Wednesday, February 17, 2010

‘Congo Vignettes: Stories of God's Faithfulness to Three Generations in the Heart of Africa’ by Shawn Lantz – Book Review

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I have been familiar with the Smith family for many years.  My first exposure to them was when I discovered two of the three members of the singing group Selah, Todd and Nicol Smith, were brother and sister.  Their soaring vocals and wonderful harmonies touch my heart – so much so that I played one of their songs at my mom’s memorial service in January 2005.  Nicol – now known as Nicol Sponberg after her marriage to Greg in 2003 – now has a successful solo career.  Nicol’s song, ‘Resurrection,’ is one of my all-time favorites!  I learned that Todd and Nicol had spent many of their formative years in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where their parents, Jim and Nancy Smith, serve as missionaries with Laban Ministries International.  Jim’s parents, Laban and Marcella, had founded that ministry in 1947.

The oldest child in the family, Shawn Lantz, currently resides in Nashville, TN with her husband Rob and their three children.  She has a ministry by the name of Esengo Ministries.  ‘Esengo’ is the  Lingala word for ‘glory;’ Lingala is the national language of the Congo.  Her passion is to encourage women to develop a love for the Scriptures.  She has written a book, ‘Congo Vignettes: Stories of God’s Faithfulness to Three Generations in the Heart of Africa,’ in which she shares her family’s legacy – both the triumphs and the struggles.  She provides an insider’s glimpse into life as a missionary kid (MK) in a culture so different from the one in which she was born. 

The family first moved to the Congo in 1979.  The children were all preadolescents; Jack would be born six months later.  There was a time of adjustment to living in Africa after having grown up in Michigan, but they all knew they were in the will of God.  Shawn is very aware that God is there with us in the good times and the bad.  She details a thunderstorm that raged as her father was traveling away from the family.  She compares that time to her life as an adult living through the storms of life:

“My ears, once so busy listening to the many distractions of life before the storm, are now able to hear Christ’s voice in a way I was not able to hear during my days of ease and sunshine.  A profound truth has been my realization of this paradox: It is when my world is most in turmoil and I have called out to Him to rescue me in the middle of the raging wind that I have heard Him in the secret place of my thunder.  Only after I have acknowledged my state of helplessness and fear am I able to trust that my God is with me in the midst of the lightning and thunderstorms of life.  I can watch the tempest safely, unshaken by the terror that cannot stand when my soul is still in His presence.  I am safe in my heavenly Father’s protection.” (p. 10)

Shawn goes on to tell us that God wants us to experience amazing grace and joy in this life:

“Did I always recognize God’s amazing grace as I was experiencing my life?  No.  Now as an adult, my heart wells up in love that my God is not a taskmaster who wants me to feel as though life is a drudgerous duty.  He delights in giving me the joy to serve Him.  If I miss the joy, I have come to realize, the problem lies in my perspective of the situation, not because the joy is not there.  He promises that in His presence there is fullness of joy.  I must give thanks to my Savior who allowed me to grow up in an adopted country, which allowed me to be the beneficiary of blessing after blessing as the result of His amazing grace in my life.” (p. 106)

I truly enjoyed reading this book that, time and time again, glorifies God and shows His faithfulness to a family that has given their lives for his work.  It was also fun to see photos of the Smith family throughout the years! 

In addition to ‘Congo Vignettes,’ Shawn is also the author of a women’s bible study called ‘Living with Unmet Desires: Exposing the Many Faces of Jealousy,’ in which she explores the life of Israel’s first king, Saul.  I will be reviewing that book soon – please stay tuned!

I had the privilege to meet Shawn in person at a fundraising event – a Ladies’ Tea - in January for Laban Ministries’ Women’s Literacy Center; she served as the keynote speaker (my blog post about the event can be found here).  She was as sweet as I expected her to be!  Her youngest brother, Jack, and his wife, Molly, who are worship leaders of a church here in the Detroit area, shared their musical gifts with us.  In addition, Shawn's parents, Jim and Nancy, were also in attendance.  It was a lovely afternoon!  I look forward to seeing how the Lord continues to lead and bless the Smith family!

You can order this book here.

This book was generously provided to me by Shawn Lantz for review purposes.

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