeks in a row in the #1 slot on the New York Times Bestseller list, which is definitely a great feat for any book, especially a book with Christian content. So other than that, and the very basic premise of the story (it’s about a very young boy who during an emergency appendectomy experienced a glimpse of heaven), I didn’t know much about it. So I ordered the book from work (yes, disclaimer, I do work for Thomas Nelson, the publisher). Figuring I might as well read it before handing if off to her, I cracked it open Thursday night to read a few pages. I then proceeded to read it at lunch on Friday and then I finished it Sunday. I’m not sure I have ever read a book so quickly. I really, honestly, couldn’t put it down. The story is that amazing.

I highly recommend this book for anyone and everyone! It is a very easy, quick read and the things you read will astound you. Colton is almost 4 years old when he has an emergency appendectomy (and with various complications actually had 2 very serious surgeries & a harrowing 17-day hospital stay) during which he travels to heaven and back. However, it is not until about 4 months later that his parents start catching on to what has happened as Colton starts sharing very blunt comments like “that’s where the angels sang to me” and how “Jesus used Dr. O’Holleran to fix me.”

In the next few months and years Colton shares bits and pieces of information with his parents of what he experienced of heaven. He is even able to tell them where in the hospital they each were and what exactly they were doing while he was in the middle of surgery. He tells them about meeting his great-grandfather in heaven (who died long before Colton was even born) as well as the sister who his mother miscarried after just 2 months of pregnancy (also before Colton was born)!

He describes Jesus (“his eyes are sooo pretty”), Jesus’ horse (“he let me pet his horse”), heaven as filled with rainbows, God on His throne and how Jesus sits on God’s right side and Gabriel is on His other side. He met “Jesus’ cousin” (John the Baptist), saw the wounds on Jesus’ hands & feet, and sees a glimpse of the final battle of the Apocalypse.

His bluntness in his answers and his 4-year-old innocence leave no room for doubting his honesty in what he saw.

In the ladies’ small group Bible study that I lead, we just finished a long study on the book of Revelation. This book, and Colton’s descriptions of different aspects of heaven, made what we just studied so much more vivid to me. There were honestly consistent moments during my reading that I would uncontrollably well up with tears and gasp from being overcome with emotion. Do you know what I mean? It’s almost too indescribable for words to read these descriptions of what heaven is like and have it confirmed that it is real, and so much better than we can even imagine.

I have never read any other modern-day book about someone’s experience who has claimed to have seen heaven, so I can’t make comparisons. But something tells me this has got to be one of the most credible, just coming from the untainted view of a 4-year-old.

I am so excited to know that we will actually know our loved ones in heaven, even the ones we have never met! He hangs out with the great-grandpa and sister he had never met on earth, yet he knows them in heaven and even misses them terribly once back.

Here are some of the other miscellaneous things that I learned from Colton’s experience: there are “no old people” in heaven. The heavenly bodies that we’re given are from our prime. People get wings in heaven and some are bigger than others. There are dogs in heaven, and other various animals. Jesus really, really loves the little children.

I will stop there, but I am so excited about this book! I will be telling everyone I know that they must read it. So consider this your invitation to go pick it up. I promise that your faith will be strengthened because of it!

Good Reads: Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle

This is a simple book review that is long overdue.

Before traveling to a place, I always like to try and read a book about it. Particularly before trips to foreign countries. So prior to our trip to Haiti, I wanted to find a book that might give me a little insight into the country, the people, and the culture.

The book I found was Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously. I didn’t get it finished before we left, but had at least a good portion of it done. I then enjoyed reading the rest after we returned. If you are interested in reading about mission work in Haiti, I do highly recommend this book.

It is about a young guy, Kent Annan, and his wife that give up their life in the US, sell most of their possessions, and move to Haiti to work with Doctors without Borders. Wanting to immerse themselves in the culture first, they move in with a Haitian family in a town far outside of the capital. They live with them for several months (which provides some great stories) before moving back to Port-au-Prince, getting a modest house built, and jumping into their work. He takes the reader through the ins and outs of life in Port-au-Prince – how he has to take 4 different modes of transportation just to get to work every day. He takes you through his interactions with new acquaintances and his fumblings at trying to live among the people and not be viewed as a “rich American”.

From a cultural perspective, it was a fascinating and eye-opening read for me – learning about social norms, family life, the challenges of everyday life, etc. in Haiti. It helped me have some sort of informed reference point for when we went. Equally interesting to me, and I didn’t realize it until we got there (and started our work of building 2 houses), was reading about the difficulties in the construction process of their home, the interaction of the Haitian workers, and how they related to Kent, who the Haitian workers would call “boss”. He had set out to live amongst them, to build a modest house so as to be viewed as more of an equal, but was still being called “boss” because of the color of his skin and his country of origin. It was interesting to then be there in Haiti, working alongside Haitians on each house, and much of the interactions and challenges were very similar.

Aside from that, this book challenges the reader to have courage in going through the eye of the needle. To reject the ordinary life and follow the calling God has placed on each of our lives.

I don’t know if God will ever call us to be missionaries in another country (though we have talked about it), but no matter what, I don’t want to live an ordinary life. I do want to have the courage to follow through on our callings, whatever they may be.