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Book Review: A Company of Heroes, by Tim Keesee

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Tim Keesee, A Company of Heroes: Portraits from the Gospel’s Global Advance. Crossway, 2019. 284 pages.

You need this book. Your congregation needs this book.

We all live downstream from the Spirit-filled headwaters of the book of Acts. Across all nations and cultures, Christ alone can restore life in a fallen world. This is true in the prison cells of Asia, in Sunday school classes in Utah, and in churches sitting under the transforming power of the Word in Oromo, Ethiopia week after hot week.

In A Company of Heroes, Tim Keesee sweeps us into the dust and grit of churches all over the world. He weaves for his readers a variety of portraits of faithful Christians making disciples in every imaginable context.

If you’re looking for celebrity Christians you won’t find them in this book. Keesee highlights humble, ordinary men and women serving their Lord with humility and quiet boldness. Keesee introduces us to believers faced with persecution and hardship who are often forced to rely on God in challenging ways—examples that should stir our own faith and highlight our own need to rely on God more fully.

GOSPEL WORK NEVER SEEMS HEROIC

From China to Oxford, Keesee describes the impact of pastors who faithfully preach the Word, provide meals for families in need, and disciple youngsters into future leaders. Of one congregation in Dubai, he writes: “The church is multi-ethnic but not multicultural. There is one gospel culture here, where people of many nations sing the Word, pray the Word, hear the Word, see the Word, and speak the Word.” It is here that mountains are moved.

We so easily miss this point. Investment in gospel work almost never seems heroic. Instead labor for the gospel simply looks like the ordinary means of grace carried out in the local church where we encourage, love, and forgive one another—a work we repeat over weeks, months, and even decades.

ORDINARY MINISTRY AND AN EXTRAORDINARY GOD

As Keesee makes clear, these heroes are ordinary people, men and women who share the same Spirit that has been poured out on all Christians. Yet their stories of faithfulness in both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances should both inspire our faith and cause us to marvel at God’s kindness and wisdom. Keesee’s stories remind us that Christian discipleship is costly, in every part of the world.

  • Georgi Vins was sent to a Siberian gulag for petitioning the release of other Christian prisoners (2 Cor. 4:13).
  • Craig, who nearly missed his international flight to Armenia because of a forgotten passport, still took the time to share the hope of the gospel with a Jew he happened to meet at the gate.
  • When fire decimated an entire apartment building in Dubai, Gloria, a mother of four, saw the story on the news that morning, grabbed her purse, and walked out the door to bring donuts and words of comfort to newly-homeless families.
  • John and Sarah’s first baby was diagnosed with a heart condition as they were making plans to leave as missionaries for Indonesia. They went anyway, and she thrived. Three children later, baby Owen was diagnosed with Down syndrome and they went back yet again, carrying in their arms a remarkable opportunity to proclaim God’s love for even the weakest.
  • Oksana received a text in the middle of the night that her husband had been arrested while preaching the gospel in a neighboring country. She cradled her newborn and slept peacefully that night, then woke in the morning and visited government officials to discuss her husband’s release.
  • Joel, a young boy in the States, prayed earnestly for the release of a pastor in Soviet imprisonment—and God answered.

As Keesee describes, each of these people went about their lives “incurably optimistic.” They assumed that no everyday encounter or situation was by accident. “Like them, we too can take risks, face fear, and endure suffering with death-defying joy because Jesus is alive and with his people always.

TRUE HEROES

Christians in the West possess more of this world’s goods than many of the men and women in these pages. Yet the Christian lives chronicled in this book are brimming with joy and contentment. Their example reminds us that distraction with this world’s gifts too often causes us to forget God and His utter trustworthiness above the transience of this world.

True heroes cultivate the habit of looking past the things of this world to Christ and all that He offers (Phil. 3). As Keesee notes, “the exceptional quality about these heroes—whether past or present, that has strengthened and steadied me is how all of them have oriented their lives around the truth that Jesus really is alive”.

What is the message of this book for you and your church? In the words of one Chinese brother: “Follow Christ. Lift up the cross!”

That’s the message I need every week. If you’re a pastor, it’s the message your people need too.

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