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Book Review: 'Hearts of Fire'
“Hearts of Fire” captures the stories of eight Christian women who live or have lived in nations where their faith was persecuted. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this Christian book? And what can you learn from these stories?
Strengths of "Hearts of Fire"
While there are Christians who complain that they have to provide a wedding cake for a union that they find blasphemous, this book by Voice of the Martyrs is a necessary reminder that true persecution exists. Coptic Christian girls in Egypt kidnapped and forced into marriage to Muslims, presented to officials as conversions who fled their families while their parents receive no assistance from authorities. Pakistan’s Christians are routinely arrested on false charges of blasphemy or murdered by a machete wielding Muslim mob in response to these allegations, usually for nothing more than demanding unpaid wages or refusing to convert to Islam. It is stories like these that help people keep their perspective on the world and appreciate how precious freedom of religion is.
“Hearts of Fire” contains a diverse number of stories. A Christian Indonesian woman whose village was deliberately burned down by Muslim mobs tells her story, including details like how the terrified survivors were offered a chance to survive if they converted to Islam and the men proved their commitment by joining in the next attack on a Christian community.
Purnima’s experience in Bhutan, then a strictly Buddhist country that jailed or expelled Christians, is telling. The story of Tara comes from Pakistan and shows the horrors that Muslim converts to Christianity face in nations where Sharia defines the legal system. The story of her getting permission to visit a church in Iran from the court but only with police officers and her brother as a chaperone is the logical end result of throwing up signs “trigger warning, Christian ideas are dangerous”.
Tara’s story of being beaten when her father suspected she’d converted to Christianity is not only part and parcel of the Koran’s teachings but a common occurrence. She risked being the victim of an honor killing, though her father and brother beat her bloody and said she could choose to marry a Muslim and live instead of just killing her. It was amazing luck or a miracle that she had an uncle who had converted to Christianity before Pakistan adopted Sharia law, so she had a relative to take her in. At that time, it was only socially unacceptable but not illegal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity, so he’d only been disowned by his family versus arrested or killed. It is an essential lesson in what it is like to be a Christian in a nation that has made the Koran’s laws the nation’s laws.
Ling grew up in dire poverty in Communist China. Her story of the house church movement despite the risk of being sent to labor camps for five years is moving.
Aida’s experience in Russia is a valuable history lesson. The book “Gulag Archipelago” is another excellent history lesson on what happened to Christians, political dissidents and even those arrested to make someone’s quota sent to the gulag, also known as death camps. The story of Sabina from post-World War 2 Romania is a similar story of the persecution of Christians by a communist government. Mai’s story of being a Christian in (and fleeing) Vietnam follows a similar pattern, proof that Communist regimes all persecute Christianity because there shall be no rivals to the state but only the state.
Weaknesses of "Hearts of Fire"
Given that there are so many modern stories of Christian persecution, I had hoped there would be more stories from within the past few years, not as many historical ones.
There is one story of an Australian missionary to India, but there are many books that cover stories like this. Frankly, “The End of the Spear” movie is more interesting.
All of these women are true feminists, risking their safety, freedom and very lives for their beliefs and taking leadership positions in their religious movement. That their stories aren’t more widely known is a tragedy. If they’d been liberal atheists, you know there would be multiple movies about them.
Whether it is gaining a better understanding of what true Christian prosecution is like in Muslim nations today or historic persecution of Christians in both European and Asian nations, this book is an invaluable lesson in what many people endure for their faith. Five stars for this Christian book.