From the title The Yankee Officer and the Southern Belle, I did not expect a dry, over-spiritualised missionary biography, and I was not disappointed. It was a pleasure to read this well-paced book with its chatty, every-day style. It’s the story of how God called Nell and Jack Chinchen to Himself and then sent them to Liberia as missionaries. Nell writes in such a way that it seems as though she is sitting in the same room with you, telling her life story over a cup of tea.
The chapters are short with enticing titles: ‘Fireflies in my bedroom’, ‘Dirt, leaves and cow manure’, ‘Flies on the snickerdoodles’, and ‘Gabriel isn’t always an angel’, to name but a few.
Nell comes across as being very real and honest. She has a way of taking you right into Africa, and the reader is able to see it through her eyes. She writes with wisdom, warmth and humour, and her love for the people of Liberia as well as her devotion to Jesus shines through on every page. In some ways, her style reminds me a little of Isobel Kuhn who was a missionary last century to the Lisu people of China.
I would highly recommend this book, which is a breath of fresh air on the missionary biography front. I suspect it will feature quite highly on my Christmas gift list this year….
I am grateful to Christian Focus for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of writing a review.
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Is it less than a fortnight ago since the Olympics finished? Hard to believe. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the rhythmic gymnasts dancing gracefully about the floor with ribbons, balls, clubs and hoops. Amazing agility.
My favourite routine is with the ribbon. There is something particularly mesmerising watching the intertwining patterns made by the gymnast and the ribbon. Even when the gymnast tosses the ribbon high and leaps or twirls across the floor, her eyes never leave it for one second and she knows exactly when to extend hand or foot to catch it. Thankfully, in these Olympics none of the ribbons developed knots and there was nothing to hinder the display of grace and beauty. But in previous Games I’ve seen gymnasts stopping in the middle of their routine in order to speedily unknot the end of the ribbon. Knots and beauty in this instance don’t go together, in fact a knot prevents the ribbon being whisked into its ever-changing patterns.
I caught myself wanting to be as beautiful in God’s hands as the ribbon is in the gymnast’s hands. I don’t want knots – bad attitudes, wilful sin, addictions, selfishness - getting in the way. But when they do, I know that Jesus is more than able to unpick those knots and set me free again so that I can worship Him and give Him joy. Even during the tough, stressful times when it feels as though He has let go, His eyes never leave me, His precious one, for a millisecond. He knows exactly what He is doing.
The gymnast knows her routine perfectly. All the ribbon has to do, is to be a ribbon, and the beauty is evident to everyone. God knows the pattern He has for our lives. All we have to do is be obedient responders to Him, let Him be our Lord, and the beauty of Jesus will be evident to everyone.
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Have you ever read Mary Norton’s stories about The Borrowers? In the second book, The Borrowers Afield, young Arrietty is enamoured of a new life outdoors:
After bathing… sometimes she would dress up: a skirt of violet leaves, stalks uppermost, secured about the waist with a twist of faded columbine, and, aping the fairies, a foxglove bell for a hat. This, Arrietty though as she stared at her bright reflection in the stagnant water of a hoof crater,… might look all right on gnomes, elves, brownies, pixies, and what not, but she had to admit that it looked pretty silly on a common or garden borrower: for one thing, if the lip fitted the circumference of her head, the whole thing stood up too high like some kind of pinkish sausage or a very drawn-out chef’s cap. Yet if, on the other hand, the lip of the bell flowed out generously in a gentle, more hat-like curve, the whole contraption slid down past her face to rest on her shoulders in a Klu-Klux-Klan effect.
And to get hold of these bells at all was not easy: foxglove plants were high. Fairies, Arrietty supposed, just flew up to them with raised chins and neatly pointed toes, trailing a wisp of gauze. …Arrietty, poor girl, had to hook down the plant with a forked stick and sit on it as heavily as she could while she plucked any bells within reach.
In the book, Arrietty was the same size as a fairy but the clothes she imagined they would wear looked completely wrong on her. It wasn’t what she expected.
I’ve been thinking recently about the fact that things aren’t always how they look. It had always been a dream of mine to work in mission mobilisation. I had a vague idea that speaking at different meetings around the country and travelling would be exciting and glamorous. And so it was the first few times I did it. But the ‘glamour’ soon wore thin and, while I still thoroughly enjoyed the work, it became routine. The reality was rather different to how I imagined it would be.
In his sermon this morning, one of the elders told a story of how someone once prophecied over him that he would become a man of prayer. He happily anticipated how this would look: wow, to be known as a prayer warrier! But next morning was a different story. He couldn’t think of anything to pray about, felt tired from a late night, and found his thoughts wandering. He estimated that he probably spent about sixty seconds praying that morning. He related that some years later, he still has to motivate himself in prayer. But by disciplining himself to meet with God whether he feels like it or not, he is fulfilling that prophecy and is becoming a man of prayer.
Maybe you began the Christian life with great excitement and anticipation, and now it has become fairly humdrum. Perhaps even the idea of reading your Bible and praying sounds boring, and you wonder what is the point? There is every point. Just because it isn’t quite how you expected it to be is no reason to give up. The Holy Spirit is a fantastic mentor and teacher, the best in fact, so tell Him how you feel and ask Him for help. God is a person; remind yourself that He loves spending time with you. So much so, that Jesus died and came back to life in order for you to enjoy friendship with Him. Stir your soul by singing a psalm, tell God what He means to you, speak Bible truths aloud, welcome His presence, enjoy Him. You become like the people you spend time with the most. Spending time with Jesus is to become like Him, and as you get to know Him intimately, you will begin to find that what you expected the Christian life to be, is what it actually is.
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My friend came round for a three hour marathon coffee and catch-up time yesterday. We had a great time together. One of the things she said struck a chord in me. She mentioned that while praying through a difficult situation, God gave her a picture of an oyster. The irritating bits of sand and dirt that get inside the oyster shell are what produce the beautiful pearl.
This reminded me of the way God taught me spiritual truth through a tea bag a few weeks ago. I, too, was feeling miserable about an ongoing difficult situation. Actually, forget miserable, I was indulging in feeling thoroughly sorry for myself, even asking God what I’d done to deserve this. Especially as I could see no end to it.
I happened to be making a cup of tea at the time and the Holy Spirit drew my attention to the tea bag. A tea bag on its own doesn’t do anything. You can’t eat it, you can’t drink it, and it doesn’t smell particularly pleasant. But a tea bag that has had boiling water poured on becomes a fragrant and refreshing drink. It’s the boiling water that draws out the flavour.
Through both of these pictures, God showed my friend and me that it’s through the difficult times that we grow in character. He allows difficult people – whether that be family, irritating work colleagues, or inconsiderate neighbours – and hard situations into our lives at times for our good and, ultimately, for His glory. By trusting Him and allowing Him to take us right through situations that we would rather not be in, He will use them to ensure our rough edges are rubbed off until we reflect more-and-more the beauty of Jesus’ character. And we will become richer Christians, richer in spiritual things.
So if this is you today, why not thank God for this trial and ask Him to teach you all that He wants you to learn from it? A purity of faith and beauty of character will be the end result.
Let me close with the words of a man in the Bible called Job, who lost all of his children, his job, his possessions and his health all in one day:
…when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
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