Author: Bo Caldwell

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9228-8

Click Here To Purchase City of Tranquil Light: A Novel

It reads like a double autobiography written by a missionary couple: the husband, Will, took care of the narration; she, Katherine, interspersed the text with pages of her diary. The two forms of writing blended harmoniously into a moving chronicle of their life spent in a small city --the City of Tranquil Light: K’uang P’ing Ch’eng—in northern China during the first momentous decades of the 20th century.

According to the author of the book, this is a novel based on a privately published memoir written by her maternal grandparents and substantiated by biographies of other missionaries who served in China.

Whatever it is, the author did a terrific job, writing a novel replete with wonders on a topic that is so old-fashioned, subjected to so many prejudices. I must confess that when I first read the book’s fact sheet, I was thinking to myself why in the world, someone wanted to write anything about…missionaries, and that of all places but in ….China! The novel, however, dispelled all my preconceived ideas concerning…missionaries, and…China.

For me, although growing up in the Christian faith, missionaries have always been considered either arrogant spies for their own mother countries, or busybodies ready to meddle into other peoples’ affairs, cocky about possessing the Supreme Truth under the tutelage of their exclusive unique True God. As for China, I thought I could boast about having read almost all the basic books on its culture and civilization. Little could I predict the extent to which this book –in its own simple and non-threatening way, shook the foundations of my convictions. In effect, my prejudices stood corrected, starting with the basics of Christian missions. Instead of arrogant agents eager to impose their faith on others, Will, the main character, confessed: “I am an ordinary man and an unlike missionary.” (p. 5) His only ambition was to put himself in the service of the people of China who found themselves in great need of material as well as spiritual assistance and who deserved not to convert to anything, but simply to hear about the Gospel.

Katherine, one of the other team member and who will become in time Will’s wife, felt so elated by the prospect of a long life of service that “my heart beats strongly. I feel more like I am returning home than leaving it.” (p. 16) That was why she could not understand why one other team member was “as somber as if our journey were a punishment. ..She is what people often envision when they hear the word missionary- a serious soul who travels to faraway lands to turn heathens into Westerners.” (p. 16)

I particularly appreciate the way Will tailored his sermons to fit the thinking of his Chinese listeners: he thus was able to impart to his listeners two of the most difficult to explain mysteries of the Christian faith, i.e. that God died for mankind’s sins and, in order to do just that, God had to become a human being. Page 73:

…I have also been told that many centuries ago, there were strict laws for young people who refused to listen to their parents. There was a record of a particular young man who continually refused to obey his parents. This rebellious son was severely punished, but…he still would not change his wicked ways…The elders of the village were forced to sentence the disobedient son with the ultimate punishment…They decided to dig a hole and prepared to bury the hard-hearted son alive…The elders brought the young man and his parents to the grave... At the very last minute, the father leaped to the young man’s side and requested that he be buried with his son.

and

…I have come here from my country to tell you the Good News: that there is a God who has this kind of love for each of us, the love of a father for his son. This God desires to know us and to be known by us, and his desire was so great that he became man so that he could walk and live among us.

Unlike other proselytizers, Will was never overly eager to convert people. He always made certain that the desire to enter the faith came from the other person and not from his wishful zeal. That was particularly obvious in cases where other missionaries would have precipitated headlong to baptize those on their death bed; Will, on the contrary, just prayed with the dying person. On page 183, Will told a bandit-friend of his who was about to succumb to his wounds inflicted by his torturers:

-Faith is a gift. All we can do is be open to it. The rest is up to the giver of that gift. And it is never too late to receive it.

-The bandit: Goodbye, mu shih (pastor), you will not see me again.

-I placed my hand on his head and blessed him. You are God’s son. His beloved son, and you are in his hands. I release you into his hands.


Click Here To Purchase City of Tranquil Light: A Novel