When I traveled to Thailand and Cambodia a few weeks ago, I took several books with me to read. I figured that since I would have many hours on planes and airports, I would redeem the time by reading. The first book I picked up to read was The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo. I normally do not read books like this, but since several of my friends had just read & raved about this book, I thought I would check it out. I am glad I did.
I have struggled with what to say in a review like this, mostly because I do not want to give away too much of the story. This book is Rebecca's true story of her family as they moved to a rural town in North Carolina where her dad was a pastor. Growing up as a pastors kid has traditionally been seen as a tough thing. But what she went through was even more than anything I could imagine. Since I don't want to spoil the book for you, if you were to read it, let me share the information from the back cover:
"Rebecca never felt safe as a child. In 1969, her father, Robert Nichols, moved with his family to Sellerstown, North Carolina, to serve as a pastor. There he found a small community eager to welcome him . . . with one exception. Glaring at him from pew number seven was a man obsessed with controlling the church and determined to get rid of anyone who stood in his way. The first time the Nichols family received a harassing phone call, they dismissed it. the same went for the anonymous letter that threatened they'd leave 'crawling or walking . . . dead or alive.' But what they couldn't ignore was the strategy of terror their tormentor unleashed, more devastating and violent than they could have ever imagined. Refusing to be driven away, Rebecca's father stood his ground until one night when an armed man walked into the family's kitchen . . . and Rebecca's life was shattered. If anyone had reason to harbor hatred and seek personal revenge, it would be Rebecca. Yet The Devil in Pew Number Seven tells a different story. It is the amazing, true saga of relentless persecution, one family's faith and courage in the face of it, and a daughter whose parents taught her the power of forgiveness."
That last phrase is what I wanted to focus on in this review. This book is THE BEST book on forgiveness that I have ever read. It is not just a book on theory. It is a book on how someone went through horrific, unexplained tragedy and was still able to extend forgiveness to those that changed her life. Closely connected to the message of forgiveness was the message of the gospel. In many books like this, forgiveness is something that "makes your life better." But for Rebecca (and her parents), forgiveness of others is linked to her own forgiveness of her sins by Jesus. The gospel message is loud and clear in this book.
Let me share a few examples. As things began to happen to their family, she recounts her mother's teaching to her on what it means to love enemies and extending forgiveness to them.
"Momma explained that we had been forgiven by Jesus for all of our sins, which is why He expected us, in turn, to forgive others. Taking the teachable moment one step further, she pointed to Romans 12:14, where Paul, a follower of Jesus, calls us to 'bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.' Looking back on those conversations, I can see that Momma was, as best she knew how, teaching me that forgiveness is close to the heart of God. That forgiveness is the language of heaven. That forgiveness should be a way of life. Even when it was humanly inconceivable to do so" (87-88).
Towards the end of the book, she turns from biographer to exhorter when she explains why forgiveness is so important in our world today.
"Here's why you and I should practice the language of heaven with the persistence we'd bring to the study of any foreign language. As I've thought about it, God's forgiveness is mankind's greatest need. Against the backdrop of eternity, the thing you and I need most is not food, air, water, shelter, love, money, family, friendship, or a lifetime companion. While those are wonderful things to have, our single greatest need is to be forgiven by God for our sins" (246).
And then later she writes:
"Personally, I want forgiveness to become my heavenly habit, not an obligation. There's a big difference. The first approach reflects a lifestyle that flows from God's Kingdom and changes my way of operating in all my earthly relationships. The other approach is all about duty; it's about as heartfelt as paying income taxes" (248).
I am not sure I could recommend this book enough for you. It is a book that will bring you to tears and then humble your heart. It puts your trials into perspective. I rarely give a book 5-Stars, but I would certainly give it to this book!