Leota’s Garden

Editor’s Note:  The following is a book review in our “Check It Out” series about Leota’s Garden written by Francine Rivers and published by Tyndale House in 1999

by Barbara Moland

Leota’s garden is no longer a place of beauty.  At 84 years she is separated from her children by broken relationships.  At this lonely time in her life the garden that she had loved, cared for, prayed and worshipped in has gone into severe disrepair. Unable to work in the garden or keep up her home she struggles day after day to just make it.

Leota’s granddaughter Annie, always seeking God’s direction in her new post high school life, has been kept from knowing anything about Leota.  All the while seeking to honor and respect her mother, Annie decides to find her grandmother, in spite of the fear she has for what may come of finding her.

Very gradually over many months of carefully connecting with her grandmother, amid several intertwining relationships, Annie is able to turn Leota’s garden into a place of great beauty.  In fact her house and neighborhood becomes a changed place.  On her grandmother’s passing Annie is surprisingly awarded ownership of the home. Charting her course in life one step at a time, trusting God to lead her, she moves forward as Francine Rivers’ Christian fiction novel comes to a close.

Several topics involving relationships between/among people surface in Leota’s Garden:

  • parenting (parents goals for the child/child’s gifts, interests)
  • choosing a life partner
  • perils of  war and those suffering mental illness as a result
  • abortion
  • euthanasia
  • bitterness
  • misjudgments between generations, between countries/cultures, and between pastor and parishioner
  • neighborhood relationships
  • child care and nurturing…and much more. 
  • And surely again and again, the shining relationship between a believer and her Savior.

Francine Rivers, a prolific writer of Christian fiction, is very skilled in writing realistically about personal feelings and struggles. Faith thoughts which are italicized throughout the book, reveal angry feelings, yet confident freedom. For example:

“Oh, God, if Mother doesn’t come now, I’ll go and drag her by the hair to the hospital.”

Leota’s witty, somewhat tough personality was enjoyable.  It reminded me again and again of a loving, yet blunt personality of an 85 year old friend of mine.

At times in the novel’s assumptions spoke too loudly.  For example, the assumption that if Annie chose to persue art, this choice would negate the possibilities of a liberal arts education.  Also, I found the length of time and details portraying Nora’s  biases and personal hang-ups overly redundant.

Perhaps this season we who are gardeners can realize with Leota:

“… well, the garden was a refuge where I could work out my sorrows and frustrations and have joy poured back into me.”

Check It Out

A Review of the book, In the Land of Blue Burqas
by Candice Johnson

In the fall of 2012, I was listening to a radio interview of “Kate McCord”, the author of In the Land of Blue Burqas. I was drawn into the interview as I realized “Kate McCord” was a pseudonym, the pen-name of a blue-eyed, middle-aged, Christian woman who answered God’s call to leave America and move to Afghanistan as a humanitarian aid worker. Writing under a pen-name was necessary to protect herself and her Afghan Muslim friends and acquaintances who so openly engaged in conversation with her.

After listening to that radio interview, I knew I had to read “Kate McCord’s” book, In the Land of Blue Burqas. I wanted to know how a Christian woman graciously and faithfully proclaimed Jesus in an openly Muslim, Christian-persecuting country.  Throughout the book, McCord emphasizes just how carefully she must choose her words when asked about her culture and her faith.   It was fascinating to read how she answered spiritual questions asked by her Muslim friends.  Such questions as:

  • What do you believe happens when you die?
  • Why don’t you pray namaz (Arabic prayers, 5 times a day)?
  • Why won’t you become a Muslim?
  • What must a person do to become a Christian?

In the Land of Blue Burqas also explains what the Muslim Quran says about Adam and Eve, the Honorable Jesus Messiah, the Virgin Mary, and the angel Gabriel. I was completely surprised that the Muslim Quran even mentions Adam and Eve, Jesus, Mary, and Gabriel. However, discussing these, and other common elements, provided “Kate” many opportunities to carefully, yet confidently explain other truths of the Bible.

I was attracted to this book for two reasons:  First, I am curious about the teachings and tenants of Islam because of the increasing influence of the Muslim faith around the world and in our own United States; and second, as a believer I am compelled to “always be ready to … give an account for the hope this is in [me]”—I Peter 3:15b. In the Land of Blue Burqas teaches us about the lives and culture of Islamic people through the experiences of “Kate McCord” and through the very words and culture of the Afghan people.

All the people of the world are created by God with an eternal soul.  That makes it critical for each believer to be involved in sharing the hope we have through the Honorable Jesus Messiah.  Whether God is calling you to witness for Him here at home or in some other part of the world, reading In the Land of Blue Burqas will be challenging and inspiring.

Love Mercy: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey from the American Dream to the Kingdom of God

Book Review by Faith Nelson

Caution!  This book may be hazardous to your lifestyle

It’s the story of a journey:  a vision trip to Swaziland undertaken by Christian novelist Lisa Samson and her teenage daughter, Ty.  They want to “look beyond their borders,” “see the hard things of the world” and “be exposed …remember and record.”

Swaziland, South Africa has the highest rate of AIDS infection in the world.  Robbery is epidemic and basics, such as blankets, are precious.  The Samsons meet twelve year olds, elderly relatives and even neighbors raising children who have been orphaned by AIDS and other diseases.  Ty compares her experience to “having someone wake me up with a baseball bat” and Lisa says “less than a week into our trip, suffering was beginning to look so normal.”

As life changing as this journey is, the book documents a second journey that is just as transforming.  It begins and ends with a journey of sanctification as the Samson family struggles to replace “the American dream with dreams of the kingdom.”  They go from living the typical suburban life in a 5000 square foot house to a home in downtown Lexington, Kentucky where they live as part of an intentional religious community.  According to Lisa, “we buy most of our clothing used … a full-on trip to the (beauty) salon is out of reach.  …We keep our heat down to 60 degrees in the winter to lower our utility bills.”  The trip to Swaziland was “a single chapter in the longer story of God snatching us out of our complacent, consumerist Christianity.”

Lisa and Ty are open and honest in their struggles to live a more Christlike life.  Lisa says, “After the trip, I’d planned to eat only beans, rice and fresh vegetables for Lent … my Lenten fast lasted three days.  So much for eating the same thing every day and being thankful.”  She realizes we are all called to different places spiritually and cannot judge others for not being where we are.  But she does not hesitate to ask hard questions that none of us should ignore.   “… Where do you think God might be calling you?”  “What can I do?”  “Who is my church keeping out?” and finally “What if every Christian in the world reached out in love and deed to one sick AIDS patient, one lonely orphan, one poor widow, one hungry family? Why does that sound impossibly hard to us?  What if we did it anyway?”

You will find this book challenging and thought provoking.  Since it alternates between the viewpoints of Lisa and Ty, it would be a great choice to read with a youth group or with a young adult son or daughter.

Check It Out


 I invite you to get a more personal look at the lives of John & Ruby Abel, our AFLC pioneer missionaries in Brazil, who are still actively serving the Lord in retirement.  You will find it interesting, informative, and inspiring.  This down-to-earth autobiography will increase your love and appreciation for this extraordinary couple, just as it did for me.  Learn the beginnings of our Brazil mission work, the challenges they faced, and the way that God protected them again and again.  Get to know the heart of this evangelist whose greatest desire is to lead people to saving faith in Jesus Christ.


—  In l971, John and Ruby and their 7 children drove 15,000 miles in a station wagon from Minnesota to Brazil!  There were         lots of adventures in that 4-month trip of a lifetime!

—  In  Bolivia in l953 when their son Jonathan was 3 weeks old, and John was gone on a Brazil trip for two weeks, Ruby was in extreme pain from a gall bladder attack.  She and baby Jonathan were admitted to a mission hospital for surgery.  When John returned 2 weeks later to surprise her in the hospital, he didn’t recognize her because she was so pale and thin.

—  In Brazil in 1954 when Paul was born, he was turning blue because of embryonic fluid that he had sucked into his lungs.  He was considered a “miracle baby” when he began to breath normally on the seventh day, after many people prayed that his life would be spared to be used for God’s glory.

—  In 1965, Ruby needed surgery for a hip infection.  When she got to her room after the surgery, the nurse could find no vital signs.  The doctor came on the run, elevated her and began massaging her heart, and she began to breathe.

Read this book.  You’ll be blessed!                                                                                           Linda Korhonen