I’ve been reading a string of adventure, world travel, conversion memoirs in which common themes of caring for orphans, reuniting and dividing families, and surviving tragedy, kept reiterating.
First, I read Mary Beth Chapman’s Choosing To See, about the commitment of her and her husband, singer Steven Curtis Chapman, to adopt three girls from China, and also about the tragic death of one of those girls, Maria, in a car accident. Ms. Chapman is about as real as I would imagine anyone could be in writing about her battles with clinical depression, even before the adoptions, and about her struggle to make some kind of sense or gain some peace in the midst of a seemingly senseless tragedy. the story itself is powerful enough to overcome any deficiencies in the writing, and I was amazed and heartened to see God at work in the Chapmans’ story in spite of the suffering that they have endured. The foundation that the Chapmans started, Show Hope, is involved with orphan care and adoption aid around the world.
Next, I read a very different sort of book, set in a very different part of the world: Son of Hamas by Mosab Hasan Yousef. The Middle East, and the Palestinian Authority in particular, are very difficult parts of the world, and it makes sense that a memoir set in that violent and conflict-ridden area would leave some questions in my mind as I read it. Son of Hamas is the story of the oldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, one of the founders of the Palestinian/Muslim organization, Hamas. Over the course of events in the book, Mosab Yousef becomes his father’s bodyguard and security detail while at the same time working for the Israeli security service, Shin Bet. He rationalizes this double life by telling himself that he is saving lives by informing on the terrorist activities and secrets that he is privy to knowing, but the strain becomes too much as he is also involved in a Christian Bible study and becomes convinced of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
While I was able to rejoice in Mr. Yousef’s conversion to Christianity and his eventual resignation from both Hamas activities and from his spying assignments for the Israeli Shin bet, I also took seriously Yousef’s admonition in the afterword of his book:
“So if you meet me on the street, please don’t ask for advice or what I think this or that scripture verse means, because you’re probably already way ahead of me. Instead of looking at me as a spiritual trophy, pray for me, that I will grow in my faith and that I won’t step on too many toes as I learn to dance with the bridegroom.”
The third memoir I read has a very different feel to it. Little Princes by Conor Grennan is the story of Nepalese children in an orphanage in Katmandu who were thought to be orphans but who were discovered to be mostly children who had been taken from their parents under false pretenses and abandoned or enslaved in the capital city of Katmandu. Grennan tells the story from his (American) point of view and shares some personal details of his own life, but he keeps the focus on the children. After stumbling into his work with the orphanage with less than pure motives (he wants to impress the women with his altruism), Grennan learns to care about the children and begins an organization dedicated to the goal of reuniting the trafficked children of Nepal with their families. You can read more about Conor Grennan’s non-profit organization Next Generation Nepal at the website.
Sad to say, although I believe after reading the books that all three of these authors are sincere in their beliefs and truthful in telling their respective stories, I can’t vouch for any of them personally. And in light of the recent revelations about Greg Mortenson and his immensely popular book Three Cups of Tea an the organization that he directs, Central Asia Institute, any book of this sort, especially Grennan’s which takes place in the same general area of the world, is bound to come under some scrutiny. Such scrutiny and due diligence is good, but a lack of compassion and charitable giving and general skepticism used to justify stinginess and apathy are not good and not right. We must give our money and our compassion wisely, but also generously.
Further information and links related to these books and to Mortenson’s CAI:
60 Minutes report on inaccuracies in Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea
Central Asia Institute website
Greg Mortenson’s response to 60 Minutes’ questions
John Krakauer: Three Cups of Deceit, How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way
Conor Grennan’s non-profit organization Next Generation Nepal.
Conor Grennan’s blog
Conor Grennan on Condemning Greg Mortenson and a Thousand Little Girls
Son of Hamas blog
Son of Hamas book website
Show Hope foundation
Maria’s Big House of Hope Orphan Care center
Mary Beth Chapman’s website
Steven Curtis Chapman official site
By the way, by grouping these reviews and links together, I don’t mean to imply in any way that all or any of the books are inaccurate or filled with lies just because one book, Three Cups of Tea, has been accused of containing falsehoods. I read these books in succession, and then I read the news reports on the issues with Mortenson’s story. And I, of course, wondered. The fiasco surrounding Three Cups of Tea and Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute should be a strong warning to all memoirists, especially those involved in fund-raising, to be scrupulously honest in their story-telling. Mr. Mortenson’s looseness with the truth has hurt more people than just himself and more organizations than just CAI.