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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Dispatches From the Front" (Tim Keesee)

TITLE: Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World's Difficult Places
AUTHOR: Tim Keesee
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014, (240 pages).

We are easily anxious over mundane matters while they face real afflictions. We face hard times but they encounter perilous hardships. We suffer inconveniences while they endure calamities. We watch movies that contain acted out violence while they experience real beatings. We watch "Prison Break" while they are imprisoned without just cause. We read about riots and get insomnia over common worries while they face riots, labour unrest and sleepless nights. We go for hunger strike at our convenience while they face hunger times. If we as Christians trust God, why then are so many of us easily anxious about the most mundane things of life? This book puts the worries of our modern world into proper perspective. Tim Keesee is the director of an organization called, "Dispatches from the Front." After years of teaching, he decides to travel the world and make documentaries, and to keep a particular lookout for "stories of gospel" advancements in a difficult world. He condenses his more than 20 years experience in the field into 8 stories from 8 regions. The first region is the former Soviet Republics where he saw imprisoned believers refusing to be silenced as far as the gospel is concerned. After being persecuted for so long, the sudden release triggered an unprecedented freedom and joy never before experienced. He shared about his time at a maximum security prison as he preached the Word of God to convicts, and to see the gospel give them hope and faith. Correspondence courses were some of the most effective tools for reaching out to Muslim dominated countries. The second region is the Balkan region, in particular Albania. After five centuries of Ottoman rule, followed by Communist brutality, the gospel presents a light in the midst of darkness for the people. In such an environment, the challenge for many common folks was how to pick up the pieces of a broken society and system. Despite heavy NATO presence, violence and murders were still rampant. In a land where many men rape and beat their wives, Christians stand out by living against such terrible acts. The third region is China, a rising world economy. He studied the China Inland Mission, and its early attempts to reach out to the Chinese people. Keesee looked at how Hudson Taylor was increasingly frustrated by the spiritual apathy back in England and was determined to forge ahead to gather a team of like-minded believers and missionaries, to minister to the Chinese, to learn the language, their culture, their lifestyle, and whatever it takes to be Christ to them. Keesee felt the tensions of how the Christian leaders in China were being watched. He wrote about how a group of Muslims taunted them and boasted about Osama bin Laden as their hero. His physical travels included XinJiang province, the Westernmost part of China, Inner Mongolia, and other cities in China. Amid the rising Chinese economy, he sees bright sparks of Christ's kingdom of hope and love rising too. The fourth region is South-East Asia, where Keesee traveled to Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, seeing gospel work being done in a land rampant with sex trade and poverty. He wrote about his time in Singapore how street evangelism was being done for the many foreign workers there, and with gut-wrenching stories of maids cheated by their employers. The fifth region is South Asia, where Keesee looks at Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. With Bangladesh 90% Muslims and almost 10% Hindus, it would seem like there is not much room for Christianity. It is a place where all who believed paid a heavy cost as one believer puts it: "All must walk through the fire." India, a land of gods presented a different kind of challenge. In this world's most populous democracy, the memories of William Carey remains vibrant. However, the widely held beliefs of the caste systems is entrenched, and "deep in the DNA of the Indian people." Despite the challenges, many stories prove that the Holy Spirit is working, of how believers carried out gospel outreaches to preach Jesus among the gods. The stronghold of Islam, Pakistan is also a hard place for Christians, with many news of believers being raped, robbed, and persecuted. The gospel gives the believers hope that a better day will come. The sixth region is the African regions of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, a world "steeped in demon worship, Islam" and having poor infrastructure. Despite the violence and the danger, faithful evangelists and workers for the gospel risk their lives to serve in many humanitarian projects. In a land where fear and fights often occur, where freedoms are limited, the gospel presents a freedom of hope that brings light to the oppressed. Keesee tells a heart-warming story of Johnny, who after receiving the gospel, sees his "useless legs" not as a curse but as a gift from God! The seventh region is the horn of Africa and Egypt, which are also strongholds of Islam. Those who converted from Islam experienced harsh persecution. Massacres are not unheard of. The eighth region is Afghanistan and Iraq. Keesee gives us insights into the travels he made with the NATO forces, facing the reality of death and violence each day as peacekeepers try to maintain peace with the local forces. He even get to hear a poem read, entitled: "If China."

So What?

Reading this book tells me that we in the wealthy and comfortable West have become too relaxed and have over-spiritualized the issues of poverty, hunger, and evil. Without a reality check, we may become blinded to the real issues that are occurring around the world. Many of our fellow brothers and sisters in persecuted countries are facing real life and death situations. We need to pray fast and to fast and pray. The book provides us 8 regional windows to see how ordinary believers face dangers each day. The common thread among the stories is the advancement of the gospel despite of the opposition strongholds. It reminds me that bullets and guns can take away lives, but it can never eradicate the hope that the gospel provides. Bombs can obliterate entire properties but they can never destroy the Word of God that is in the hearts of people. Crimes and violence may threaten to scare believers into submission, but believers will know that one day, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

Thanks to Keesee and his teams of brave volunteers, we learn about the struggles of believers in these challenging places. We can pray with greater clarity. The book is an additional resource for us in the comfortable West to learn more about other nations, that faith for them do not come easy. We have our own challenges. They have their own. As a people of God, we all will do well to be informed of one another's challenges so that we can all pray for brothers and sisters worldwide. For the time will come, where we will be united as one body of Christ, regardless of ethnicity, geography, and circumstances.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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