Friday, October 31, 2008

Revolution in World Missions by K. P. Yohannan

It has taken me a very long time to finish this book, but I determined I would complete it before reading any more fiction or book club selections. It was recommended to me by some people at church earlier this year, but I did not necessarily find it to be as compelling as others had.

K. P. Yohannan has an inspiring testimony of salvation and evangelistic work in his native land of India, which he shares in the opening chapters of Revolution In World Missions. When he came to America for education, he was led by the Lord to start Gospel for Asia, a mission organization that supports and partners with native missionaries in India and other Asian nations. As of 2002, they were managing the support for 14,000 native missionaries, many of whom are able to start a great number of churches in villages that were previously unreached or resistant to the gospel.

The author does make some good points. First, the author's case for the effectiveness of native missionaries in Asia and Third World countries is very valid. This is a widely recognized trend in missions today, and I know of many mission agencies and missionaries who are quite happy to work themselves out of a job, so to speak, to turn over their ministries to nationals. Second, the author makes an excellent point related to giving to mission work: "You have to learn to let your money go [when you give to a missionary], because it is not your money but God's" (190). This is a hard lesson for many Christians to learn. While some measure of accountability is certainly necessary and good, the individual believer and churches who support missionaries need to remember that God gives the increase and faithful stewardship involves faith in God to use our gifts for the furtherance of His kingdom through the means of frail human instruments, the missionaries who have answered His call.

Although I agree wholeheartedly with the native missionary movement, I feel that Yohannan has perhaps overstepped the bounds of reason in making his point. At times, the book gives the impression of being an infomercial for Gospel for Asia. While there is certainly nothing wrong with promoting a ministry in which one believes, it should not be done at the expense of other ministries or by making generalizations or creating double standards to elevate one's ideals. Unfortunately, there is a polemical tone to this book that is not consistent with the Gospel the author ultimately wants to see expanded.

Throughout the book, Yohannan criticizes other mission agencies and missionaries who engage in social outreaches as a means of spreading the Gospel. He implies that most, if not all Western missionaries come overseas with latent ideas of colonialism and substitute social work for evangelism and church planting. In one chapter, he cites an unnamed "Christian leader [who] said that if the Church had spent as much time on preaching the Gospel as it did on hospitals, orphanages, schools and rest homes - needful though they were - the Bamboo Curtain would not exist today" (115). Yet in the very next chapter, he explains how successful Gospel for Asia has been with "Bridge of Hope, our children's outreach program, [which] is designed to rescue thousands of children in Asia from a life of poverty and hopelessness by giving them an education and introducing them to the love of God. Through this effort, churches are planted and entire communities are set on a course toward spiritual transformation as well as social development" (121). It simply seems arrogant to advance one's own social outreaches as superior to that of other mission agencies, especially since the fruit of some labors may not be immediately apparent and it must be remembered that God, not particular methods or ministries, is who gives the increase.

Elsewhere, Yohannan asserts that the native missionary movement is "the only hope for these unreached nations" (143), but later he criticizes the Western Church for the "arrogant attitude of 'our way is the only way'" (191). To be sure, the Western Church does need to realize that the Gospel must not be cloaked in American Christianity and church planting should be culturally relevant. But isn't Yohannan severely limiting the resources and means through which God can work to assert that one method is the "only hope" for evangelizing Asia? Is he not merely substituting another version of "our way is the only way"? His criticisms of other missionaries and mission methods are hardly balanced by a single page (217) in a Question/Answer section that mentions the continuing (and very limited) role of Western/American missionaries in Asia. Unfortunately, Revolution In World Missions is characterized by these types of sweeping generalizations and inconsistent reasoning, which seems to discredit the message and ministry of Gospel for Asia more than establish it. Such an "either/or" mentality makes our God very small. He can work through both native missionaries and Western missionaries, and each of them can be equally called by Him to serve in Asia or around the world.

Christians certainly need to hear Yohannan's message of sacrificial giving, for the affluence of most American Christians could and should be shared to advance the Gospel around the world. We need to be challenged out of our comfortable complacency to give our resources for Kingdom work not merely to buy another toy or convenience. My only concern is that Yohannan's passion for the ministry of Gospel for Asia has somewhat blinded him to the numerous ways in which God can work to accomplish His plan for the world.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Recipe: Fresh Apple Cake with Carmel Frosting

Good books and good food - what a combination! Occasionally, I'll post links to recipes here since it's always nice to have a snack when you're reading.

This is a great recipe for fall: Fresh Apple Cake with Carmel Frosting. My father-in-law shared a similar recipe with me when my husband and I were engaged, but somehow it got lost in the intervening years. The frosting is like fudge, and this recipe calls for cooking the butter and brown sugar. I assure you this is a much better method than trying to follow typical buttercream instructions and beat the butter and brown sugar until the sugar dissolves. The abbreviated recipe I got from my father-in-law only listed the frosting ingredients, so I had pretty grainy frosting, not realizing it needed to be cooked. This is just as good as I remember it - maybe even better with these changes:
  1. Substitute unsweetened applesauce for 1/2 - 2/3 of the oil (I used 3/4 cup of applesauce and 3/4 cup of canola oil, but a 1 cup to 1/2 cup ratio would probably work fine, too).
  2. Add 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of corriander to dry ingredients.
  3. Omit pecans.
  4. For frosting, boil butter and brown sugar for at least 2 minutes; rice milk worked fine for dairy-free diet.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

La Reine Margot ~ Alexander Dumas

La Reine Margot is a novel by Alexandre Dumas, known for such classics as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, that relates a complex tale of murder, intrigue, love, and loyalty during the reign of Charles IX of France. The novel begins with the wedding celebrations of the title character, Marguerite de Valois, affectionately called "Margot" by her brother King Charles, who is joined in a politically motivated and loveless marriage to Henry of Navarre, a Protestant. During the course of the festivities, the military strength of Charles' Catholic court enacts a merciless slaughter against the Protestants who had gathered in Paris for Henry's marriage. This carnage becomes known as the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre. Through these two events, the marriage and the massacre, we are introduced to the major and minor players in the quests for love and power that occupy the remainder of the narrative.

While this novel certainly had plenty of action and intrigue, I must say that I was not particularly moved by or sympathetic to any of the characters. Maybe it boded ill from the beginning that Henry of Navarre and Marguerite both planned separate romantic rendezvous on their wedding night. I understand that their marriage was simply a political arrangement, and this is France, after all, but still! Perhaps the passions and intrigues of the 16th century French court were just too frivolous or empty for me to develop a vested interest in the outcome. That's not to say that the story isn't interesting or that I considered not finishing it. In fact, the action is intense, and there is plenty of suspense in the plot to keep turning pages and reading long past a reasonable bed time. But in the end, it seemed simply that a few more had died and a few loves were lost, but crowns were still contested and sought after, and not much had really changed aside from the replacement of fallen characters with others who would carry on the drama in much the same fashion.

The Oxford World's Classics edition pictured above, did have an excellent introduction and extensive explanatory notes. From my perspective, the notes were both a help and a hindrance. On the one hand, the notes could be a distraction from the storyline, being rather tedious to turn to the back of the book many times in the course of a chapter. I could have done without the explanations of streets and bridges and buildings within Paris - maybe that would be helpful to some people, but I don't really need to understand which way the carriage turned or which way someone fled. On the other hand, it was interesting to learn the actual history behind the story that Dumas crafted around historical characters. He shifted the roles of some key characters, rearranged the sequence of events at times, and was rather loose with quite a few historical details for the purpose of his narrative. But as helpful as the historical notes were, I think they also detracted from my enjoyment of the novel. It wasn't a story I could simply lose myself in, for not only did I find the characters unsympathetic, but the plot was forever being corrected, historically speaking, by the notes. I might have been better served by reading a summary of the actual history with points of comparison between that and the novel after I had completed the book.

Here are some of the more revealing quotes by a few key characters:

Henry of Navarre to Marguerite: "I now know that someone is concealed here - that you are an unfaithful wife, but a faithful ally; and, at this moment, I have more need of fidelity in politics than in love." (24)

Marguerite: "'Sir,' said Marguerite to Henry, 'your last words were an accusation against me, and you were both right and wrong. Right, for I am the means by which they attempted to destroy you. Wrong, for I did not know that you were doomed to destruction. I myself , sir, owe my life to chance - to my mother's not thinking of me, perhaps. But as soon as I learned fo the danger you were in I remembered my duty, and a wife's duty is to share the fortunes of her husband. If you are exiled, sire, I will be exiled too; if they imprison you, I will be your fellow-captive; if they kill you, I will die too.'" (104)

Catherine de Medici (queen mother): "Catherine, bursting with rage, returned to her quarters...'Satan!' she muttered, 'help a poor queen, for whom God will do nothing more!'" (361)

Overall, I would give La Reine Margot 3 1/2 stars. I haven't read any of Dumas' other novels for comparison, though The Black Tulip looks interesting given my husband's Dutch heritage. I would also like to read The Count of Monte Cristo sometime. I'll just have to decide between the abridged or full version, after reading this review...

A summary of my book club's discussion of La Reine Margot can be found here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Another Blog?

I started a blog for my book club a few months ago, but I've found that I'd like to write about more books than what might fit the purpose of that site. So this is my personal book review blog. There will most likely be a broad mix of topics reviewed here - from fiction to theology and picture books to cookbooks - as my reading tends to be quite varied.

When I like something that I read, I use post-it tabs to mark memorable passages. If it's a really good book, it might look something like a paper porcupine when I'm done. Most times, I try to record those favorite quotes before I put the book away or return it to the library. A blog is much more interesting than a simple Word document, so that's the reason for this little space of mine where I can record "Lines From the Page" and other thoughts.