The long sweep of beach that fronted the village was my favorite place. During those first days on the island, it became the spot I headed for with my Bible every morning after breakfast, the place I went when I needed five minutes alone. A row of tall coconut trees growing on the fringe of the jungle curved out over the sand like a one-armed embrace, and if you looked back from the beach you could see how the village had settled neatly into the bowl of the valley, as if hundreds of frail toy houses had tumbled down the surrounding hills and come to rest together at the bottom.
My Hands Came Away Red
By Lisa McKay
Moody Publishers, ©2007
Eighteen year old Cori decides to go on a short term mission trip to the Indonesian island of Seram for all the wrong reasons; she imagines escaping her problems and spending glorious weeks (with her team of six fellow young people) swimming in the ocean and sitting under palm trees. That is, when she’s not helping to build a new church for the native impoverished Christians. At first, everything is nearly how she imagined, but when a group of Muslims attack the local Pastor and his family (and the hostilities and death spread through the islands) Cori and her team must flee for their lives into the jungle with only the Pastor’s son (who is just seventeen) as their guide.
The first few chapters left me pretty skeptical. Cori is all wrapped up in her (immature) relationship problems; she is in love with an unsaved high school classmate, which is one of her reasons for going on the trip. Her mission team of six kids aged 15 and up spend most of their spare time pulling pranks, flirting, and just being juvenile. Imagine the kids from High School Musical going on a mission trip and ending up lost in the jungle!
But then the book starts to “grow up” immensely. Horror comes to the island when the local Pastor and his wife are brutally killed, and the entire team has to mature as they deal with the trauma and after-effects of what they’ve seen. In the jungle, the group wrestles with questions of where they should go, how they will survive, and deeper spiritual issues such as why does God allow bad things to happen to his people? What’s the point of prayer if God might let you die anyway?
Author Lisa McKay handles these issues with subtlety, sometimes more subtly than I would have liked. I would have liked to see the characters’ questions of faith answered a little more clearly using more of God’s Word. The Bible has so much to say about suffering and trials, and I thought there were some missed opportunities for the characters to turn their horror into a catalyst and witness for Christ, particularly when they encounter some Muslims along their journey.
All that said, this story was more moving than any I’ve read in some time. Their emotions are vivid and realistic; I felt close to the rag tag group even as I occasionally rolled my eyes at their antics. I felt continually humbled as it reminded me poignantly of the suffering Christians endure around the world. The author has lived in Indonesia, so she lends a beauty and realism to the group’s travels, and I was lost to the world of her story as it unfolded in the pages. When I finished, I felt as if my own friends had been ripped away from me; stirred by the grief and subsequent healing Cori finds.
I’m very excited to say this is my first 4/5 star review! I’m still wondering when I’ll find that elusive five out of five…
*This book may be too intense for some readers. There is significant violence, though for a purpose and tempered by the innocence of those who witness it.