Saturday, April 4, 2009

Marriage (a book review)

I whisked away my roommate's copy of "25 Surprising Marriages"* before she had a chance to read it herself.

It's not a study in "happily ever after," although the couples involved are bound for eternity with Christ. It's a collection of stories about the family lives of 25 famous Christians.

As a woman, I often wonder about the perspective of the wives of famous Christians. As I mentioned when writing about missions, I wonder about the practical details. I don't see any problem with the wife being behind the scenes, yet I wish that someone would shed a little light on the situation. Just how do you "run a school"? It seems like missionaries' wives were always doing it, yet it seems like quite a daunting task. How do you keep house in the jungle? How do you deal with your husband rarely being home because he is out "furthering the Kingdom"? How do you feed and clothe your family when there is no steady salary to depend on?

And this book answers many of those questions, not with step-by-step instructions, but with inspiring examples.

And now, for the details:

This book features not only clergymen, but musicians, evangelists, missionaries, and others. Since I read the book in Russian, it was a bit laborious at times and I cringed at various aspects of the translation, thinking about how awkward it sounded. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading it.

As you read the stories, you get the feeling that you are reading excerpts from biographies, and not original works. Indeed, each story cites 2-3 sources. It would be worth it to read the more extended biographies. However, having the marriage stories in one volume is equally informative and helpful for the sake of comparison.

The format of each story is a bit of a teaser. It starts out with a preview of the couple's married life: what they accomplished together, what was unique about their union, etc. It begins to tell the story of how they met and fell in love...and THEN goes back to their infancy to begin at the beginning. I suppose it is interesting to hear about their childhood, but after the preview, you want to go forward, not backwards!

I'll admit, I skipped a few stories. Some of them I had read elsewhere, such as C.S. Lewis and Hudson Taylor, and I didn't need to struggle through them again in Russian. There was also a section which seemed to be about UNhappy marriages. The other stories seemed challenging enough without tragic endings, so I chose to skip the depressing ones. I can always return to them another time.

But overall, I was encouraged. Whenever I read a story about Christians who served the Lord passionately, I honestly do not envy their lives. I don't strive to become a martyr, to give birth on a ship with no one but my husband attending, or to visit him in jail every day....if it isn't my calling. But seeing how the Lord sustained these women (and men) as they responded to His call is inspiring. It encourages me that He would do the same for me.

Some of my favorite parts:

-A weary Charles Spurgeon falls asleep before preparing for the sermon, and instead of waking him up, Susannah Spurgeon writes down what he says in his sleep, and it becomes material for the sermon!

-George and Mary Mueller are so busy rushing about ministering in orphan houses that they barely spend time at home together. Yet they often run into each other in the street unexpectedly, as if the Lord is granting them those few minutes together.

-the wives of both John Bunyan and Adoniram Judson remain faithful to their husbands who are in jail; Elisabeth Bunyan appearing before the court to plead before the judge (but refusing to lie and say that her husband will stop preaching); Ann Judson visiting her husband daily and even relocating to a different area with her infant when Adoniram is transferred to a different prison.

-Ruth Bell Graham, when she realizes that the man she is marrying will be absent much of the time due to speaking engagements, takes it upon herself to make the most of the situation. She moves their family back in with her parents, knowing she can live cheerfully there while her husband is gone, and makes an effort to "keep busy" so that she won't fall into depression.

*Petersen, William J. 25 Surprising Marriages Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997.


  1. Strange, but interesting...

  2. i'd like to read it! it sounds fascinating.

  3. Why strange?

    Ruth, I bet you would enjoy it! By the way, did you read my posts about Korean students? Maybe you could relate...

  4. It's strange because there's a lot of stuff to do here in the US. The other week I was driving with a guy, who works for the same company I do, and he looked at me and asked: "Are you religious?"

    I said: "Yes".

    And then he asked me something, that sent chills up and down my spine:

    "How did Jesus rise up from the dead?"

    Note, he didn't say "Why" but "How".

    Anyway, I said, that I didn't know and the only real witness that can be counted on is the one that is in the Gospels.

    But then I came home I got a bit upset. Liz, I do not understand, why you Americans spend so much money going all over the world, when right here in your own country you have people who have NO knowledge of Jesus? The place I work at, we have 12 guys who are not Christians. Who is going to influence them for the Lord? Who?

    I had this problem before, but now, since the economy has got a bit tougher, I do not understand anyone who is willing to go across the ocean, when, right here under their noses they have thousands of people who know nothing about the Gospel.

    Is it because those who go out want to write a wonderful book about their missionary prowl at the end of their lives? Is it because they want to adopt a cute Chinese baby? (What about all the babies that can be adopted here in the US?). What is it all about? I didn't get it before, I do not get it now even more!

    I like what judge Judy has to say on her Judge Judy show. She says: "If something doesn't make sense, it is probably not true..."

    I think the whole missionary thing is not real or true. I have some friends who are Thailand as a missionary couple today. They keep updating their blog how Pong and Ping, and Won are being influenced for the Gospel. I read it, I try to rejoice with them... but then I think... My manager Earl, who asked the question about how Jesus Christ rose from the dead is not saved. Why is no one here in the US influencing him for Jesus? You can speak the language, you know the culture, why are you somewhere else, in some God-forgotten Thailand or Russia instead of here?!

    So much money can be saved. So much other people could be helped with the money saved.

    Am I off on all of this. I just do not understan what is going on anymore. At one point it was fun - yeah! Missionaries from the US in Russia, yeah!

    Yeah?! Really?

    I think we all need to wake up and smell the coffee. If you speak the language and know the culture, please, influence your people for the Gospel here first! If you really care about all this stuff, I mean. Who else is going to do it?

  5. Oh, you were referring to missionaries! The book wasn't only about them, but obviously it is relevant to me.

    Those are some good questions. I think I will write a longer post about it as it requires some thought.

    But I want to encourage you, Vitali, that even though you might be struggling in your faith, you are a kind of missionary to the U.S.

    When you see people around you who are lost and don't understand why no one's witnessing to them, maybe it's because that person is YOU! God alerts them to your attention for a reason. He wants to use YOU!

    And Vitali, I think a lot of Russians have the same disillusionment as you about American missionaries. There was sort of a love affair with the American culture that missionaries brought, and now that it's over, you wonder if they did anything good. Unfortunately, I can't change the past, I can only seek God's guidance for myself and other missionaries in the present.

  6. Виталий, Вы делаете очень смелые утверждения относительно миссионерского движения.
    Однако, что было бы с Евангелием, если бы Апостол Павел следовал Вашей логике?
    Зачем свидетельствовать эллинам, когда еще столько непокаявшихся иудеев? Зачем идти "до края земли", когда в Иерусалиме еще много неспасенных?

    Лиза проповедует Евангелие в России, постарайтесь делать то же самое в Америке, тогда диспропорция исправится ;))

  7. Андрей, я не согласен с тобой. (Кстати, я извиняюсь за все ошибки в моем поусте, я был взолнован когда писал его).

    Андрей, все люди эгоистичны. Ни у одного человека нет беспорочных целей. Что я хотел сказать это следующее:

    Если кто то любит Христа и хочет проповедовать о нем - не нужно ехать за границу для этого. Это пустая трата денег. Ведь не спасенные люди они везде. А так, это все какой то фарс получается. Восторг пройдет, а что дальше? Я устал от Американской патранации. Надеюсь ты тоже. Деньги и возможности это не все. Настоящая любовь и посвящение Христу не имеет ни чего общего с возможностями.

    Если сегодня у миссионеров из США и других стран не будет денег жить в других странах, ты думаешь они там останутся? Нет! Убегут.

    Я не обвиняю Лизу ни в чем. Она прекрасный человек. Но мне кажется, что истинные миссионеры должны начать с "Иерусалима" (своей земли). Ведь они же владеют культурой и языком. Зачем ехать к Варварам когда здесь работы хватает?

  8. Vitali, I'm not sure what the problem is here. All missionaries have spent at least part of their Christian life in their home country. Most of them had a period of time when they were waiting to go overseas, and they used that time to witness in their own communities. They began with "Jerusalem." Then they went to other lands. It's not an American invention.

    I don't think the Bible contains a spreadsheet for how to spend money the most efficiently. The Shepherd spent a considerable amount of time and energy searching for just one lost sheep. Is that practical? Sometimes missionary work does not make sense mathematically.

    But I do know that Americans will be held responsible for what they did with what God gave them, just like everyone else. And if brothers and sisters in our midst are making mistakes, it is appropriate to gently correct.

  9. What a great conversation. I like Vitali's boldness in asking. I look forward to Elizabeth' new post about it.

    I do suppose that someone from afar speaks with more "authority"....even Jesus wasn't valued much at home. (Sorry, I didn't delve into the Russian posts this perhaps I repeat.)

  10. Nope, you didn't repeat, although it's in the next post...


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