Here’s a pdf download of a list of our favorite Christian biographies.
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Review by John Worley
If you read one book this year, this should be the one. It confronts our conditioning in this society to equate our worth and purpose in life with getting recognition from others, gaining status among others and achieving influence or authority over others. The author contrasts this with our role as Christians being that of a servant to God and others, revealing His greatness rather than trying to establish our own.
Other than the Bible itself, this is the most personally challenging book I have read in many years. I may have said a few things more carefully than the author did, but he does an excellent job scripturally with a difficult subject. If I had written a book myself, I would wish this to be the one. There are copies available in the church bookstore. The cost financially is little ($2), but the cost in being honest with yourself may be high. Believe me, it is worth it.
John Worley was an FCC Elder and the beloved husband of Judy Worley.
By Susan Verstraete
Grandmother Bae burned all three Bibles that her family owned. All night long she sat by the fire, tearing two or three pages at a time out of the book she loved and feeding it to the flames. A North Korean State Security Officer could knock at any time, which made keeping the books just too dangerous.
Can you imagine what was going through her mind as she burned the sacred pages? Did tears stream down her face? Did she wish she had memorized more? And what was Grandfather Bae thinking as he guarded the door until it was finished? How could he lead his family without the Word? How could God save their family or the rest of North Korea when Scripture was outlawed?
These are the Generations tells the exciting and heart-wrenching story of the next three generations of the Bae family, Chinese Christians who escaped to North Korea to flee persecution by the Japanese after World War 2.
I’ve read a great number of Christian biographies, but this one struck me as unique in its honesty about the extremely difficult choices faced by believers under persecution. For example, some Christian families actually hid their beliefs from their own children for fear that the children might slip up in public and bring the Security
Office to the family doorstep. Others, like the Bae family, felt they had to burn God’s Word. A Christian mother asked her son to steal to keep the family from starving, and her believing son did what she asked. The Pastor hid in fear when the Japanese army came to burn down his church, and no one spoke openly about Christ.
I kept asking myself, “What would I have done? Where’s the line between protecting my family and betraying my faith?”
The only criticism I have of the book is that the gospel is not clearly explained in this narrative. At times it sounds as if being a Christian is equivalent to obeying the Ten Commandments, for example, and Mr. Bae never mentions Christ. But Mrs. Bae does mention Him later in the book, and I think that this oversight may be attributed to the lack of systematic teaching in their lives rather than to a completely faulty understanding of redemption. Still, while I heartily recommend reading These are the Generations as a family, I wouldn’t let a preteen read it alone without making sure to explain that we all often believe more than we articulate.
Susan Verstraete is the Church Secretary at FCC.
The Gift of Pain: Why We Hurt and What We Can Do About It
Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, Zondervan, 1997
Paul Brand was a medical missionary in India, and the son of missionaries. He specialized in treating people who suffered from leprosy and is credited with being the first to discover that leprosy did not cause rotting of the flesh, as previous generations has supposed. Brand observed instead that the disease deadened the nerves that brought messages of pain to the brain. Without these messages, his patients repeatedly injured themselves. These injuries became infected and caused the loss if fingers and toes, and often the loss of ability to earn a wage. Brand fought this progression with surgical and practical means—surgically rerouting healthy tendons to replace deadened ones, for example, and sending each patient home with a cat, so rats didn’t chew off numbed digits while the patients slept. He set up a school to teach those with leprous hands how to safely use them to earn a living as a carpenter or plumber, and set up a cobbler’s shop, where customized shoes were made to protect the deformed feet of his patients. Brand spent decades treating patients who could not feel physical pain, and though it sounds odd to our sensibilities, he said, “If I could give any one gift to my patients, it would be the gift of pain.” The Gift of Pain is available through Amazon.com and CBD.com.
If you prefer to watch the Brand’s story on video, here’s a link to a three-part series by Day of Discovery http://www.dod.org/Products/DOD1982.aspx . (It does graphically show the effects of leprosy on the hands and eyes, and may not be suitable for tender-hearted children.)
Vision for God: The Story of Dr. Margaret Brand
by Dr. Margaret Brand and Dr. James Jost, Discovery House, 2006
“We always believed that the Lord who took us in would take us through, adventure by adventure.”-Dr. Margaret Brand
Her baby was just two weeks old when the note came, asking Dr. Margaret Brand to go to work part time, without salary, in the mission hospital where her husband was on staff. The note arrived by messenger and said, “We must have help in the eye department.” It couldn’t have been a worse fit. Margaret had actually missed the ophthalmology rotation in her medical school training and had no experience in the field. She wrote back, “I know nothing about eyes. You’ll have to look for someone else. Sorry.” One hour later there was another knock on the door. The messenger once again handed Margaret a note. “You’ll learn,” it said. “Please start on Monday.”
To say that she learned is an understatement. That first day, the small eye clinic saw nearly 400 patients. Within a few weeks, she had learned to remove cataracts, a major cause of blindness in sun-drenched India. In eye camps held in remote villages, the team might perform 100 surgeries in a day, literally saving the lives of those who could no longer work to support themselves because of their blindness. Over the years, Margaret would also learn much about how the disease of leprosy affects the eye, and became the world’s foremost expert in the field. She pioneered surgical techniques to restore the ability to blink to her patients’ paralyzed eyelids and, still without becoming board certified in ophthalmology, became the Chief of Ophthalmology at the National Hansen’s Disease Center in Carville, LA.
But this biography is much more than a medical journal. Margaret tells us what it was like to raise six energetic youngsters in a foreign and sometimes dangerous country. Someone always seemed to be having an adventure—like the time the pet leopard punctured their daughter’s jugular, the time Margaret locked herself and some friends in a padded cell in an abandoned mental hospital, the time the gibbon grabbed her daughter’s hair and Margaret played tug-of-war with her screaming child, the time marmalade exploded inside all their trunks on a sea voyage, the day they were presented to the Queen and Margaret twisted her ankle when she curtsied, and the many times one or another of the family succumbed to a tropical disease. All this happened as Margaret and her husband Paul homeschooled six children, became world-class authorities on the treatment of leprosy and, most importantly, shined the light of the gospel into the spiritual darkness of India. Vision for God is available through Amazon.com and CBD.com.
Review: A Heart for Freedom: The remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and her Quest to Free China’s Daughters, by Chai Ling. Tyndale House, 2011
I wish Chai Ling had waited a few more years to tell her story.
In A Heart for Freedom, she recounts the events that led to her involvement in the leadership of the Tiananmen Square student protest in China in 1989. We have a front-row seat as the students and the Chinese government come to a stand-off over personal freedoms, and we vicariously experience the horror of the massacre. Ling evokes our sympathy as she tells us what like to leave her country as a political refugee to start over, a young girl alone and misunderstood.
The final third of the book was the most compelling, as Ling details coming to terms with her helplessness to change the political system in China, her conversion to Christianity and the process of grief and repentance over her four abortions. We see her understanding progress— first Ling realizes that her abortions ended the lives of real children—that something wrong happened. She grieves over her loss and begins to talk about it. At first she blames China’s one child policy and her ex-husband, but eventually she comes to realize her own role and to understand grace and forgiveness.
On the positive side, it is possible for someone to read this book (and especially the description of grace on page 320) and learn enough about God to be converted. Ling’s honest testimony of struggle, of learning about God and the truth about her own sin and helplessness over the period of several months is no simple reciting of a sinner’s prayer – there was real change involved in her life and I have no doubt that she knows God.
But on the negative side, I found that Ling came across as judgmental toward nearly everyone she mentions in the book. Everyone from her father, boyfriends, friends, potential employers to her current husband (whom she seems to love very much) seems not to have “done it right” in their relationship to her. For example, when Ling finally confesses her abortions to a spiritual mentor, she is asked, “Did you confess to God? He will forgive you.” Sound advice, right? Not according to Ling. She left judged by her friend. Over and over she says in her book, “For the Chinese women who will someday come out of their trauma, what they need to hear first is not, ‘Come to God and He will forgive you.’ but, ‘Come to God and He will love you, heal you, and free you.’” It’s as if Ling cannot stand even the implied criticism by her friend that she needs forgiveness. This is only one of dozens of examples where Ling explains to us her “rightness” sometimes at the cost of condemning the actions and attitudes of others. This is where a little Christian maturity might have tempered some of her judgments and made the book a more edifying read. Her theology is not always perfectly on target, and the book is probably not suitable for young people because of the general (not detailed) descriptions of her sexually immoral teen years.
That being said, I do believe that because of her unique role in China’s history, Chai Ling has a story to tell about grace that no one else could tell.
Review by Susan Verstraete, church secretary at FCC.
Book by Miriam Huffman Rockness
Lilias Trotter was a gifted artist. So gifted, in fact, that one of the premier art critics of 19th century Europe, John Ruskin, said that if she would devote herself to art, “she would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be immortal.”
Lilias was born in England in 1853 to a wealthy Christian family. Both her parents had an acute love of beauty, and they shared their passion with their children. The family enjoyed outings in the country where they gathered ferns and berries. They took an extended trip every year, and delighted in viewing the scenery from the windows of the stage coach. Lilias wept with joy over the beauty of the Swiss Alps the first time she saw them. She captured everything in her sketchbook.
Lilias’ father died when she was twelve years old. Though she had been a believer before this tragedy, the loss of her father softened and spiritually deepened Lilias. She learned to run to her Heavenly Father in times of difficulty, and developed a close walk with God.
In her twenties, Lilias divided her time between her two great loves, working with the poor in the London slums and honing her skills as an artist. But Ruskin, who had taken Lilias under his wing as a student, forced her to choose. He felt that in order to be truly great, her whole energy needed to be focused on her art. Lilias had a decision to make.
Lilias prayed and asked for counsel from her friends. Finally she decided that she agreed with Ruskin. That is, she agreed that she needed to be fully focused on one passion. Later in life she would write:
Satan knows well the power of concentration; if a soul is likely to get under the sway of the inspiration, “this one thing I do,” he will turn all his energies to bring in side-interests that will shatter the gathering intensity.
And they lie all around, these interests. Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen good harmless worlds at once—art, music, social science, games, motoring, the following of some profession, and so on. And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the “good” hiding the “best” even more effectually than it could be hidden by downright frivolity with its smothered heart-ache at its own emptiness.
And for her, the decision was clear. Lilias felt she could not give herself to painting in the way Ruskin asked and still seek first the Kingdom of God. With great pain and great joy, she chose to focus her life on evangelism. Even though it was what she really wanted, letting go one dream to pursue another still felt like a loss.
Lilias recovered quickly and set off to serve God with a newly focused passion. She applied to the North Africa Mission to serve in Algeria, but was denied because of her poor health. Lilias and a friend went to Algeria anyway, as self-supported workers. They would found the Algiers Mission Band, which would later become Arab World Ministries. Lilias wrote tracts in Arabic and illustrated them, drawing much of her inspiration from nature and the beauty of that desert region.
Lilias and her friend Blanche lived among the people in a crowded city. Over the years, they tried many different programs to gain a foothold to teach about Christ. They taught classes on sewing and on the Bible. They traveled far across the desert to reach small villages with the good news and they opened their home to people in need. It was very hard to disciple converts in a land saturated in Islam, and they routinely worked themselves into exhaustion.
After her death in 1928, people were asked what they remembered about Lilias Trotter. For most, it was her great love for individuals she encountered and her investment in their souls. Scores of people have come to know Christ either directly or indirectly because of Lilias’ willingness to focus on the best, even at the loss of something good. Like Mary listening at the feet of Jesus, she chose the better part.
Lilias’ story is told in detail in this book, but glaring lack in it is the absence of examples of her art and devotional writing. To get a more complete picture of this brave missionary, you might also purchase the book, A Blossom in the Desert: Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter, a beautiful coffee-table book with full-color reproductions of her art and excerpts from her journals. Some of her illustrated tracts are available to view online for free through Lilias Trotter Digitization Foundation and Project Gutenberg.
Review by Susan Verstraete, church secretary at FCC.
Book by Ernest Gordon, Zondervan 1963
Agnostic Ernest Gordon wanted no part of the religion he witnessed during his first months in a Japanese prison camp in Southeast Asia. Most of the men, he wrote, “believed that if they cajoled God properly He could be persuaded to save them from the unpleasantness of their present existence. They prayed for food, freedom or to be spared from death.” Gordon goes on to explain:
The men who turned to religion in this and other ways were only putting into practice what they had learned in their impressionable years from their parents and Sunday School teachers . . . . As children they had doubtless been told, ‘If you go to church and are being a good boy, God will reward your goodness by giving you what you want.’ . . . The motive . . . was not love or faith, but fear: fear of the unknown, fear of suffering, fear of the terror that walks by night, fear of death itself.
Despite their best efforts to manipulate God, the situation for all the prisoners kept getting worse. They were transferred in steaming boxcars deep into the jungle, where they spent days hacking away at the overgrowth. Their camp was a clearing – just a clearing – with no shelter or facilities. Any buildings that would be added would have to be built by the men after their long day’s work. The only food they were given was a meager 12 ounces of rice per day, per man. Diseases like malaria, worms and diphtheria ran rampant through the camp. The men were unimaginably miserable. On average, twenty died every day. They stole from each other, ignored the cries of the sick and wounded and hardened their hearts against the constant suffering around them. In response to inhumane treatment, they became almost inhuman.
But, in the same way that a jeweler’s black velvet backdrops causes a diamond to show up brilliantly, this backdrop of evil was the perfect showcase for real Christianity.
Stories began to emerge about a soldier who starved himself to give a sick friend his ration of food. Another officer took a beating in order to protect his men, who were falsely accused of stealing a shovel. Others cared for the sick night and day. As these brave men taught about Christ, they had the attention of all the camp.
To End All Wars is the story of how God transformed a WWII prison camp, not by changing the inhuman conditions, but by changing the hearts of the men. It is a story of the triumph of the Gospel.
This book has been published under two other titles, Through the Valley of the Kwai and Miracle on the River Kwai. Two movies have been based on the book: Bridge Over the River Kwai, and To End All Wars. The first movie is not accurate biographically (as fiction, it’s a good movie) and the second, while a powerful movie that sticks more closely to actual events, is peppered with language and graphic violence which makes it unsuitable for children. The book, To End All Wars is available from Amazon for about $10.
Review by Susan Verstraete, church secretary at FCC.
Book by Eric Metaxas, Harper Collins 2007
William was anxious as he walked around the square one more time, trying to summon the courage to face his scheduled meeting with John Newton, a friend and pastor from his boyhood. He thought back with regret over the years since they had last met in his Uncle’s home, and wondered just what the outspoken former slave-ship captain would have to say about the situation in which William now found himself.
William Wilberforce bought his way into politics. He was only 20 years old when he began campaigning to represent Hull, one of the top 20 districts in all of England. He spent the summer of 1780 hosting expensive dinners and charming the electors in his district, culminating with a huge ox-roast at his estate in August. He invited everyone in the district to a lavish celebration and provided food, drink and music to celebrate his 21st birthday, which coincidentally fell just two weeks before the election. All in all, Wilberforce spent about £9,000 (over a half-million dollars in today’s money) wooing his constituents and won the election by a landslide.
This great expense might cause someone to think that Wilberforce had a serious political agenda he hoped to implement, but nothing could be farther from the truth. He was wealthy and spoiled, given to excess and had what he called a “butterfly mind,” prone to flitting lightly from topic to topic. He was charming, but had little depth. Still, he gradually began to earn notoriety in Parliament for his rapier wit and ruthless eloquence in debate.
Of course, all that was before what Wilberforce called “the great change.” During the winters of 1784 and 1785, Wilberforce asked an old school friend, Isaac Milner, to accompany him to the French Riviera and the Italian Riviera for vacations. At first he did not realize that Milner was “an Enthusiast”—an evangelical Christian. Through studying the Bible with this friend, Wilberforce began to see himself as a sinner. He hated the flippant attitudes and extravagant lifestyle he formerly loved, and understood that for those to whom much privilege is granted, much is required. He trusted Christ, and began to wonder if he needed to leave Parliament altogether, since up until this time his chief motivation in pursuing a political career was the gratification of his ego and acceptance in high society.
And so, on December 7, 1785, he came to knock on John Newton’s door, ready to give up the only career he had known for the Savior whom he had just met. Newton, however, did not advise Wilberforce to abandon his position or to isolate himself from his friends. He restated his thoughts later in a letter. He wrote, “It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of His church and for the good of the nation.” Wilberforce returned to Parliament with a new zeal and diligently began to study the Bible, making up for the lost time he regretted so deeply.
Though not a mystic, Wilberforce firmly believed “God Almighty has placed before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners [morals].” In 1787, he introduced the first motion for the abolition of the slave trade in the House of Commons. He would be involved in this fight for the next 46 years.
Metaxas’ excellent biography introduces us to the man behind the battle. Along the way, we will meet other characters who shaped this page in church history, including John Newton, playwright and educator Hannah More, former slave Equiano, philanthropist Lady Huntingdon, lobbyist Thomas Clarkson and more.
The book is available at Amazon.com for about $15 new. You may also be interested in the movie version of the book, Amazing Grace, (2006) which is available through Amazon or Netflix.
Review by Susan Verstraete, church secretary at FCC.
Review of a book by David Thrower
You’d never have guessed David Thrower would be a career missionary. He had always been rather nondescript. He was a believer, but didn’t have an exciting conversion story. In fact, he wasn’t sure exactly when he came to faith. He was born into a believing household in England in 1900. He attended church with his family each week and gradually realized that he loved God and trusted Christ. He was baptized and joined the Baptist church when he was 16.
David went to war at 18. Well, actually, he was drafted in WW1 and served in an Army office in England until it was over. On returning home he found work in an office and learned to take shorthand. As soon as he perfected that skill, he looked for and found a job in an office that had a typewriter—a rare new office machine he was eager to master. He studied bookkeeping and taught shorthand in his spare time. He was a clerk, and a good one. His life seemed to be on a steady, dependable course.
But when Thrower read an appeal in a Baptist newspaper, everything changed.
A missionary named Booth was on leave from India and was looking for an assistant to return with him to the field. David wanted to fill this position. In fact, his desire to do so grew until it was overwhelming. He presented himself to the mission board as a candidate, and they turned him down. He spent a year studying every book on missions he could find, and preached a few times (but not very well). His desire to go to India did not ebb. When he returned to the mission board, he explained to them that, although it would be easier for him to go under their blessing, he would go to India no matter what their decision.
David Thrower left England in 1922 backed by the Strict Baptist Mission board and spent the next sixty years of his life serving the people of India.
Perhaps because he viewed himself as unremarkable, David approached missionary work with more humility than many of his contemporaries. While they set up churches and ran them autocratically, David mentored leaders and expected the churches he planted to become self-governing, under biblical guidelines. He knew he was not a gifted preacher, so he trained native pastors to do the preaching in their churches. When David was transferred from region to region, the works went on unhindered because they did not depend solely on him for leadership.
David Thrower was not a great theological thinker or a brilliant speaker. He didn’t lead a great revival or relieve all the poverty around him. He never wrote a bestseller or appeared on television. But when we look back over the sum of his life’s work, it’s staggering. He planted many churches still under native rule. He trained leaders. He taught skills to relieve poverty in many families. He compiled a concordance still in use today. He demonstrated a life of faith in Christ and obedience to God.
Like many of us, David Thrower plodded along unremarkably. But God used his life in a way that affected India for eternity.
No Looking Back is available from ChristianBook.com for $4.49
Review by Susan Verstraete, church secretary at FCC.
Book by Darlene Deibler Rose
The last words Russell Deibler would say to his young wife were, “Remember one thing, dear: God said He would never leave us nor forsake us.”
That was on Friday, March 13th, 1942, when Russell Deibler was taken from the cottage where he, his wife, Darlene, and their missionary team were under house arrest. Darlene didn’t even have time to say goodbye. She thrust a pillowcase of belongings into her husband’s hands, listened to his parting words and determined not to let the Japanese soldiers see her cry.
As the truck carrying Russell traveled out of sight, she remembered specific prayer from her childhood. “Lord,” she had prayed, “I’d go anywhere with You, no matter what the cost.” Now, as a grown woman facing an uncertain future, Darlene restated her prayer: “With greater understanding I confirm to You tonight, it is still anywhere—I leave the costing to You.”
“Anywhere” would cost unimaginable suffering. Over the next four years Darlene would endure first separation from her husband and then widowhood, the brutal conditions of a WWII Japanese internment camp including near-starvation, forced labor, deplorable conditions, false accusations of espionage, serious illness, months of solitary confinement, and torture. Through it all, Darlene was sustained by God, who never left her nor forsook her, just as He had promised.
How did God sustain Darlene through her long ordeal?
Through the Word—When the news came to Darlene’s prison camp that Russell had died, she was understandably devastated. That night, alone on her thin mat in the barracks, God came to her through Scripture: “He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted . . . to comfort all that mourn . . . to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:1-3). “Experientially,” Darlene said, “I was beginning to understand the comfort of the Holy Spirit. . . . The sword of sorrow had pierced deep within me, but He had bathed the sword in oil.” Over and over the Holy Spirit would bring to mind memorized Scripture at just the right time to sustain her.
Through encouragement from other believers—God blessed Darlene by providing other believers in her prison barracks. Every morning and evening, they read the Bible, sang hymns and prayed together. Serving and encouraging others helped distract the women from their own suffering, and created a feeling of community in the barracks.
When Darlene was taken away for months of solitary confinement, she remembered the last charge one of the other missionaries gave her. “Lassie, whatever you do, be a good soldier for Jesus Christ.” That challenge became her prayer: “Let me be a good soldier for You.”
Through prayer—Darlene learned what it meant to pray without ceasing. During her months of solitary confinement and daily interrogations, Darlene had a conversational stream of requests and praise going up at all times. She asked God for strength to endure, thanked Him for her daily portion of runny oatmeal and maggots, asked Him to heal her body and begged Him to protect her friends. Darlene realized her own powerlessness and cast herself completely on God.
By taking every thought captive—Darlene had to learn the hard way of the danger of letting her imagination run wild. In solitary confinement, she drifted into what she called the “spiritually unprofitable game of suppose.”
“Suppose the Japanese do win the war, what then? Suppose Mother and Father are gone. Suppose my brothers are fighting in this war. What if none of us ever return home?” After only a few minutes of this thinking, Darlene would be plunged into despair. But again, God brought Scripture to mind, “The Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it and is safe.” Darlene remembered that Jesus was her defense; she could hope in Him and be ultimately safe. She decided to take no thought of tomorrow, but to live gratefully and dependently in the moment.
Despite her fears, Darlene would indeed return home, marry again and return to the mission field. God never left her nor forsook her. Looking back over the years that had cost her so much, Darlene was grateful. She said, quoting Charles Spurgeon, “I can thank my God for every storm that has wrecked me on the Rock, Jesus Christ.”
Evidence Not Seen is the chronicle of God’s faithfulness in the life of Darlene Rose. I will never Leave Thee is the audio version of her testimony, and I strongly urge you to investigate both. Hearing Mrs. Rose tell her story in her own voice seemed to me to be an even more powerful testimony than her book, which is outstanding.
Listen to the audio here: http://www.ccob.org/women/default.asp?pg=drose
Purchase the audio ($12 for CDs, $1.99 for MP3 download) here: http://www.christianbook.com/i-will-never-leave-thee-iii/darlene-rose/pd/5008888
Purchase the book new at CBD or Amazon ($11.00 new, as little as $2.00 used) or check it out through the Mid-Continent Public library system.
Review by Susan Verstraete