Tag Archives: God

Live Peace by Margaret Reeson


Live Peace: Joy Balazo and Young Ambassadors for Peace by Margaret Reeson

(Acorn Press, 2015)

Author’s Blurb

As an experienced worker for human rights in the Asia-Pacific region, Joy Balazo was troubled by the many examples of conflict she was observing. In 2001, she devised a practical model of workshops and networks to sow ‘seeds of peace’ among young people living on opposite sides of conflict. This was named Young Ambassadors for Peace. Joy has used this model in many context As an experienced worker for human rights in the Asia-Pacific region, Joy Balazo was troubled by the many examples of conflict she was observing. In 2001, she devised a practical model of workshops and networks to sow ‘seeds of peace’ among young people living on opposite sides of conflict. This was named Young Ambassadors for Peace. Joy has used this model in many contexts, including Asian cities and Pacific islands, to help hundreds of people work for peace in their own broken communities.

Review by Hazel Barker

Live Peace by Margaret Reeson, is an excellent account of Joy Balazo and her attempts to foster peace by establishing the Young Ambassadors for Peace Programme. Her work in Papua New Guinea is the start of her journey to improve co-operation between churches and to bring about reconciliation between the opposing factions within the country. (Page 72)

The simple tactics used in the workshops surprised me, and the success, unexpected. It was backed, however, by those behind the scenes, and above all, by the grace of God. (Page 106)

The lessons learned by the work are to be commended, but the protagonist’s actions, although praise-worthy, were repetitive and not conducive to enticing the reader to read on. I think this is mostly because the writing style is not consistent. Had the story remained in the Active Voice, like that on pages 74, 77, 90 and 91, the book would have more appeal to a wider audience.

Despite this, I recommend Live Peace for its valuable content, and for introducing readers to the extraordinary life of a brave soul.



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Rebecca’s Dream by Carol Preston, Even Before Publishing, 2014

Book Description
Rebecca Oakes is just thirteen when her mother passes away, and she is left to care for her ageing father. However, it is not only family that stands in the way of Rebecca’s dream.
She will have to fight the Australian society – a society where it is difficult for a woman to get an education, where women can’t own property, have no vote and no voice. Will she be thwarted by a man who is determined to stand in her way?
Review by Hazel Barker
Rebecca’s Dream is a sequel to Suzannah’s Gold and opens in the autumn of 1873. Her mother has just died and thirteen-year-old Rebecca is left to look after her ageing father, who suffers from depression and dementia. She dreams of studying to be a teacher and entering a convent but her desires are thwarted when she takes on the burdens of others and cares for them.
The story rambles on with births and deaths until the evocative scene of John’s attack of typhoid and her sister Mary’s helplessness in Chapter 4. Rebecca’s Aunt Mary Anne and her Uncle Bill prove a source of comfort to her. Her friend Sarah gives her the moral support she needs, and Sister Catherine’s words of encouragement help Rebecca to keep her faith in God. Sarah’s brother Herbert, however, is a constant source of annoyance to Mary.
Despite all drawbacks, Rebecca displays astonishing strength of spirit and selflessness. She also shows righteous anger over the restriction of women especially in regard to education and the laws of inheritance. Her Catholic religion and her views on women’s rights cause dissention within her family but the budding love between Sarah and William bring a touch of romance to the otherwise sorrowful tale.
Although the misuse of the word ‘laying’ on page 234 and elsewhere in the book rob the novel of much of its true worth, the story is a good read.
Rebecca’s Dream depicts the religious bigotry and injustice towards women during the early days of Australian settlement. The author brilliantly captures the fire scene in Chapter 4. Chapter 17 in which the rape occurs is eloquently described too, and the final pages add suspense when family secrets hover like shadows over the story.

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Review of View from the Faraway Pagoda

View from the Faraway Pagoda: A Pioneer Australian Missionary in China from the Boxer Rebellion to the Communist Insurgency by Robert and Linda Banks, Acorn Press, 2013
Authors’ Blog
This book describes the life and service of an inspiring woman, Sophie Newton, the grand-aunt of Robert Banks, whose desire to serve God led her to the forefront of missionary work in south-east China from 1897 to 1931. She lived through the tumultuous events of the Boxer Rebellion and Nationalist Revolution, as well as warlord conflicts and early communist uprisings.
Sophie spent her life empowering women through establishing schools and training Christian workers, as well as opposing the opium trade and challenging the practices of foot binding and infanticide.
Drawing on a wide range of family journals, personal letters, official records and newspaper reports, this story describes how the conviction, sacrifice and compassion of one single-minded woman can make a real and lasting difference to a community.
Robert and Linda Banks have worked in churches, universities and other educational institutions. Robert has taught in history departments and theological colleges and written several award-winning books. Linda has been a teacher, pastor and chaplain. Together they have produced a range of creative Christian resources.
Review by Hazel Barker
The story opens with an excerpt from The Sydney Morning Herald, August 1895. Due to the recently installed cable system, it reaches the ears of Australians, with life-changing consequences for the protagonist, Sophie Sackville Newton. She longs to serve the Master, but her father’s death delays her departure as family responsibilities require her to wait.
Early the following year, the Church Missionary Association accepts her, and, after undergoing six months of training, she joins a little band of missionary sisters and embarks for China.
Besides spreading God’s message to the Chinese, Sophie and her co-workers endeavour to stop such practices as foot-bind, opium addiction and the disposal of unwanted babies. She writes that Chinese fathers squeeze the little ones through openings in miniature round towers specially built for the purpose.
Sophie suffers from migraines despite prayers to remove her affliction. She lives in fear of her life during the Boxer Rebellion, when ruffians attack mission stations. The inmates are hacked to pieces, set alight or skinned alive.
Even during her leave back in Australia, she does not rest, but spends her furlough speaking about China and raising money for the CMA.
Sophie Newton dedicated 34 years to the cause of Christ in China.


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Waking up in Heaven by Crystal McVea and Alex Tresniowski

Publisher: Howard Books. A division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Publisher’s Summary
The remarkable story of a woman, plagued with guilt and skepticism, dramatically changed by the nine minutes she spent in heaven.
“God let me see me through His eyes. And in that instant I knew that God had always loved me, through all of those dark and difficult years when I doubted His existence, through every crisis and every heartbreak that made me turn away from Him more. I knew, in that instant, that His love was endless and boundless, and that if He loved me so much, how could I not love myself?”
For most of her life, Crystal McVea was a skeptic whose history of abuse and bad choices made her feel beyond the reach of God–who questioned if God was even real. She had all but given up hope. Then came December 10, 2009–and the moment that changed everything.
For nine minutes that night, Crystal went into full respiratory arrest. She was unconscious and unable to breathe on her own, unaware of the crisis happening around her as the hospital staff rushed to save her life. Crystal doesn’t remember the trauma or losing consciousness; she just remembers waking up in heaven, next to God.
Waking Up in Heaven invites readers to witness the relentless pursuit of God in a life that was broken and seemingly beyond hope, an awe-inspiring account of love, forgiveness, and redemption, and the healing power of God’s presence.
Waking Up in Heaven is the story of Crystal McVea, the day she died for nine minutes, went to heaven, and stood before God. In this remarkable autobiography, Crystal shares her experience of walking with God towards the gates of heaven – a place so full of light and love that she did not want to leave. But Crystal was miraculously revived and came back to consciousness in a hospital room surrounded by doctors, nurses and her own mother. Previously a sceptic with a dark, troubled past, Crystal’s encounter with God made her a believer. In Waking Up in Heaven, Crystal toggles back and forth between her experience in heaven and her life story, both the good and the bad, in the hope of spreading God’s message of love and redemption.
Review by Hazel Barker
Waking up in Heaven is a redemptive story depicting God’s love and patience. Crystal McVea writes about God chasing her in one of her bleakest moments – something He does time and time again.
She also states, ‘It was God taking the very things the enemy used to try and destroy me – anger, bitterness, self-hatred – and instead saving me and showing me He is real.’
The story is a faith-enriching one and relates her near-death experience but barely touches on what the title leads us to expect – Heaven itself although the author does feel God’s presence. The book is disappointing for those drawn to it in the hope of sharing her experience of Heaven.
I read the book because my brother also had a near-death experience and saw lights. He heard heavenly music and felt peaceful. Unfortunately, the vision didn’t bring him closer to God. Perhaps someday…
The author asserts that the medical profession attribute such phenomenon to lack of oxygen and that when the heart stops beating, the brain loses oxygen and can trigger memories of the past, and bright lights appear. Whatever cynics may say, if such an experience leads to conversion, then surely it’s due to God’s mercy.
The story tends to bore the reader because of the continual switching back and forth in time and the constant repetitions.
Despite its drawbacks, Waking up in Heaven has many interesting sections on child molestation and sexual abuse. Reading the book may warn us of dangers facing younger members of our family.


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The Seasons of Life

Unique are the seasons of life. Their lengths vary; sometimes cut short; sometimes, painfully prolonged.
How well I recall my Spring of life. A child of five, happy and free. Our ten-year-old brother towered above us, ready to fend off harm. The next, a year younger, laughed, pranced and sang. A source of joy. Then my sister. Two years and six months my senior, my dearest companion held a wealth of knowledge.
I trusted they’d be near forever.
Another sister arrived.
Then bombs tore us from home and Japanese invaders ended the Spring of our lives.
Summer was harsh. Our bodies scarcely grew in size except to swell and swell. Beriberi.
With bellies like pregnant women and feet twice their normal size, we thought we’d burst like balloons…
But still we were together.
My brothers, with boyish glee, roamed the countryside. Adventure beckoned. They ran wild in search of food and fun. The hot sun beat down upon them but on they tramped …
My mother, my sisters and I stayed home. The days passed. Our strength ebbed away. We longed for food – and slept.
My first taste of death.
Rats fed on the dead – dead birds, dead animals, dead people. Disease spread; entered our home and stole my sister. Plague.
My baby sister burned with fever; her body sprouted sores. No doctor. No medicine. For days and nights she burned. Smallpox.
Miraculously, she recovered.
The eldest shivered and quivered even in the hell of summer. Drank the bitter herbs we picked – but couldn’t eat. Emaciated and exhausted, he sank down, his strength sapped. Malaria.
Weak and tired. No food to eat. We lay in bed, awaiting death …
Far off we heard – not harps of angels greeting us – but sounds of bagpipes on the plains. It lashed our bodies like a whip. We rose in answer to the call.
Soldiers marched, kilts swayed, kettledrums flourished and pipers led the way. Hope and freedom followed in their wake.
My brother rose, like a ghost, cured by a dose of mepacrine. Saved – we thought.
Still in the summer of our lives, we moved back to the bombed-out city. We lived like squatters in a store, but went to school and learned much more …
Three years since the bagpipers played, God called the eldest to his grave.
The second death.
Years passed. Britain left and Burma bled. Anarchy raged. One by one we fled.
I remained. Alone, but poised to leave.
Finally, I stretched my wings and flew away; my studies incomplete. Torn asunder from kith and kin, what lay in wait, Down Under?
I drank freedom and breathed joy. With open arms love beckoned. I nestled there; content.
Now in the autumn of my years, I listen to the songs of birds, inhale the fragrance of a flower with my dearest friend and lover.
Each day we watch the sun rise and set. It’s autumn. Will it last forever?
Winter must come, but when it does, we’ll meet the future hand-in-hand as we depart this glorious land.

A Synopsis of my memoir: See No Evil: story of a warchild

Published in 2013 Seasons Anthology
by Carindale Writers’ Group.


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Captive in Iran by Maryam Rostampour & Marziyeh Amirizadeh
Publisher: Tyndale Momentum an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Publisher’s Summary

Embark on a chilling journey inside one of the world’s darkest and most dangerous places: Evin, the notorious Tehran prison. Here, prisoners are routinely tortured, abused, and violated. Executions are frequent and sudden. But for two women imprisoned for their Christian faith-Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh-this hell on earth was a place of unlikely grace as they reflected God’s love and compassion to their fellow prisoners and guards. Against all odds, Evin would become the only church many of them had ever known.

In Captive in Iran, Maryam and Marziyeh recount their 259 days in Evin. It’s an amazing story of unyielding faith-when denying God would have meant freedom. Of incredible support from strangers around the world who fought for the women’s release. And of bringing God’s light into one of the world’s darkest places-giving hope to those who had lost everything, and showing love to those in despair.

Review by Hazel Barker

The book takes readers on a journey into an Iranian prison, giving a haunting description of the horrors and humiliations experienced by women of all ages. Captive in Iran focuses on the personal sufferings of each inmate and shows how the word of God touches them.

What struck me was the writers’ steadfast refusal to hate their persecutors, and the love and kindness they showed to their fellow sufferers. Their rejection of persuasions to compromise their Christian beliefs and their patient proselyting among the prisoners and even their captors is much to be commended.

The idea that many of the inmates were ready and willing to convert to Christianity but held back for fear of torture and death was an eye-opener.

Captive in Iran is a candid account of life in a country where one is not encouraged to speak to God heart-to-heart in one’s own language, where women are beaten and abused by their husbands, and where blood is spilled in the name of God if one converts to Christianity or if one induces another to convert.

The book is a factual account of events and is certainly not an entertaining one. Towards the end, I even found the number of characters and their foreign-sounding names rather confusing.

I recommend Captive in Iran to all those who desire to know something about the treatment of Christians in countries like Iran, and anyone who is enthused with missionary fervour for the conversion of souls to Christ.


October 21, 2013 · 8:39 pm