Book Review: Total Abandon by Gary Witherall and Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse
This is the gripping story of a modern-day martyred Christian missionary. The martyr is Bonnie Witherall and her widowed husband Gary (who has since remarried) tells the story from his perspective.
The book tracks the life of this young Christian couple from when they met in college at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Bonnie was from the Pacific Northwest and Gary is a native of England. They fell in love, felt a call to the mission field and then went to Sidon, Lebanon to work with a Christian clinic for pregnant women among the Palestinian refugee community. Bonnie was brutally murdered at the clinic one morning in 2002. They never found the killer. Gary went through a great deal of trauma (which he chronicles in the book) and now speaks to groups about his experiences. His challenge is to all Christians that following the Great Commission is neither easy nor safe. It requires a total abandon of everything we hold close, dear, and valuable – even the price of our own lives.
I was particularly interested in reading this story not only because I can relate to the feeling of being young and married with an interest in the mission field but also because I once met Gary Witherall at a wedding for my close friend Michael Kaspar. Michael and Gary work with the same mission organization: Operation Mobilization. I recommend this book to anyone. Be cautioned: you will probably cry. I know that because I do not often cry and this book caused me to weep.
I would love to hear from any of you who have read this book. Thanks, Jesse
After graduating from seminary, I all of a sudden have time to read non-required reading. I started with No Compromise by Melody Green, the wife of the late Keith Green. Keith was one of the most passionate, sincere, poetic, and Spirit-inspired Christian musicians of the past century.
I devoured this book during my free time at camp in Florida last week. I could not put the book down, partly because his life story is so captivating and partly because the book is written in such a readable storytelling format. Melody co-wrote the book with a guy named David Hazard, who I guess is an experienced editor/author.
Keith Green is probably best known for some of the songs he put out, such as “Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful” and “The Easter Song.” He tragically died in a plane crash with two of his young children in 1982. He was only 28 years old.
The book chronicles the life of Keith from the cradle to the grave. He grew up as a child music prodigy, coming close to making it big in the secular music world. When it was evident that his “big break” was not coming, he slid into the hippie-drug movement of the 70’s. His spiritual search led him through every type of Eastern religion, cult, and new age philosophy. He found nothing except psychedelic drug experiences.
Then he came across the words and teachings of Jesus Christ (not organized Christianity, to which he was antagonistic). Over time, the life of Jesus and the message of full forgiveness through the love and sacrifice of Jesus appealed to him as the true way of life. That began a journey of struggling to follow Jesus and make music. He took the non-traditional route of musicians by refusing to charge for concerts or albums. He also took the non-traditional route of Christians by taking people into his home – hitchhikers, pregnant teens, and others who were “down-and-out” with no place to go. As his ministry grew, he and his wife had taken in some 70 people into their “commune” (they had to keep buying and renting more houses in their suburban neighborhood in order to keep providing space for all these people).
His concerts and music were very “in your face.” His talent was good enough to let him rub shoulders with people like Bob Dylan. Fame was at his doorstep. But his heart was to bring the message of God’s love to the world. He would challenge Christians with lyrics such as “How can you be so dead, when you’ve been so well fed? Jesus rose from the dead and you can’t even get out of bed!”
It was a warm Texas evening when Keith went on a joy ride in a plane with some friends. He took two of his children with him, leaving his pregnant wife and an infant child behind. Keith’s plane went down shortly after taking off, killing all 12 people on board. His death was a loss to the world. But Melody shares in the book that after Keith died, the Lord put a verse on her heart: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, then it produces many seeds.” Keith’s life and legacy spoke to the urgency of God’s good news to the world – that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. And salvation is God’s desire for every human on this earth – so those in the fold need to go out and tell the world about God’s love for them. He wanted to please God, help the needy, and be Christ to the world. Though he wasn’t perfect (he didn’t claim to be), God used him in mighty ways.
The book itself is a mixture of narrative, song lyrics, and journal entries from Keith’s personal journal. Many characters show up in the story, but Melody keeps the reader on track when plotting through his life story. In many ways, the book is about Melody and her own personal spiritual struggles and journey. She lost a husband and two children, so the telling of this story is just as much hers as it is Keith’s. She ends the book with an epilogue that updates the reader on how things are going in her life currently (the edition I read updated the reader up to 1987). I believe there is an edition out for the year 2000 or 2001. She may have another update in that one.
Please read this book. Brace yourself for quite a ride. You will not want to live life the same after reading this book. One of my favorite parts is when Melody shares about Keith’s “ahah” moment when reading the sermons of Charles Finney. He had a midnight encounter with the Holy Spirit while reading these sermons. He was so excited that he ran through his commune at 5 or 6 in the morning to wake everybody up and tell them about the wonderful love of God and the powerful move of the Holy Spirit that he experienced. That began a commune-wide revival that included prayer, sharing, communal confessions, worship and teaching. Hey, sounds like the church in Acts 2 if you ask me.
I wish there were more pictures in the book. I also wish Melody would have shared the “song story” (which she tells many) of “Song for Josiah.” But that is my personal preference since I love that song (it is written to his son shortly after Josiah was born). There’s more I could ramble about, but as they would say in Reading Rainbow back in the 80’s, “why don’t you see for yourself…”
By the way, I looked around on google and youtube and there are some great videos of Keith Green. Here are the best ones I could find:
Here is the official website for Last Days Ministries, the ministry started by Keith and Melody:
The book can be found and purchased for less than $11 at Amazon.com by clicking here
I just got back from a great summer camp in Lake Placid, FL. I had the priviledge of sharing the gospel through juggling for a group of kids from various Nazarene churches from central Florida (Tampa, Orlando, and between). God really moved on Thursday night when we put forth an invitation for the kids to make a decision to follow Jesus Christ. I was reading the book, No Compromise (the biography of Keith Green written by his surviving wife, Melody) in my free time during the camp. In the book, Melody talks about how Keith learned to just proclaim the good news and then “get out the way” so God could work in the hearts of people. I tried to follow that example and not get in the way of the Lord’s work. Many children came forward with genuine hearts to respond to the love of Jesus. Praise God!
Thankfully, each child had loving counselors that got to know them throughout the week, so I asked the kids to find their counselor and pray with that person during this time. I know that the Christian life is not just raising your hand or coming forward during an “altar call.” But that is one way (out of many) that serves as a starting point of the path of the cross.
I might be a juggler. But this is what it is all about – bearing news that is good, true, and wonderful. News that God is love and that our old lives are made new through the power of the resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
This post is pure fun. My friend, Duke Holbrook, and I ventured out to Triangle Park in Lexington, KY this past Tuesday for some juggling. But this was no ordinary juggling. This was “ninja juggling.” There is a strict dress code for ninja juggling – all black. Duke recommended that we not don the black headgear, as we might draw some unnecessary attention from the authorities.
We met at 9pm. He was on time, but to my demise, I was a few minutes late. Ninjas must be punctual you know. But Duke seemed OK with my tardiness. He’s used to it. I was late this time because my wife wanted some 6-filter ionized biodegradable pure raw vegan water from the health food store. So I filled up the three jugs, got some other groceries, paid my dues at the cash register, and finally made it to ninja juggling.
The ninja juggler appears at the park, and then disappears. The prop of choice is the LED lighted beanbag. These are soft juggling balls with some very bright battery-powered lights. They leave streaks in the sky when you juggle them.
Duke and I did some individual juggling with 3, 4, and 5 balls each. Then we did some passing of 7, 8, and even an attempt at 9 between the two of us. We drew some onlookers, mostly college students roaming around with nothing else to do but watch two black silhouettes-of-men toss some colorful balls into the air.
The interesting thing about ninja juggling is that what is impressive during the daytime is not impressive at night. That means that we can execute all sorts of neat juggling tricks (like under the leg and behind the back) that have absolutely no “wow” factor in the dark (because you can’t really see body moves). What really shows up in ninja juggling are simple patterns with lots of swinging and twirling of the balls in fast motions. Basically, whatever leaves streaks looks cool.
And it was in a streak that Duke and I left. We came, we juggled, we ninja-ed, and we split. And the authorities never got close to us. I’m out.
"We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by
faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in
our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 1:3, NIV).
People always ask me, "How did you get into juggling?" I tell them that a
friend taught me in middle school. I learned how to juggle three balls
and then wanted to learn more. For whatever reason, I was fascinated with
juggling. To me, it was fun and I could challenge myself to learn new
tricks and juggle more objects. So I did whatever I could to learn more.
I checked out books on juggling from the library and devoured them. I met
some local people that also juggled and learned things from them. Before
I knew it, I was performing for parties and events.
People also often tell me, "Oh, I could never juggle" or "I tried that
when I was younger and I could never really figure it out." You see,
people think juggling is some sort of innate gift that people have from
birth. That is not true. Anyone can juggle – as long as they endure the
I cannot tell you how many times I have dropped my juggling props. I have
spent hours at a time trying to master a certain trick or numbers goal in
juggling. And much of that time is spent picking everything up off the
ground after a failed attempt.
You cannot learn how to juggle without dropping. I remember Darren
Collins teaching a class on juggling and telling the group to
intentionally drop their juggling balls to the ground. Then he said, "Get
used to doing that!" I once read or heard a good juggler quote that went
something like this: "A good juggler always picks up one more time than
So why do some people endure in juggling and others don't? It has to do
with the love of the game. If you have a passion for juggling (which I
do), then you will make a way to get to your goal despite all the drops.
If you are only somewhat interested in juggling, then you will quickly
give up after a few failed attempts. But if you have a genuine hope that
you will finally juggle those three balls, then you will make it.
Here is where this matters for our faith – the hope we have in Jesus is
what inspires us to endure in our faith (1 Thess 1:3). Endurance in the
Bible is often tied to persecution. People would endure trials and pains
because they kept their sights on the bigger picture of life –
relationship with Jesus Christ. And that is better than life itself.
Jesus endured the cross because of His love for us. It is His love that
draws us, and we respond with a passionate love for Him. When we are
passionately in love with Jesus, we will endure, despite our many failures
and the constant temptations of the world. But this is not because of our
strength. Rather, it is God who gives us endurance (Rom 15:4).
Here is where this matters to our jobs and ministries – when we refocus on
the end goal of our ministries (bringing God glory and spreading His
Word), we shall endure. Let us return to Jesus Christ as the sole object
of our love and devotion. It is easy to lose hope and lose sight of our
purpose several years into a vocation. But when we remember why we are
doing what we are doing and return to the bare minimun purpose for our
vocations, we shall endure.
In all my years of serving in children’s ministry, I feel that I have just stumbled over something that I have missed for so long – the importance of genuinely connecting with the kids. I have tended to think sometimes that a dynamic children’s ministry should be focused on having creative and impressive object lessons that really “Wow” the kids.
But the statement that many of us know applies to children’s ministry: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We can amend that and say, “Kid’s don’t care how flashy your teaching skills are until they sense the sincerity of your friendship with them.”
I believe this is one of the main keys to a successful children’s ministry. This is the practice of Christ-like connection. What does this look like? Well, it starts with knowing the names of the kids in your children’s ministry. It is also nice to know things like their birthdays, what school they go to, some of their favorite interests, etc. And then there is the very important connection with the parents and siblings of each child. I have grown so much closer to kids and families just by doing simple things like going to lunch with them after church or visiting them in their homes. Basically, we want to grow in knowing kids in their full context. That will help us better minister to them in their needs, their joys, and their faith development.
God is a Triune God – meaning that He is Father, Son, and Spirit. This Trinity is the great prototype of genuine connection (see Larry Crabb’s book Connecting). Therefore, let us bring the love and joy of the Trinity into our children’s ministries and truly connect with our kids. Then, they will listen to what you have to say (even if you are terrible at presenting object lessons). They’ll learn more about Jesus in how you model friendship to them than they will ever learn through any animated presentation. So, you don’t have to learn how to juggle to be a great children’s pastor. Just love your kids with all your genuine heart.
So my wife and I just discovered Facebook, the connectivity engine for plenty of humans between the ages of 15 and 35. It started as something exclusively for colleges and universities, thus leaving out a large portion of the population. Now, it is open to the public, and it is way cool. It is very different from myspace in the sense that the interface is much more simple and user-friendly. You also do not have all the gaudy advertisements that show up all over myspace (mostly dating services and personals that use ads with way too much skin in them). Therefore, Facebook is my pick for a site that lets me find old and new friends without having to pay fees (such as the ones that classmates.com asks for).
The only problem is that Facebook can become an addiction just like anything else 🙂 In lieu of our recent fascination with Facebook, Sarah and I have decided to take a break from anything internet for Easter Sunday (tomorrow) in order to focus on the most foundational and earth shattering community of all time – the Trinitarian God – Father, Son, and Spirit.
Facebook will never replace face-to-face relationships. In fact, the only fun on Facebook is finding people you have met in real life anyway – so the real life connection will always supercede the connections we make that are merely internet based. Rob Bell said that the highest form of friendship and connection is “flesh.” I like that. Jesus came in the flesh, not through an online web community.
So, look for Sarah and I on Facebook. But we would much rather meet with you face-to-face – laughing and crying, sharing food, playing board games, or just hanging out. By the way, we just rented the movie You’ve Got Mail! Maybe we’ll finish that tonight. Peace out.
My brother, BJ, theorizes that during the days of Westward expansion and
settlement in America, the most ambitious people made it all the way to
the West Coast. Then they had to stop because they couldn’t go any
farther. The result is that you have “established” people on the East
Coast, “the give-ups” in the Midwest, and the crazy weirdos with endless
motivation on the West Coast.
Well, I’m not really speechless in Seattle. But I wish I had the words to
describe the “coolness” of this city. This city is more cool than Snoopy
himself. Sarah and I are here in the great city of the Northwest for a
few days for the wedding of some good friends.
I have never been to Seattle before. I must say that I have not been let
down. The people here are eclectic, earthy (they recycle everything), and
open-minded to just about anything. Last night, we went to a Thai
restaurant in Queen Anne’s and a local told us how during the summer, all
the shops and stores have dog treats and water bowls for the canine
population. Now, what other city caters to dogs like that? Where I’m
from in Kentucky, horses are treated like royalty, but dogs are seen as
Sarah and I also went to the famous Pike Street Market. Yes, we saw the
guys who chant at customers and throw fish at one another. That was
pretty neat to see. We knew that the longer we stood there, the more
susceptible we were to becoming a customers without realizing it. So we
continued on through the used book stores, the large magic store (with
juggling equipment) and even “Lefty Store.” That store sold left-handed
scissors, can-openers, and novelty shirts with quotes like, “Hire
Left-Handed People, It’s Fun to Watch Them Write.” Another good one was,
“We’re All Born Right-Handed, Only Some of Us Overcome It.”
Here is another neat thing about Seattle – it is a pedestrian’s city.
Cars honor and respect those on foot and bike more than any other American
city I have visited. The sidewalks are wide and smooth – and the rolling
terrain provides plenty of hillside views of the city, the water, and the
mountains. I wish Sarah and I could spend more time here. I can’t
imagine enjoying the city without her. And we get to attend a sacred
nuptial worship service together tomorrow at 11am. If festivities are
over in time, I might try to make it to the Seattle Juggling Club (Cascade
Jugglers) in the late afternoon. Then we take the red-eye back to
Louisville starting around midnight Saturday.
Now I’m drinking coffee in the city that founded Starbucks. And it’s made
by Anna Abernathy, the hospitable wife of Luke Abernathy (former manager
of the first Starbucks). But more important than that, they are friends
from Taylor and if they respresent the way people are in Seattle, then I
love the people of Seattle.
-Peace Out, Jesse
My childhood athletic hero is Cal Ripken, Jr. I had the privilege of going to Baltimore as a child and watching him play many times. Today, he and Tony Gwynn were elected into the Hall of Fame, baseball’s most distinguished honor. Whereas baseball has gone through strikes and steroid abuse, Ripken and Gwynn have been enduring role models of integrity, work ethic, and sportsmanship. Both played for the same team for twenty years (only 16 total players can claim such devotion to one team). Ripken is a two-time winner of the MVP (1983 and 1991) and he was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1982. He holds the record for the most consecutive games played (over 2,600). This is a man who went to work everyday for twenty years, and he still gives back to the community in many ways today. Congrats Cal Ripken, Jr. Congrats Tony Gwynn. May there be more professional athletes like yourselves.
Things to do in 2007 (one per month):
1. Make a new juggling video (January)
2. Attend the Marriage Retreat with my wife (February)
3. Stand in Michael Kaspar’s wedding (March)
4. Celebrate my wife’s birthday (April)
5. Graduate from seminary (May)
6. Attend Ichthus Music Festival with family in town (June)
7. Go to the 49th annual International Juggler’s Association Festival (July)
8. Watch my wife stand in Ginnie Wiseheart’s wedding (August)
9. Celebrate my birthday! (September)
10. Juggle for someone’s Fall Festival (October)
11. Thanksgiving in Mexico? (November)
12. Christmas – nuf said (December)