Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: Tombstones and Banana Trees

Tombstones and Banana Trees: A True Story of Revolutionary Forgiveness. Medad Birungi with Craig Borlase. 2011. David C. Cook. 208 pages.

Life is good and I laugh a lot. You need to know that about me before we make a start. You need to know that I think of myself as being blessed with so much of God's grace--far more than I deserve. You need to know that as I look at my life I see there is much that is beautiful and much that is good. You need to know all this because what comes next will probably remove the smile from your eyes.
This is a book about revolutionary forgiveness. And in order to write about forgiveness, you must have something to forgive. For there to be change, you must have something to leave behind. In order to know healing, you must first have received a wound.

Medad Birungi had much to forgive, but when he gave his life to Christ, he knew that meant he had to forgive the people who had hurt him the most. He had to forgive his abusive father who abandoned him; he had to forgive the people who murdered his sister. His list was long because he'd had a hard life, but one by one he decided he had to face them all, to share with them the truth. That God had forgiven him, and that he was forgiving them. God transformed his life completely, he can do the same for others.

In this memoir, Medad Birgungi traces his life from his darkest moments to his brightest. He tells his story. And it is powerful and compelling. Personal and straight forward. For the most part, Tombstones and Banana Trees is set in Uganda.

From chapter three, "Jesus Has Left the Village,"
In my nightmares I can still feel the fear. My heart beats at night just as it did when, as a boy, I would run away from them. They would hunt me like an animal, using their dogs to track and find me. They would be silent as they stalked me, and then they would release their anger and excitement with cries and shouts once I was held at their feet. Whenever they caught me I knew that the physical agony I was about to experience would last for days. The emotional scars from the humiliation would take longer to heal. They were the jigger hunters, and I was one of their favorite prey.

If you are poor, shoes are a luxury. If you are poor, soap is also a luxury. If you are poor and have to collect water by hand each day, the practice of bathing and maintaining good personal hygiene slips further down your list of priorities than is good for you.

We were suddenly poor. My father had left us with nothing. Absolutely nothing. No clothes other than those that were stuck, like flags on a coffin, to our tear and mud-stained bodies. No mattresses. No pots for cooking or collecting water. No tools for preparing food or harvesting crops. But since we had no land on which to farm and no house in which to live, these missing items were of little consequence. All we had was our breath and surely that would soon run out?

In one simple yet dramatic act our father had sent our status plummeting. In the morning we had been a family of wealth. We had possessions so numerous they required three pickup trucks to transport. We were part of a family who could look at others and say, "It is good that we are not poor like they are."

All that had not been packed onto the trucks had been sold. Our land, our cows and goats, our homes--all had been sold to others in the neighboring villages. For three hours my mother, my sisters and brothers, and I crouched at the foot of the tree by the roadside, fresh waves of tears coming with each realization of how bleak and difficult our lives now looked. We had nothing. If only death would settle upon us at that very moment, then our pain might be relieved.

Yet God had other plans. Slowly at first, like the way you take care when first stirring in the millet as you add water for morning porridge, God brought help to us. He did not restore our fortunes overnight, nor did He transform us at the drop of a hat. That is not generally the way God works. Instead, He brought us on a journey. A long journey made up of many steps. Some were painful, many were small. But today I can see that each one has brought me closer to God. (41-42)

I almost don't know what to say about the book because I don't think I could do it justice. I would definitely recommend it.

Favorite quotes:

When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. (49)

It is one thing to try to forgive someone on the occasion when they have hurt you, but it is quite another thing to adopt a lifestyle of forgiveness. This takes effort, determination, and sacrifice. To live a lifestyle of forgiveness means choosing to pursue a life of holiness and avoiding the things that could defile you. You have to repent, daily. You have to pray, daily. You have to read the Bible, daily. And you have to forgive others far more frequently than that. (155)

"The truth is good," Bishop Festo told me once, "but it is even better when presented in an envelope." (161)

To forgive is to grow, to live, to love. To forgive is to follow Jesus. To forgive is to leave behind the tomb and to walk out, surrounded by fresh air and new life, toward the open arms of a waiting, loving God (189)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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