In Wheaton, Illinois, where I live, I'm surrounded by families who have fled their countries, leaving war, famine, political oppression, and sometimes religious persecution. Our small church is blessed to occasionally have one of these families join us. The depths of faith forged in hardship often overwhelm us. We are also reminded that millions of our foreign-born brothers and sisters, and millions more living without the hope of the gospel, continue to suffer.

These people, living in dangerous settings, are the subject of Tim Keesee's book Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World's Difficult Places (Crossway). Keesee, founder of Frontline Missions International, compiles stories from his travels to places where Christians live with profound suffering and joy. Though some of the accounts lack context, and some of the language veers into the sensational, Keesee's stories and vivid writing bring the reader close to heroic and suffering people around the world.

Keesee's organization originally produced a DVD series that documented his travels. The book follows a similar format, giving vignettes of places and people across the globe. In some places, we learn about the political and religious history through Keesee's tours of museums and historical sites, which adds a rich context to the stories of missionaries and local believers.

At other points, the book fails to supply relevant background information. Keesee tells the harrowing stories of believers in Pakistan, fearing for their lives during a night of anti-Christian rioting he experienced firsthand. But he neglects to mention the political upheaval in that country, which would have helped to make sense of the violent convulsions. And occasionally, Keesee's descriptions tilt towards flippancy: He describes a Hindu deity, for instance, as resembling "something from a bad movie."

Yet the book provides an encouraging reminder that God's people continue to stand in his power around the world. We meet Dennis, a poor yet influential pastor in Liberia, who works with his North American partner to drill wells, preach the gospel, and lead Christians in villages throughout his country. Grace, a Filipina missionary working with her husband, Noe, leads a church and cares for sex trafficking survivors and HIV/AIDS patients in Cambodia. Allan Yuan, a 90-year-old pastor in China, baptizes dozens of believers on the banks of the Ye Xi River after spending decades in prison for his faith.

But these are not always stories of triumph. Keesee remembers the life of Gayle Williams, a nurse ministering to children in Kabul, Afghanistan, who was killed by a sniper's bullet. He tells of Ika, a Muslim-background believer from Indonesia, who was rejected by her family, kept from her children, and cut off from her community. These stories reveal that God does not always take away our pain even as he comforts us within it.

Dispatches from the Front assures us that God has raised people around the globe to bring his Word into difficult circumstances. Keesee brings us face to face with the church in its broken beauty, working to see the gospel go forth. Where others call for violence and blood, we are called to bring peace. We are called to be content in all things in Jesus Christ, who gives us strength. We are called to be broken with our brothers and sisters, with all who suffer and weep. And as we recognize the church in these brave people, we are.

Brian M. Howell is associate professor of anthropology at Wheaton College and the author of Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience (IVP Academic).

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Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World's Difficult Places
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Book Title
Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World's Difficult Places
Release Date
May 31, 2014
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