Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review: Safely Home

Safely Home. Randy C. Alcorn. 2011. Tyndale. 434 pages.

Three men watched intently as peculiar events occurred, one right after the other, on opposite sides of the globe.

I read the tenth anniversary edition of Randy Alcorn's Safely Home. In some ways, it was just what I was looking for. Since reading The Evangelicals: What They Believe, Where They Are, and Their Politics, I've been looking to read more about Christians who are suffering persecution for their beliefs, about Christians living in countries with little religious freedom. And to a certain extent more about missionaries and martyrs. (Through Gates of Splendor, China Cry, City of Tranquil Light.)

If Safely Home had been nonfiction, I think I would have absolutely loved it. I think I would have found it challenging and fascinating and inspiring. I would have loved to hear stories--directly or indirectly--about real Christians living in China. I would love to hear more about the illegal home churches. I would love to hear more about the people's thirst for knowledge--thirst for the Word of God. The sections of Safely Home where they talk about home churches and underground (secret) seminaries where the Word of God is taught so that people can teach others and spread the word. I'm sure there would be plenty of sad or tragic stories--though depending on your perspective--but I'm sure there would always, always be a thread of hope as well. I don't think the truth would need embellishing. I don't think you'd need to work to make it emotional and dramatic. I think the simple telling of facts would do the job just fine.

But Safely Home isn't nonfiction. It's fiction. The story is compelling, emotional, a bit manipulative, perhaps, at times. This is a book that almost demands you slow down to process everything. I don't think that's a bad thing at all. It's just that this isn't a book you can rush through. For the story to mean something, you have to be willing to slow down. You have to see the big picture. You have to step back a little, to see it as a whole, to consider it as a whole.

So Safely Home is the journey of a business man, Ben Fielding, who had to journey to China to meet Jesus Christ. That's a one sentence summary for you. Of course, that is just the beginning....

Ben Fielding is an American business man. He's mean. He's cranky. He's selfish. He's all money, money, money. If he had a heart at one point, he's left it behind him because it's bad for business. He's divorced. He's got two kids--two daughters--that he barely knows. He's just all about getting ahead. He is Vice President of a company, Getz International, and Getz has been doing big business in China--in two major Chinese cities. And it was all his idea. His idea to partner with China. His idea that it was crucial for him to learn Mandarin all those years ago. When the novel opens, he is getting ready to go to China. The company thinks it would be a good idea for him to spend six to eight weeks in China living among the people, the "common" people of China. Live as they live, see the world through their eyes, prove to everyone that you really care. So when Ben Fielding mentions that his former college roommate was from China, well, they decide that would be just about perfect.

Li Quan is the roommate. And it's almost too easy to say he's the complete opposite of Ben Fielding. He's got a big, big heart. And his heart and mind and soul belong to Jesus. He loves his wife. He loves his son. But he knows that God comes first. Not just before his family. But before his life. He asks himself every day will this be the day that I die? Will this be the day that I face that choice of deny God and live, or stand firm in the faith and die? He prays for the strength to endure to the end--to suffer anything and everything for Christ's sake. He's already been arrested a handful of times, and been in prison for months at a time. His own father died a martyr's death. Only at the time Quan was not a believer. No, Quan found Jesus in America, he came to faith when he went to church (or a Bible study perhaps?) with his American roommate, Ben Fielding.

So for the most of the novel you've got Li Quan and Ben Fielding deep in discussion with one another. Ben Fielding trying to persuade Li Quan that he's got all these wrong ideas about China. That he's exaggerating everything. That Christians couldn't possibly be suffering persecution from the government. Not the government he does business with. He keeps trying to convince Quan that all this rule-breaking is unnecessary. I mean, why make such a big deal about how the government-approved churches and government-approved seminaries aren't really free. Can't Quan just go about his business peaceably? Why can't he keep his faith a secret? Why can't he keep his faith private? Why doesn't Quan see that he's only asking for trouble? Quan is patient--tremendously patient with Ben. Some of his actions seem a little risky.

These discussions can--at times--feel a little forced. Like the reader is being invited to a debate between two opposing forces. One voice being morally-relativistic and politically correct and all-too-modern. The other voice being the voice of truth as revealed in the Word of God. Their is a right way and a wrong way to see things--little things, big things, everything--and Ben almost always represents those blinded to the truth, those lost in slavery to sin. At least for most of this one. So the novel is definitely issue-driven. There is a message in this one for readers.

But these discussions aren't unrealistic. For example, Ben is asking questions about God's goodness. If God exists, why is there suffering? If God exists, if God cares for me, then why did my son die? If God is good why did my family fall apart? If God is good why did my mother die? Why does God let people I love suffer or die? Not all of the questions--not all of the discussions--are that personal, that private. Some are more related to politics and society and business and morality and ethics.

Through Li Quan, readers learn about the spread of Christianity in China. How it is thriving in persecution. How desperate they are for Bibles. How desperate they are for teachers/preachers. How strong these believers are--how they're willing to face suffering, imprisonment, torture, even death, for the Lord. How their faith actually MEANS something. How they don't take anything for granted.

So the message is a compelling one. I definitely am glad I read this one. I liked seeing Ben take this journey. And I am happy with how it ended--for the most part.  

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible


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the Ink Slinger said...

Great review. I haven't read this book yet, but I do know Randy Alcorn is one good storyteller with a knack for seamlessly incorporating the gospel into his work - something most modern "Christian" fiction writers have a hard time doing. :)