Monday, April 27, 2009

Another Man's War by Sam Childers

Another Man's War

Another Man's War:
The True Story of One Man's Battle to Save Children in the Sudan
by Sam Childers

Hardback: 223 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2009

Author Website
Orphanage Website
Buy from Amazon

Source: review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
The rise of Sam Childers from violent, drug-addicted biker to a man willing to risk everything to rescue the orphans and child soldiers of Sudan

"All my life, from birth, it's been a fight. And it always seemed to be another man's war. I always seemed to be fighting for someone else. But it always came back to me. The Word says we're born into sin, and sin always comes back to war." -Sam Childers

Sam Childers has always been a fighter. Born to a violent father and a mother of great faith, his life was a contradiction. With an affinity for drugs and women, the angry young man grew into a drug-dealing biker. But that was then. Nowadays Sam--along with the cadre of Sudanese soldiers he employs--spends his time in the most dangerous parts of Sudan and Uganda rescuing the youngest victims of war, orphans and child-soldiers. His mission is simple: save the children, no matter the cost.

This memoir tells the story of Sam Childers and of the children of southern Sudan and northern Uganda. About half of the book describes Sam Childers' youth, including his years as a drug-using and -selling biker and how he left that life to become a Christian preacher called by God to minister in Africa.

The rest of the book describes his ministry in Sudan and Uganda: first driving a mobile medical clinic to areas without access to medical services and now building and protecting a compound where children left orphans by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) can grow up in safty. He describes what life is like in the areas the LRA (a rebel group led by Joseph Kony) terrorizes villagers, why children are kidnapped by the LRA, what happens to them when they are, and how they get free.

He briefly describes the recent history of Sudan and Uganda. He also describes God's protection and provision of his work there. He describes rescues, going into danger areas, and the fighting. He describes in detail the Village/orphanage and what they provide for the children who live there.

The book is interesting, well-written, and fast-paced. I would have liked to know more about how they help the children recover from what they've seen and experienced, though. For those who don't like gore and suffering, this book has few gory details. Personal accounts of what the children and villages suffer at the hands of the LRA are given briefly and with few details.

Sam Childers is outspoken about his Christian faith in the book and gives credit for a number of miracles (mainly of protection and provision) to God, but he says that a lot of non-Christians are interested in and supportive of his work. So this book might be interesting to non-Christians despite the Christian content. If you're someone who believes there's never any justification for using violence, then I doubt you'll like this book.

I'd recommend this book, especially to those who like incredible-but-true missionary stories, to soldiers who are Christians, and to those interested in what's being done to help the children in southern Sudan and northern Uganda.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Death hides in the tall grass of Southern Sudan. What looks like empty landscape can explode in a heartbeat with rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army shooting, slashing, and burning their way through an unsuspecting village. Government officials and NGOs (nongovernmental organizations, like CARE, the United Nations, and the Red Cross) give these renegade soldiers a wide berth; they usually know where the trouble areas are and steer clear of them. Local residents, left to make it on their own, are constantly on edge, always afraid. There are no peaceful nights in the bush. None, that is, except in one place--a forty-acre island of safety and calm in the middle of a hellish, endless civil war. The Shekinah Fellowship Children's Village.

The struggle to keep it secure never stops.

Gunfire crackles here and there outside the perimeter fence day and night. Whenever I travel in the area, I expect to get ambushed. I've had my windshield and my side window shot out. I've had vehicles, including a food truck loaded with groceries for the orphanage, blown up by RPGs. The LRA will shoot at anything, but they're not used to anybody shooting back. They don't expect to be up against a truckload of soldiers with plenty of guns and ammo, which is what they get when they tangle with us on the road.

When I first started driving around in Southern Sudan, my soldiers and I got ambushed all the time. To any normal person that would be a bad thing, but I thought it was great.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Road to Unafraid by Captain Jeff Struecker

The Road to Unafraid

The Road to Unafraid
by Captain Jeff Struecker
with Dean Merrill

Hardback: 207 pages
Publisher: W Publishing Group
First Released: 2006

Author Website
Buy from Amazon

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Description:
In 1993, Jeff Struecker landed in Somalia as part of an elite military force sent to curtail a warlord's ruthless abuse of the population. What erupted in the end was an eighteen-hour suicide mission through the bullet-riddled streets of Mogadishu to rescue a band of downed soldiers.

Recounting in vivid, blood-pulsing detail, Struecker shares the story of coming face to face with mankind's greatest fears, both in Somalia and other global hotspots like Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Struecker's sometimes shocking story assures us that "the difference between being a coward and a hero is not whether you're scared, it's what you do while you're scared."

This is the road to unafraid.

The Road to Unafraid is definitely a quick and suspenseful read. The author briefly tells us about his childhood and training to become a Ranger (and, later, a chaplain). He spends most of the book describing his combat experiences and the military-related challenges he's faced.

Jeff Struecker is very open about the fears, frustrations, and challenges he dealt with while in combat and what he learned from them. He also gives insight into military culture and a soldier's view of the various military conflicts the U.S.A. has been involved in since he enlisted in the army.

While he descibes scenes from his various deployments, much of the book is a detailed view of the part he played in the Somalia "Black Hawk Down" incident. His vivid descriptions made me feel like I was with him in the scene, surrounded by danger. It certainly did get my heart racing. His descriptions of the Best Ranger competition were also excellent--I got tired just reading about all they went through.

The author also described how his Christian faith helped him deal with the stresses of military life and the fears involved in combat. Overall, this book well-written, suspenseful, and insightful. I'd recommend it to anyone who has never been in the military but who wants insight into what soldiers may face when in training and combat.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Introduction

U.S. Army Rangers don't get scared. We've made a name for ourselves as the fearless ones. We're a tough, disciplined, quick-strike force that parachutes or helicopters into nasty situations, kicks down doors, captures the bad guys, and forces openings for the rest of the army to follow--hence our motto, "Rangers Lead the Way."

Give us the hardest, most dangerous, most challenging mission you can think of. We'll take it on. We're the elite--fewer than half a percent of all active-duty soldiers. We go where others are not able or not trained to go. We instinctively run toward the fight, not away from it.

At least that's the mystique. Line up any one hundred guys who have served successfully in the Ranger Regiment and ask if they've ever been afraid. You'll get no takers.

We stand in the long, proud line of those Rangers who first pushed onto Omaha Beach on D-Day back in 1944. It was Rangers who scaled straight up the ninety-foot cliffs of Pointe-du-Hoc that day to knock out a nest of 155-millimeter German cannons that were holding off the Allied invasion.

It was Rangers who jumped onto the airfields of Grenada (1983), taking on the enemy with no backup for hours. We Rangers did the same in Panama (1989). We were the ones who came oh-so-close to breaking the back of Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid and restoring sanity to that desperate country (1993)--until our government pulled us out. If you've read Mark Bowden's excellent bestseller Black Hawk Down or seen the Academy Award-winning movie, you know all about that. In this book, I'll give you my take on what happened there.

Along the way I may surprise you by admitting that I've been afraid more than once or twice during my thirteen-plus years in the Ranger Regiment. That may upset some people. But it's true.

I've felt the same fears as those who've never worn the uniform. Fear of death. Fear of losing your most valued relationships. Fear of running out of money. Fear of getting sick. Fear of violence. Fear of embarrassment. These happen all across the human spectrum.

How we handle our fears makes a huge difference. We can let them paralyze us, or we can find the courage to rise above them. Through my experiences, I share some extreme examples of facing threats and overcoming the panic they generate inside. My hope is to encourage you in your private battles.

Here's a link to read further.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

As We Forgive by Catherine Claire Larson

As We Forgive

As We Forgive
by Catherine Claire Larson

Trade Paperback: 284 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
First Released: 2009

Author Website
Buy from Amazon

Source: review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
If you were told that a murderer was to be released into your neighborhood, how would you feel? But what if it weren't only one, but thousands?

Could there be a common roadmap to reconciliation? Could there be a shared future after unthinkable evil? If forgiveness is possible after the slaughter of nearly a million in a hundred days in Rwanda, then today, more than ever, we owe it to humanity to explore how one country is addressing perceptual, social-psychological, and spiritual dimensions to achieve a more lasting peace. If forgiveness is possible after genocide, then perhaps there is hope for the comparably smaller rifts that plague our relationships, our communities, and our nation.

Based on personal interviews and thorough research, As We Forgive returns to the boundary lines of genocide's wounds and traces the route of reconciliation in the lives of Rwandans--victims, widows, orphans, and perpetrators--whose past and future intersect. We find in these stories how suffering, memory, and identity set up roadblocks to forgiveness, while mediation, truth-telling, restitution, and interdependence creates bridges to healing.

As We Forgive explores the pain, the mystery, and the hope through seven compelling stories of those who have made this journey toward reconciliation. The result is a narrative that breathes with humanity and is as haunting as it is hopeful.

This book tells seven personal stories of experiences during the genocide, its aftermath, and how they came to forgiveness. These accounts are intense, vivid, and powerful. The people in these stories came from different areas and had different experiences, giving the reader a good idea of what happened during the genocide and afterward. The book is worth reading for these stories alone.

The narratives effectively show the struggle of how to forgive and gain peace. However, after each story, the author also comments on various methods of forgiveness and reconciliation and on restorative justice. To me, those comments felt distant and clinical in contrast to the intensely intimate view of pain and forgiveness given in the narrative. Except for one chart/argument given by the author in the first section (which I felt tried to make a complex subject too simplistic and neat), the information she gives is useful and relevant. This information is geared toward anyone, no matter their religion (or lack of one).

Though the author doesn't focus on Christian principles of forgiveness, the Rwandans described in these accounts are Christians or become Christians and this is what allows them to forgive.

The violence described during the genocide is not explicit or gory in detail, though it is still heart-rending at times. I'd recommend this powerful book to anyone struggling with forgiveness or who wants to know more about the Rwandan genocide and what's happening there now.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Cadeaux's eyes laughed. A grin flickered across her face and settled into a slight smile as she went to fetch water. Leaning over the bucket, Cadeaux splashed water on her cheeks, not noticing the dark beauty shimmering back at her. With a block of soap, she scrubbed her neck, her arms, her legs, her feet, and finally her sandals while her slender shadow bowed beneath Rwanda's fierce August sun. At the age of twelve, she was on the cusp of womanhood, but still had the frame of a child and a sheen of innocence.

Her sandaled feet skimmed along the path as she returned home. Were it not for the vividness of the yellow jacaranda trees, the seamless blue skies, and Cadeaux's swishing lavender skirt, the road, the homes, and the roofs would have seemed a still life in sepia.

Back home, Cadeaux broke a deep silence with her soft footfalls and the creak of a door latch. Inside, her mother, Rosaria, had been going about her daily chores cloaked with an air of solemn dignity, wearing her sorrow like holy garments. A crushed hand hung like prayer breads loosely at her side.

Rosaria's eyes lit on Cadeaux as she flitted past. Somehow, the saturated air felt less stifling with her there. Rosaria breathed more freely. More than bread or wine or water, Cadeaux seemed to her mother a sacrament--a visible sign of inward grace. The name Rosaria gave her had this ripeness of meaning. Born in December of 1994, nine months and four days after horror's opening night, Cadeaux is her mother's consolation, her laughter, and her hope. Her name means "gift," because, as Rosaria will tell you, "She was the only gift I had left."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus by Ann Spangler, Lois Tverberg

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus
by Ann Spangler, Lois Tverberg

Hardback: 254 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
First Released: 2009

Ann Spangler's Website
Lois Tverberg's Website
Buy from Amazon

Source: review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
A rare chance to know Jesus as his first disciples knew him.

What would it be like to journey back to the first century and sit at the feet of Rabbi Jesus as one of his Jewish disciples? How would your understanding of the gospel have been shaped by the customs, beliefs, and traditions of the Jewish culture in which you lived?

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus takes you on a fascinating tour of the Jewish world of Jesus, offering inspirational insights that can transform your faith. Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg paint powerful scenes from Jesus’ ministry, immersing you in the prayers, feasts, history, culture, and customs that shaped Jesus and those who followed him.

You will hear the parables as they must have sounded to first-century Jews, powerful and surprising. You will join the conversations that were already going on among the rabbis of his day. You will watch with new understanding as the events of his life unfold. And you will emerge with new excitement about the roots of your own Christian faith.

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus will change the way you read Scripture and deepen your understanding of the life of Jesus. It will also help you to adapt the rich prayers and customs you learn about to your own life, in ways that both respect and enrich your Christian faith.

By looking at the Jewishness of Jesus, Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg take you on a captivating journey into the heart of Judaism, one that is both balanced and insightful, helping you to better understand and appreciate your own faith.

Do you sometimes feel like you don't quite understand the parables on the Kingdom of Heaven? Or like you're missing the full meaning of the Sermon on the Mount? Have you ever wondered how the disciples would have understood Jesus' actions during the Last Supper?

I've read the Gospels numerous times and read many books about what life was like in Biblical times. Frankly, I didn't realize until now how much I was missing by not understanding the rabbinic teaching styles of the time (among other things). Despite all my study, most of this information was new.

This book opened up my understanding of the Gospels by allowing me to see the deeper, richer meaning that would have been understood all along by the Jewish audiences of Jesus' day.

The book consists of general cultural notes alternated with using that new knowledge to examine specific Gospel passages. However, this book isn't just an intellectual exercise--it'll have you digging into your Bible with new enthusiasm and will deepen your walk with God.

While Christians who have a solid foundational knowledge of the Gospels will probably get the most out of this book, I'd highly recommend it to any Christian who wants a deeper understanding of Christ and his teachings.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

If you're interested in reading this book, check out my ChristFocus Book Club for a chance at winning a free copy.

Excerpt from Chapter One
[starting on page 15] You are probably familiar with a dramatic gesture Mary made one day, sitting at the feet of Jesus once again. John 12:3 describes the scene like this: "Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume."

Without understanding the cultural background in which this event occurred, it's easy to miss the full significance of Mary's gesture. What exactly was she trying to communicate? Jesus himself clarified one aspect of the story by commenting that Mary was preparing him for the day of his burial (Matt. 26:12). We understand that her act of devotion pointed toward Christ's death at the end of the week. But we miss something else that the disciples would have immediately realized, something so obvious that Jesus didn't even need to mention it. By anointing him with expensive fragrances, Mary may well have been making a statement about who she believed Jesus was, proclaiming him as Messiah. In fact, the Hebrew word for Messiah is Mashiach, which literally means "the Anointed One." Christos, or "Christ," is the Greek equivalent.

But why "the Anointed One?" The word "Messiah" alludes to the ceremony used to set apart someone chosen by God, like a king or a priest. Instead of being crowned during a coronation, Hebrew kings were anointed with sacred oil perfumed with extremely expensive spices. Only used for consecrating objects in the temple and for anointing priests and kings, the sacred anointing oil would have been more valuable than diamonds. The marvelous scent that it left behind acted like an invisible "crown," conferring an aura of holiness on its recipients. Everything and everyone with that unique fragrance was recognized as belonging to God in a special way.

[There's even more on the anointing, but I need to end this excerpt here!]