Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Lydia’s Song

This novel on child sex trafficking in Cambodia is written in three parts. The first section focuses on Lydia, an English woman in the year 2036. She reminisces about her expat life thirty years previously: fostering a homeless child called Song and falling in love with Radha, a local man. It was a life of contentment until tragedy struck.

The second section is all about Song, the young Vietnamese refugee child in Cambodia who was fostered by Lydia. The two met when Song had run away from an unhappy home life. Lydia took her in and the pair settled into a comfortable life together. Then Radha came on the scene. He worked as a receptionist at the English doctor’s practice. Charming, pleasant, full of fun: life seemed perfect.

But then Song was trafficked into the child sex industry. Bought and sold. Lydia tried frantically to find her but it was impossible.

The third and final section brings both Lydia’s and Song’s stories together to a satisfying conclusion.

The book is well-researched and highlights the plight of many young children in this part of the world. Song’s story is particularly well-written and gives enough information without being brutal with gruesome details.

Personally, I didn’t warm to Lydia as a character but liked Song who, despite a rocky start and horrific experiences as a girl, turns out as a lovely, balanced woman.

I think this book would be a useful place to start for anyone wanting to learn more about child sex trafficking.

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review.

A Little Help From My Friends…

There is an Arab proverb that says something along the lines of if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go with others.

I think it applies to writing as much as anything else in life.

When I started [read more]

At Therapy’s End

What a powerful book. It drew me in from the first page. The storyline covers very difficult issues: domestic violence, loss of a child, mental illness. But the characters seem real and make you care about them. Susie gives tantalising clues throughout which keep you guessing before bringing it to a very satisfying conclusion.

This novel really made me think, similar to how Francine Rivers uses her novels to open up hard issues and challenge your thought processes and attitudes.

Domestic abuse has a huge impact on not only the perpetrator and survivor but on the children as well. They see and hear and sometimes physically experience the violence and mind-controlling abuse. It has a knock-on effect for life, and though there can be freedom and healing, it is a long and very painful process for the survivor and those affected.

The loss of a child is also a terrible thing that no parent should ever have to go through.

Susie explores these issues sensitively and realistically without them becoming too emotionally overwhelming for the reader. It made me cry at times. It made me think.

It’s a very good book, well-written, realistic, gritty at times, but heart-warming too; there is always hope.

I’d recommend it. Not necessarily an easy read because of the issues being dealt with, but very well worth it. I think it would be especially helpful for anyone who has friends or relatives in an abusive relationship or who are grieving the loss of a child.

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review.

Coffee with Jesus?

‘God loves you.’
I taught it every week.
But did I really know it?
Sure, He forgave me;
was He just being kind?

I thought the Father didn’t like me.
That Jesus and I could never have coffee together.
And the Spirit lived in me under protest.

But then.

The day the Father came into the room
His eyes fixed on mine,
as if I were the most precious thing He’d ever seen.
He scooped me up
and tossed me into the air.
Arms and legs flailing,
a toddler’s happy laughter:
‘Do it again Daddy, do it again!’

Have coffee with Jesus?
Oh yes.
Anyone can be friends.
Wandering in the woods together,
chilling on the patio,
enjoying a good book,
living the life He’s called me to.
He was once a man who cooked breakfast for mates –
He hasn’t changed.

And the Spirit?
Even when I hit the pearly gates
He’ll stay with me.
He won’t sigh with relief and go off to find someone more interesting.
Not dump me in eternity,
lonely and alone.
He sees me, He knows me.
He tells me truth and makes the unseen real.

God doesn’t just love me.
He likes me.

The Girl at the End of the Road

I loved The Girl at the End of the Road. I completely forgot I was reading, which is the type of book I like best. It’s a true page-turner and keeps you guessing.

The main character, Vince, has worked hard to forget his roots and make a successful life for himself in London. But the story opens as his career comes crashing down, taking his home and an intimate relationship with it.

We follow Vince’s story as he moves back in with his parents in the village where he grew up. It is fascinating to see his reactions in reconnecting with old school friends, one of whom – Sarah – appears quite eccentric.

The reader goes on a journey with Vince as he painfully rediscovers [read more]

 

Refugee Stories

This is seven real-life stories of people who became refugees and sought asylum in the UK. They are written in the individuals’ voices and edited by Dave Smith who brought the book together and adds facts at the end of each story.

I was struck by how normal – middle class even – these seven individuals are. Each one was educated, often very well off in their own country, but ended up having to flee their homes for various reasons. The first six stories are very similar though set in various countries. The seventh story is a little different.

It opens up the reality of the having to deal with the Home Office. After going through all sorts of major trauma in their own countries, often with their lives under threat, and difficult journeys to the UK, the last thing these people need is to deal with endless and – at times – seemingly badly organised bureaucracy.

This book brings the vagueness of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers down to the individual’s story I’m reading.

For anyone wanting to know what it’s really like to flee your country in fear of your life, this is a useful book.

It’s not easy reading. Partly because with the exception of one or two stories I could never forget I was reading and that made it hard work. I think this was because each chapter has a different ‘voice’ and so the writing doesn’t always flow easily.

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review.

 

Everything You Do

Last Wednesday I went to a dance as worship evening. I’d signed up for it a few weeks previously, then had a minor panic: ‘What have I done? This is my worst nightmare.’ I was always the kid in PE at the back of the room doing as little as possible in a very unco-ordinated, awkward sort of way.

Ladies in graceful, flowing costumes demonstrated and talked about portraying biblical truths in dance. I was drawn even while thinking, ‘But I’m not a dancer, I’m a writer.’

The next day at home I decided [read more]

The Search for Home

The Search for Home is the true story of Beatrice Smith who was ten-years-old when the troubles between the Hutus and Tutsis broke out in Rwanda in the 1990s. She witnessed horrific events and saw scenes no human being should ever have to see.

From Rwanda, her family fled (literally) across the border into Zaire, then onward to Kenya, before enduring a lonely year in Swaziland. They spent four years as refugees, often homeless and hungry, trying to learn new languages and cultures, desperate to stay together against the odds.

At last Beatrice’s father sought asylum in the UK and, after much prayer and many problems along the way, the rest of the family were able to join him.

The family’s faith and prayer life shines out of this book. Their commitment to praying when all hope seemed lost challenges my prayer-life, and I had to remind myself that Beatrice and her siblings were children. But they also saw God answering their prayers in amazing and unexpected ways.

This book is so timely for today. It’s easy to get desensitised to seeing weary men, women and children walking along dusty roads clutching bundles and blankets or even seeing them crowded into flimsy dinghies trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Beatrice’s story makes refugees human again. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose my home and be forced to flee England because of war. Beatrice makes it a little more real. When you lose everything and are simply trying to survive day to day, how easy it is to wander too far when collecting wood for fire and find yourself in danger. Or when you are desperate and have no options, you become a sitting target for human traffickers.

This book helps the reader to comprehend some of the suffering refugees endure. Even something as basic as having a working kitchen, a shower with running water and a toilet, and then being forced to do without. Not knowing where your next drink of water will come from, never mind anything else. And this on top of all the emotional and mental trauma.

When reading the final chapters, I held my breath as Beatrice shared her hopes for life in the UK. She longed to feel welcome, to be accepted, to feel safe and secure, to know she was home. Would she find that? Having read her story, I really wanted her hopes to be realised.

The Search for Home is a page-turner. It’s very readable. And as I wrote earlier, a timely message for today. It’s not enough to look at people from other cultures and say from the comfort of having known nothing but safety and security that they should be doing this or that. I just want to play my part in making them feel welcome without judging them. In their shoes, what would I do?

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review.

Wonder

Sometimes I jump for joy,
that Jesus Christ is God and died for me.
Sometimes full of wonder,
how can the very author of life die?

What sacrifice for me….
He took my sin and satisfied God’s wrath.
Now He has made me free!
I am thankful, I exult and praise Him.

I clap my hands and shout.
Jesus is worthy of the highest praise.
 King of kings, Lord of lords:
He beat darkness and He defeated death,

In wonder I worship
Jesus the Nazarene and Son of God.
In awe and in wonder
I kneel at Your feet and give you my heart.

Hope

May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing,
so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Romans 15:13

Hope is vital. Adi and I watched George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces when he and Will Hardie followed a WWII POW’s plans to build a caravan. It was incredible. Writing those plans and dreaming of being free again gave that prisoner hope in a very dark situation.

So it’s not surprising that God, in whose image we are made, is a God of hope.

I’m glad that it is He who fills us with all joy and peace in believing. Filling with all – that speaks of generosity, filled up with good things. I like Jesus’ description of a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. This is God’s nature: to give in abundance.

He gives all joy and peace in believing.

When God had broken in and miraculously healed me from cerebellar ataxia and ME in 2010/11, I pursued Him for complete healing from migraines (these have lessened in frequency and intensity but not quite gone completely). Initially, every time I asked someone to pray for healing, they asked for me to be filled with joy. I remember one motherly lady saying: ‘You’ve not known much joy, have you?’

I had a normal happy childhood, but that lady was right. I was so fearful in general and busy trying to be in control that there was no place for joy or peace in my life.

As God chucked out the clutter of fear and control and whatnot from my life, He filled those spaces with His joy and peace. The most memorable time was when He’d delivered me of a spirit of fear, that night He filled me with joyful, belly-aching, rolling around on the carpet, snorting laughter.

Joy and peace are daily companions now, I’m thankful to say. That’s not to say life is hunky-dory and all sorted. I still need to discern fear (it can be subtle), or trying to be in control or whatever and deal with it before God. But He is my hope and He restores joy and peace. In fact, He increases it.

I think the more we walk in the Spirit, the more capacity we have for God. The more I allow Him to sweep out the dusty corners of my heart, the more room there is for Him. That’s how it feels to me anyway 🙂

It’s all by the power of His Spirit. Oh that’s such a relief. I couldn’t drum up joy and peace if my life depended on it. But He gives it freely and extravagantly by His great power. Woo hoo!

The God of hope wants us to abound in hope, having been filled with all joy and peace by the power of His Spirit. Hope is a prayer away, and He is generous to those who ask.

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