Archives For Africa


545442: Resurrection in May

A Review of

Resurrection in May: A Novel

By Lisa Samson
Paperback: Thomas Nelson, 2010.
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Reviewed by Jeni Newswanger-Smith.

Lisa Samson belongs to the newer (but welcome!) generation of Christian authors who write honestly and believably about people’s struggles with faith in the real world. Samson often deals with big topics—alcoholism, psychosis, murders—and Resurrection in May is no different.  In fact, Samson deals with so many big issues (e.g., genocide, drug addiction, PTSD, the death penalty), that the book is almost overwhelming.  May,  a recent college graduate, who is partying away her young life, meets Claudius, an old farmer who has never lived away from his birth home, when he picks her up, drunk and abandoned, from the side of the road.  Claudius is able to see through May’s recent bad choices to who she really is—a bright, talented, but pampered child who makes very bad choices when it comes to romance.  They strike up an unlikely friendship—May moves into Claudius’s home while she waits to go on a mission trip Rwanda; there she plans to work in a small village, while also exercising her journalistic skills.  But May’s trip to Rwanda overlaps with the atrocious genocides of the 1990s, and May witnesses and experiences rage and hatred she can not find words to express.  After barely living through the genocide, May returns home scarred literally and figuratively. Unable to deal with anyone of her former acquaintance, she moves back into Claudius’s home.  There she stays for years, her world quickly becoming just the farm and those people who visit it.  After dealing for years with pathological fear, May is encouraged to reach beyond the farm by writing to a former friend who is awaiting execution on death row.  As the friendship grows through letters, both May and her friend wrestle with the issues of forgiveness and redemption.

Samson’s books are always enjoyable as well as challenging.  Resurrection in May is no exception, however, because of the over-crowding of big issues and the rather sudden shifts in time and perspective, it doesn’t stand up to her best work.  While Samson deals realistically with disappointed dreams and mental illness, Resurrection in May is brimming so full with interesting characters and potential sub-plots, one wonders why no one suggested making it into a series.


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Forgiving As We’ve Been Forgiven:
Community Practices for Making Peace
(Resources for Reconciliation Series)

by L. Gregory Jones and Célestin Musekura
Paperback: IVP Books, 2010.
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A Brief Review of

Why Africa Matters.
Cedric Mayson.
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2010.
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Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.

I have always been intrigued with the continent of Africa.  From the silly and false stereotyping days of Johnny Weissmuller and Tarzan (for those under 30 you’re probably asking “Who?”), to the days of “Amistad” and “Roots”, to the amazing Wildlife Parks and reserves, to the more recent developments in Rwanda and Sudan, there’s been much about Africa to think about.   Africa’s incredible and breathtaking beauty, its fascinating mix of peoples and cultures, its sometimes violent and almost unbelievable history are all powerful draws to the mind, heart and imagination.  Certainly there is much we can learn from all human history in all places  –  but I do think that maybe author is correct in thinking that in some ways there might be some particular things that can be seen and learned from the story of Africa, its history, its people, its ancient beginnings.

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“The Heart of the Global Resurgence of Christianity”

A Review of Global Awakening:
How 20th Century Revivals Triggered

A Christian Revolution.
By Mark Shaw.

Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.

A Review of Global Awakening:
How 20th Century Revivals Triggered

A Christian Revolution.
Mark Shaw.
Paperback: IVP Academic, 2010.
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Mark Shaw - GLOBAL AWAKENINGFor many of us, the very word “revival” brings images of tents filled with folding chairs on a hot summer night and a preacher wiping his brow in the heat as he makes emotional pleas for us to avoid hell and accept Jesus today so we can go to heaven if we should die tonight.

Revivals?  Aren’t revivals quirky folk rituals associated with rural America and nineteenth-century camp meetings?    Didn’t they pass out of fashion with hula hoops and Edsels?  For many, revivals are little more than relics of a distant past.  They belong more to an age of ploughs and prairies than of postmodernity and globalization.  And like King Arthur’s sword in the stone, the term may be so deeply embedded in American folk culture that any attempt to extract it is doomed to failure.  Yet the sword in the stone is moving.  The news of revivalism’s death has been greatly exaggerated.  Revivals like forces of nature are protean, constantly adjusting their features and ferocity to new times and to new places… They learned to speak Spanish, Portuguese, Yoruba, Korean, Mandarin and Gujarati…and crossed the equator   (12).

It will be difficult for some to think beyond their little box and see revival in a new and different light because of those old preconceived ideas and notions.   What an incredible study the author has done here as he has closely examined the working and moving of God in many places in our world over the last century.  He has truly “done his homework” and given us much to chew on and think about in this writing.

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A Review of

284772: Love Mercy: A Mother and Daughter"s Journey from The American Dream to The Kingdom of God Love Mercy:
A Mother and Daughter’s Journey
from The American Dream
to The Kingdom of God

By Lisa Samson & Ty Samson.
Paperback: Zondervan, 2010.

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Reviewed by Jeni Newswanger-Smith

A couple of years ago Lisa Samson and her daughter Ty took a trip to Swaziland.  Their lives had already changed greatly and they wanted to see firsthand what was happening in this devastated part of the world.  What they found was much struggle, illness, neglect and hunger.  They also found love, joy, devotion and stories of the lost being found.  In other words, they discovered the world.   Lisa and Ty have write about their experiences on this trip in the new book Love Mercy.

The book is delightful to read.  Lisa writes to her audience as if they are sitting down with her for a good cup of tea.  In the first half of the book, she chronicles her family’s journey from suburban individualism to inner-city community.  This journey was a difficult and challenging one, but Lisa writes about it with humor.

The second half of the book is co-authored with Ty.  They take turns telling about a second great journey—one to visit the churches in Swaziland.  They see children orphaned by AIDS, people dying from AIDS, children raising children—and people turning a blind eye.  They witnessed the last vestiges of apartheid that had seeped over the borders, which is heart-breaking and eye-opening for both women.

One of the remarkable parts of this book is that neither Lisa or Ty offer solutions to the problems in the world.  They acknowledge these problem,s tell us about their trip to learn more and ask all of us to join in the brainstorming for solutions and change.

Lisa uses the words “social justice” quite often in the book and while I know what she means, those words have become so weighted and misconstrued by some Christians, and may be off-putting for some potential readers. Lisa defines intentional community as “caring for each other to care for the other,” and this is the core of Christian social justice, as the Samsons’ book title expresses: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

For people just beginning to explore what social justice means, this book is a great place to start.  For people a little further on the journey, this book provides good reminder of why one started in the first place.


A 20 page excerpt from:

Beneath the Lion’s Gaze: A Novel.
By Maaza Mengiste.
Hardback: W.W. Norton, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Get a sneak peak at this novel due out next Tuesday!


A Brief Review of

Hope In An Age of Despair.
Albert Nolan.

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2009.
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Reviewed by R. Dean Hudgens.

Fr. Albert Nolan has been an important figure in South African liberation theology for several decades.  A twenty-fifth anniversary edition of his book Jesus Before Christianity was published in 2001.  This smaller volume (edited and introduced by Stan Muyebe) brings together articles, essays, and homilies from a variety of sources.  It represents a helpful introduction to Nolan’s life and work and contains a “selected bibliography” of his writings dating back to 1976.  Nolan has been a notable leader in the Catholic church and the Dominican Order in South Africa during the difficult years of apartheid and beyond.  He chose to remain there even when offered a distinguished ecclesiastical position in Rome.  He was a primary contributor to the 1985 Kairos Document which protested South African apartheid policy and provoked much attention around the world.  Nolan’s liberation theology is strongly christocentric in theory and mystical-prophetic in practice.  This collection provides a very wholistic perspective on his work as Nolan addresses the biblical basis for justice, the need for a life of prayer and contemplation, and the concrete spiritual and physical needs that continue to be manifest in South Africa today.  Speaking from a situation that once seemed so thoroughly without hope; a situation in which for so long the world saw the church at its oppressive worst; Nolan continues to speak with a unique authority as a representative of a faith-filled and courageous church, that has demonstrated the gospel at it’s liberating and reconciling best.  This is not a great book, but it comes from a great man with a great faith and an enduring hope.


A Brief Review of

Emmanuel Kolini: The Unlikely Archbishop of Rwanda.
Mary Weeks Millard.

Paperback: Authentic Media, 2009.
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Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.

I would have to ashamedly admit that I’ve not read too many biographies over the course of my life.  I’m not really sure why that is.  I love hearing the stories of others’ lives, it just seems I’ve always found other things I’d rather be reading.

This very simply written story of the life of the present day archbishop of Rwanda absolutely captivated me (I read it in an evening).  I suppose part of that might be because of my interest in the events of the Rwandan genocide and the present-day restoration and reconciliation that is taking place there (ed: Laretta reviewed Catherine Larson’s book As We Forgive earlier this year) and also because of my heart for the continent of Africa – the incredible beauty, resources and creativity displayed everywhere, but also its staggering history of abuse and violence and sorrow.

As we follow the events of his life, we are given an incredible picture of life in Rwanda, the Congo and Uganda in this past century.  His story is one of incredible hope, perseverance and commitment to His Creator.  His life is a call to the church of Jesus Christ – a call to love and care and live out the gospel.

What else can I say?  This was a great book and I highly recommend it!


Translating Numbers Into People”


A Review of
28: Stories of AIDS IN AFRICA
by Stephanie Nolen.


Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin


28: Stories of AIDS IN AFRICA
Stephanie Nolen.
Paperback: Walker and Co., 2008.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $13 ]  [ Amazon ]


“I looked at AIDS in Africa for a long time before I understood what I was seeing.” (1)

Stephanie Nolen’s opening words, as quoted above,  seem to not only capture the reason for her writing but make a very insightful statement about many of us who live in this relatively safe and sheltered culture.  We are bombarded daily with images, articles, and reports depicting so many of the sorrows of this world…AIDS…hunger….war….refugee camps…genocide…but how many of us see without really seeing, hear without really hearing, and form very shallow thoughts and ideas about these issues with no real understanding.


As part of a group that spent several months studying the issue of AIDS, I have read several books dealing with the AIDS epidemic (which only serves to let one know how much that one really doesn’t know).  This book is by far one of the best.  Stephanie Nolen very powerfully puts a human face on all the numbing statistics and brings an incredibly deep human dimension to the “savage phenomenon” known as AIDS.  One of the very real struggles a great number of us have in attempting to wrap our minds around many of the crises of our time, of which AIDS certainly is one, is the ability to translate the numbers we hear into people – flesh and blood, feeling, suffering people.  Another struggle we have is in interpreting the numbers.  What do they say?  What do they mean? What is behind them?  What do they represent?  What are the effects, the consequences, the ramifications of the numbers?  How is life changed because of those numbers?    Ms. Nolen does an outstanding job in addressing both of these struggles.  Very simply, she helps us to really see, to really hear, to travel below the shallow surface where most of us are content to be and at least begin to understand.

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Carl Raschke’s   GloboChrist:
The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn

 We roam the global village as Alice roamed the chessboard in Through the Looking-Glass: pawns bewildered at every turn. The word “postmodernism” appears backwards, like the poem “Jabberwocky.” Even when we hold it up to a mirror, the concept remains slippery. Alice responds to the poem in the same way we respond to postmodernism: “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate.” Modernity, we surmise, was killed, and its murderers are still fugitives.

Carl Raschke is our Humpty Dumpty, perspicaciously interpreting the “postmodern moment” in GloboChrist, the third volume in Baker Academic’s series, The Church and Postmodern Culture. Whereas the first two books in the series, James K. A. Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? and John D. Caputo’s What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, offered textual exegesis of postmodern thinkers to correct stubborn misunderstandings and to show resonance with the Christian tradition, Raschke’s book offers cultural exegesis to clarify the church’s missional task in a global age. An early explorer of the intersection between Continental philosophy and theology, author of The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity, Raschke serves as chair of religious studies at the University of Denver.

While too many Christians are tiresomely proclaiming that they are pro- or anti-postmodernism, crudely defining the heterogeneous concept, Raschke steps out of the impasse by announcing what should be obvious: “a dramatic global metamorphosis.” Instead of wrangling over the “uncounted usages and syntactical peculiarities” of a word, he rightly claims: “Becoming postmodern means that we all, whether we like it or not, are now going global, which is what that obscure first-century sect leader from Palestine truly had in mind.”

This book is directed to American evangelicals with the purpose of awakening them to “a pivot in world history that seems as unprecedented as the transformation of Caesar’s realm during the first three centuries of the common era. That change came through the strange and distinctly un-Roman cult from Palestine centering on the crucifixion and resurrection of a mysterious nobody now known to history as Jesus of Nazareth.”

Read the full review:


The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn.

Carl Raschke.
Paperback: Baker Academic, 2009.
Buy Now: [ Doulos Christou Books $15 ]  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed in the NY Review of Books

There was once a woman who never smiled. Her name was Bao Si and she was a concubine to a king of the Zhou dynasty, which flourished in China after 1000 BCE. The king wanted so much to see her smile that he scoured the kingdom for entertainers and performing animals; not a flicker of amusement crossed her face. Then one day a bonfire was ignited, a signal of emergency. Troops poured into the capital in battle array, only to be stopped short and told that the fire had been lit by accident. At this Bao Si smiled; in fact, she began to laugh. Keen to repeat his success, the king had bonfires lit over and over again. His troops stopped paying attention to the signals; so when the invaders came, the king was driven out, and the dynasty was at an end.

It’s a story emblematic of so much else in Marilyn French’s vast four-volume history of women. A twitch of a woman’s lip causes the fall of a nation. On the one hand she is sickeningly, destructively powerful. One the other hand she is a chattel, a beast, a commodity, she and her sisters are “human incubators.” In the Assyrian empire, which flourished from 1300 BCE, she could be impaled for aborting the child she is carrying. For lesser offenses she could be beaten or disfigured behind closed doors, but if her master wanted to mutilate her permanently—cut off her ears or nose, or tear out her breasts—he had to do it in public; though whether for the sake of example or for the general enjoyment, French does not say. She could be punished at various times and places for going veiled, or not going veiled. She could be sold, pawned, or prostituted.

Read the full reivew:

Marilyn French.

Paperback: Feminist Press, 2009.

For Your Consideration.
A NY Times article on African missions
in the United States

PASTOR DANIEL AJAYI-ADENIRAN is coming for your soul. It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, rich or poor, speak English or Spanish or Cantonese. He is on a mission to save you from eternal damnation. He realizes you may be skeptical, put off by his exotic name — he’s from Nigeria — or confused by his accent, the way he stretches his vowels and trills his R’s, giving his sermons a certain chain-saw rhythm. He suspects you may have some unfortunate preconceptions about Nigerians. But he is not deterred. He believes the Holy Spirit is working through him — aided by the awesome earthly power of demographics.

Africa is the world’s fastest-growing continent, and Ajayi-Adeniran belongs to one of its most vigorously expansionary religious movements, a homegrown Pentecostal denomination that is crusading to become a global faith. In the course of just a few decades, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, founded in a Lagos shantytown, has won millions of adherents in Nigeria while building a vast missionary network that stretches into more than 100 nations. “The rate of growth,” Ajayi-Adeniran says, “is becoming exponential.” As the man coordinating the Redeemed Church’s expansion in North America, the pastor spends his days shuttling from his home base, a storefront church in the Bronx, to the denomination’s continental headquarters, a 550-acre compound in Texas, and to mission outposts scattered from Vermont to Belize. This places him at the vanguard of a revolution in worldwide Christianity, one that it is quite literally changing its face, as a faith that was once exported by white missionaries from Europe and America comes to draw its strength from the peoples of the Southern Hemisphere.

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