Book Review, Relentless

I wrote this book review a few months ago fully planning to share it with you during the Christmas season. Obviously, that opportunity is long gone, or a long ways away–depending on how you choose to look at it. All the same, I can’t believe I waited this long to post my review of the book Relentless. But then, God’s timing is never off. Perhaps He intended to remind of this message when the season of charity has passed. 

I’m writing this in the season of Salvation Army Santa’s and stepped up food drives. It’s the season of renewed calls to action by every ministry, nonprofit and social service. It’s the season of year-end budgets, shortfalls and red ledgers. It’s the season we waffle between emotions of guilt due to over indulgence and smugness at our unprecedented charity. It’s a season when no one wants to hear another true story of need, or receive one more lecture about what we should do to help.

But, I actually picked up Relentless, by Dave Donaldson, completely unaware of its subject.

Relentless, begins with the transcript of a congressional address by Ron Paul, commending the author’s organization, Convoy of Hope. Before the first chapter, I was convinced that Relentless is unlike any other bleeding-heart story I’ve read. It is completely other than the typical description and advocacy of another charity. Without a celebrity spokesman or even a single heart-wrenching picture, Relentless, digs deep into the reader’s heart calling not only for awareness of the poor, asking not only for donations and volunteers, but equipping every Christ-follower with the energy, desire and resources to make difference.

I’ve read many similar books and found them frustrating. Between dramatic images and desperate prose, they seem to cultivate a condescending sympathy for the poor, rather than an empathy with those less fortunate realizing, but for the choice of the Sovereign God, I would be as destitute.

Some pleas for help seem to conjure up the same response as I might have to pictures of abused puppies and beached whales. Relentless is different. Maybe it stems from Donaldson’s own experience of poverty and charity; Donaldson does an excellent job of preserving the dignity of the poor, in fact establishing in the reader a new respect for those we can help.

There are a few distinctions that set Relentless apart from the crowd of other well-intentioned books.

First, as I mentioned, Donaldson experienced severe need and the generosity of fellow Christians. He was nine years old when his father was killed in a car wreck. Because the family had been living in a hotel while in the process of building a home, and his father had been the sole provider, overnight the remainder of their family became homeless and destitute.

Donaldson tells the story of a Christian family that took them in. The words of that father ring in his ears to this day and fuel his passion for outreach, “You are with family and this is now your home.” He tells of an incident years later when he uttered those very words to an orphan finding shelter in his home.

Relentless is filled with anecdotes that give the book a “meatier” feel than it might otherwise have. The stories are strategically placed to keep the reader engaged and to complement the dozens of statistics without drying-out the narrative.

Finally, the purpose of the book, to energize and equip “The Relentless” to impact their world, is overt. Donaldson does not merely tout his own organization, Convoy of Hope, but spends equal time pointing out the assets and successes of similar ministries.

Truthfully, I couldn’t put this book down. Far from feeling laden with guilt, Relentless left me feeling restless, empowered and determined to obey my Savior’s call, “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4

Getting What You Could Be Giving

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? It’s almost embarrassing that of all the lavish Christmases and birthdays I have enjoyed, I can’t recall many specific gifts. Not that those gifts weren’t wonderful and appreciated at the time, but as they didn’t meet a sincere need I guess they were for the most  part – forgettable.

One special memory envelopes several Christmases. My mother is on an annual crusade to simplify Christmas. Especially when we were young, she tried to shrink the number of extravagant gifts and encourage us to be grateful, gracious and generous. One year, she decided to stuff all the gifts for every person into a few giant, black trash bags. Then, she pulled out the board game, Bible-opoly. She asked random questions from the game cards and the correct answer won the privilege of blindly pulling a gift from one of the bags. Then that person delivered the gift to the proper recipient and everyone watched with respectful attentiveness as the lucky one unwrapped their present.

Her  plan successfully slowed the mad dash to the tree and wild shredding of paper in disregard of gratitude. However, much to my husband’s chagrin when I brought him home for Christmas – the process drug gift-opening on for a ridiculously long time!

Recently, I read of another plan to reverse the focus of gift-giving and receiving. The leadership at Vine Wesleyan Church in NY surprised their parishioners with a backward offering. Instead of passing a red velvet plate, crooning about the rewards of being charitable – the church gave envelopes containing $100 each to it’s members 18 years and older.

“Traditionally we have taken a special offering at Christmas Eve and we have sent it to a Christ-centered ministry,” a note inside the envelope read. “This year the needs are greater than ever in so many places, including for some of us [in] our own families,” Rev. Christopher Baldwin said. (http://www.thechristianpost.com)

The church gave away about $8500. Is this a reflection of the TRUE meaning of Christmas? Did this church just twist the concept of giving, LYING about their motives? Does the gesture reflect God’s gift of Jesus to the world?

TELLING YOURSELF (and us) THE TRUTH… what would you do if $100 appeared on your seat in church this Sunday?