Monday, January 10, 2011

Review: Safely Home by Randy Alcorn

Did you know that Christians are possibly the most persecuted religious group in the world? Sometimes it's hard for those of us in the West to remember this...we often hear about what Christians are doing against other groups. But most Christians are not Western, and many live in countries where their faith is a constant threat to their government. They face beatings, imprisonment, and even death on a daily basis. Additionally, while we hear about Christians acting out against Muslims in America, Christians are being killed and driven out of Iraq in alarming numbers. I do not share this as a way of justification for anything that happens here, but rather to present a complete picture. It doesn't have to do with being Christian or Muslim..just human.

I hold the position that other Christians are my brothers and sisters and as such, I can't ignore what they go through. Additionally, I think their faith has been more tested than mine and I know how dear it must be to them. While I can't honestly say I envy them, I do find it inspiring and humbling.

One of my favorite books is Silence by Shusaku Endo, a book that takes an extremely unsentimentalized look at persecution and apostasy. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Some friends has told me that Safely Home by Randy Alcorn was an excellent book, so when I was in a position where all I had was an ereader and a few free ebooks to read, I decided to dig in. The first part of the book was very compelling, and dare I say it? Convicting. Alcorn sets up the contrast between Ben Fielding, a driven American businessman who really digs the potential China offers his business, and his former roommate, Li Quan a Chinese peasant who has been imprisoned for his faith. Ben has a pretty high opinion of China but as he spends time with Quan on a business trip, he begins to realize that China has preserved an image and the people of the country are suffering. Many are persecuted for their faith.

A few things I liked about this book. I liked that the methods of China were exposed. I liked that Quan challenged Ben on many of his prejudices and assumptions. I like that there was a lot of education on how Christianity is NOT American and that it has a long history in China. I loved the first part of the book, where I was reminded how comfortable and lucky I am that I can choose to worship without threat of being killed.

Unfortunately the book really does a lot of sermonizing in the form of conversations between Quan (who was practically perfect) and Ben. I found myself antsy and wanting to skip through these sections. I also don't really like books where there's an angel or heavenly perspective--no matter how well intentioned, they never come across as feeling real to me. And I found it disappointing that when Ben fires a co-worker for his Christian beliefs in the beginning of the book, said beliefs include anti-homosexuality (oh the bitter irony of this in a book about persecution) and abortion. These are social values more than religious beliefs to me. And while many American Christians do feel persecuted for holding these values, the government hasn't asked them to directly deny believing in Jesus or be killed. And I found Ben's backstory to be less than original. The writing is very plain and a bit clumsy at times, no awe inspiring beautifully crafted sentences.

Due to this, I never felt like the characters were real, instead they were a bit flat and one dimensional...serving an overall moral of the story, rather than being deeply complex themselves. I also really felt that the persecution and death of the Christians was romanticized in a way. This, on top of the many scenes taking place from a heavenly perspective made it impossible for me to connect with this book.

I think the ideas are important and I think it's important that people know persecution exists in the world today. A couple of books that I really loved on this topic include the true life story of Brother Yun in The Heavenly Man, and My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay...a nail biting compulsive read about life on the ground in Indonesia during a short term missions trip.

If the idea of religious persecution is getting you down, I offer this amazing story about Egyptian Muslims who offered themselves as human shields during mass for Egyptian Coptic Christians, a long persecuted group. It's important to remind ourselves of such kindness and sacrifice in our dark world.

Rating: 2/5
Things You Might Want to Know: This is Christian fiction
Source of Book: Free ebook download
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers


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