Tag Archives: biography


JRF’s #9 – Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden


Every year out of all the books I read, one or two linger and becomes a part of me in some way. This book is one of those. Like a visit to Auschwitz, you cannot read this book and not be effected by it.
Just last month I visited the Demilitarized Zone and actually got to step into North Korea for a few minutes while in the Joint Security Area. Yet even after that experience, North Korea to me remained what it is to most, a weird – potentially dangerous – but mostly laughable hermit kingdom. Shin’s story recorded in Escape from Camp 14 is helping to wake me up from my apathy.

Part escape thriller, part (unintentional) commentary on both the Imago Dei and the depths of depravity, part humanitarian journalism – all true – Escape from Camp 14 is gripping from start to finish. As the only person bred, born, and raised in a North Korean Prison camp to escape to the West, the story of Shin Dong-Hyuk is unlike any other. Imagine reading Night by Elie Weisel, or the Diary of Anne Frank. Now imagine not just reading a story about someone plucked from a loving family and a world of comfort and thrown into the hellish conditions of a prison/death camp but instead you are reading the story of someone who only ever knew life in a cage. Shin wasn’t captured and taken to an Auschwitz-like concentration camp. He was born and raised there. Totally cut off like a state bred feral child, Shin barely knew North Korea existed outside of the electrified prison fence – let alone a free world. And this didn’t happen during our great grandparents life. It is happening now. …this is a description of current events. As Harden writes, “North Korea’s labor camps have now existed twice as long as the Soviet Gulag and about twelve times longer than the Nazi concentration camps.” These many camps are are visible to anyone who knows how to use Google Earth, yet the outside world remains either in ignorance or apathy as to their existence.

Shin’s story has started for me what I hope is a lifelong journey of education, prayer, and action in response to one of the greatest injustices in our world today – the North Korean Prison State.


Mark’s #6 – When God Comes Calling by Ted Fletcher (2010)


Ted Fletcher had climbed the corporate ladder and had achieved the American Dream. Yet God began to burden Ted’s heart for something far greater than these worldly benchmarks.  God gave Ted God’s passion for the nations. Though later in life, with older kids, Ted and Peggy Fletcher sought out ways to go to the mission field to bring the gospel of grace to all the peoples of the earth.  However, as they applied to several mission agencies at the time, they were turned back and told they were not suited to join these organization due to age, or family, or formal training.  The Fletcher’s discouragement turned to joy when a friend suggested that they start their own mission organization – Pioneers (which I am now a missionary with).

This book is the story of that calling and the early days of seeking to fulfill this godly vision.  While it is great to read the stories of missionaries from bygone eras, it is also tremendously encouraging to read about modern day Pioneers and their faithful God.   If you wan to be encouraged and challenged, read this book.


JRF’s #4 – Adoniram Judson: How Few There Are That Die So Hard by John Piper

This short, free ebook is a converted transcript of one of John Piper’s biographical sermons that he gave for many years at the annual Desiring God Pastor’s Conference.

Though it is short, it packs a punch.  I was expecting more biography and less exhortation, but I was pleasantly surprised and challenged.  Piper weaves in glimpses of Judson’s life, suffering, and fruitful death to his call for followers of Jesus to embrace suffering as the God ordained means of bringing the lost nations into the joy of glorifying Christ.  A great read.  I will be handing this out to anyone interested in joining us on the field.

“My question is, if Christ delays his return another two hundred years – a mere fraction of a day in his reckoning – which of you will have suffered and died so that the triumphs of grace will be told about one or two of those 3,500 [unreached groups of] peoples who are in the same condition today that the Karen and Chin and Kachins and Burmese were in 1813?…Most of these hopeless peoples do not want you to come.  At least they think they don’t.  They are hostile to Christian missions.  Today this is the final frontier”


“Judson wrote to missionary candidates in 1832:

Remember, a large proportion of those who come out on a mission to the East die within five years after leaving their native land.  Walk softly, therefore; death is narrowly watching your steps.

The question for us is not whether we will die, but whether we will die in a way that bears much fruit.”



JRF’s #36 – Inventing the Enemy by Umberto Eco


This book is a collection of essays about anything and everything by University of Milan professor and author Umberto Eco.

Here’s a brief synopsis of each:

Inventing the Enemy –  A historical account of humanity’s proclivity to look for someone to stereotype, vilify, and hate.

Absolute and Relative – A somewhat muddled discussion of the relationship between absolute and relative truth.

The Beauty of the Flame – Beautifully chronicles the various uses, philosophies, and symbolic utilizations of fire and light throughout history.

Treasure Hunting – Catalougs some of the more interesting and fantastical relics that have filled the treasuries of Roman Catholic churches over the years.

Fermented Delights –  Catalougs the writings and musings of the late Italian historian Piero Camporesi, who had a fascination with historical forms of fermentation, be that of beer, cheese, or decomposing bodies.

No Embryos in Paradise -  An examination of Thomas Aquinas’ views on the humanity and soul of the unborn (spoiler alert: Aquinas was wrong).

Hugo, Helas!: The Poetics of Excess – Eco celebrates Victor Hugo’s trademark penchant for dramatic excess.

Censorship and Silence - Examines the irony that censorship of something make it more popular and the oversaturation in the media of that same thing dulls its influence and allure.

Imaginary Astronomies – Investigates the attempts throughout history to map the universe as well as the earth and shows how even erroneous theories became stepping stones in our understanding of the world and the heavens.  Interesting side story about how some Nazi’s belief that the surface of the world was actually concave with us on the inside of the sphere may have contributed to so many botched V8 rocket launches.

Living by Proverbs -  This essay is made up entirely of folk wisdom and “things my daddy used to say”, showing that if we literally lived by proverbial wisdom we would cease to function.

I Am Edmond Dantes! – Explores the use and misuse of the literary device of anagnorisis, which surprises the readers and/or the characters of a story with the revelation of a secret identity.

Ulysses: That’s All We Needed… -  A collection of fascist era reviews of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Why the Island Is Never Found – Discusses the search of islands real and imagined, the invention and importance of longitude, and the reason that some islands are never discovered.

Thoughts on WikiLeaks –  commentary on the significance of the WikiLeaks scandal and what it means to live in a world where not only is the technology for an Orwellian like Big Brother government available, but the technology exists to steal Big Brother’s secrets.


I enjoyed all of the essays, understood most of them and appreciated the opportunity to have my mind stretched in subjects I wouldn’t normally encounter.



JRF’s #35 – Deny Yourself by Steve Gallagher

I was given this short book(let?) at last years’ Desiring God Conference, Finish the Mission.

It is a collection of 20 short biographical excerpts ranging from the early church to the 20th Century that highlight extraordinary examples of Christian missionary faithfulness, even faithfulness unto death.  We have been reading a chapter every saturday morning as a family.  It has been convicting and steeling to be reminded of the faithfulness of those who truly understood the value of the Gospel for themselves and for the lost, and literally loved those trapped in darkness to death.

When missionary to China, Jack Vinson was asked by his executioner, “I am going to kill you.  Aren’t you afraid?”  Vinson simply replied, “Kill me, if you wish.  I will go straight to God.”  Inspired by Vinson’s sacrifice Presbyterian minister wrote a poem entitled “Afraid? Of What?” that went on to become the theme of all missionaries in China during that period.

Afraid?  Of What?

To feel the Spirit’s glad release?  To pass from pain to perfect peace, 

 The strife and strain of life to cease? Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of What?

Afraid to see the Savior’s face, To hear His welcome, and to trace

The glory gleam from wounds of grace?  Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of What? 

A flash, a crash, a pierced heart; Darkness, light, O Heaven’s art!

A wound of His a counterpart! Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of What?

To do by death what life could not – Baptize with blood a stony plot, 

Till souls shall blossom from the spot? Afraid – of that?

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