The question is simple. How far would you go to save the life of a child?
Is there such a thing as too far? Or far enough?
What's more, do a person's motives matter? Or is the action important, no matter one's intentions?
Levi Benkert's newest memoir No Greater Love: One Man's Radical Journey Through the Heart of Ethiopia invites readers to ask these questions of themselves.
As the author's business goes into bankruptcy, a friend asks him to fly to Ethiopia and help start up an orphanage for rescued children. Six weeks later, he and his wife sell everything to move them and their four children across the ocean to Africa. His hope, ultimately, is to bring an end to "mingi killings" where tribesmen kill all children who are conceived out of wedlock, who are conceived in marriage without prior permission from the elders, whose teeth come in in the "wrong" order....all because of superstitious fear of spirits.
What follows is the author's stumbling (literally) journey through the process of setting up the orphanage, changing gears to find adoptive American homes for the orphans when it is evident the orphanage is failing, and then moving forward to creating an organization called "Bring Love In," which seeks to create multiple foster homes for orphans, each led by a native Ethiopian widow. This structure both gives orphans a loving home, a family, and a future but also gives widows much needed jobs and homes.
Benkert's uncertainty, his humanity pierces through the text. This is not a guy who has it all together or who even has the next step figured out. But this is honest narrative, tracking his mis-steps, exploring the underlying currents of impurity in his motives to leave America in the first place. This is a man readers can relate to--someone unsure of where God's call will lead.
The text was an easy read and a great picture of the frustrations of trying to work in a third world country. But, I found it falling short in a couple areas. First, the communication of the gospel to those in Ethiopia was all but absent from the memoir. While I realize that "saving children's lives" was Benkert's chief theme, presenting them Jesus is of equal importance- (saving the body and soul) but wasn't given much page-time here.
Secondly, the memoir ended prematurely--once the author finally discovers what God's plan is for his family's work as missionaries, that's it--there are no success stories, nothing. The reader is left wondering whether this vision, too, might fall through the cracks like the other two attempts at running an orphanage and seeking to pair orphans with adoptive American families.
Even so, Benkert's epilogue is powerful, compelling Christians to get out of their comfort zones when there is a world beyond their front door where children are dying because we are not being the hands and feet of Jesus.
He also argues that even when our motives aren't lily white, God still can see if our heart's desire is truly bent towards serving Him. He can both use and mold a willing spirit. And that is a message worth sharing.
(To read a sample of No Greater Love, go here.)
**I receive a complementary copy of the text from Tyndale but am not compensated for my review, whether it be praise or criticism.