Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 08/08/2010 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. The second chapter in the saga of Ryan and Heather Murphy's missionary life in Kenya.
Missionaries, like the rest of us, live the cycles of day-to-day life: waking, eating, working, sleeping, etc. The life of a foreign missionary is dedicated to seeing the gospel progress in the lives of those among whom the missionary lives and works. Sometimes a lifetime isn't long enough to see measurable results; sometimes the setbacks seem to outnumber the advances. Ryan Murphy's second book, Winter Spring Summer Fall: Living and Lasting in Missions, chronicles recent seasons in his family's missionary endeavor in and around Rift Valley Academy near Kijabe, Kenya.
Murphy employs the metaphor of passing seasons throughout the book, which is a common enough organizing system in literature. However, although the metaphor is fairly self-explanatory, the reader must wait until the epilogue to learn why Murphy begins the title with "Winter" instead of the more natural "Spring." Only in the epilogue does the reader discover that Winter is the season to dream, Spring the season to begin, Summer the season to thrive, and Fall the season to rejoice.
Murphy has grown in writing prowess since his first book, All That You Can't Leave Behind: A Rookie Missionary's Life in Africa. Practicing what he preaches to his RVA English classes, Murphy informs his reader about what to expect in the chapter - which stories he will tell and which theological points he will drive home. The book isn't meant to be a string of surprises, but a collage of memories and impressions from Murphy's time on the missions field.
Murphy has also grown in theological insight. Each chapter contains a section called "Lessons for Lasting," each time focusing on a different topic. One of the most profound lessons, I thought, was on the topic of worship. Whether or not Murphy has encountered John Piper's famous dictum that "Missions exists because worship doesn't," here is Murphy's [perhaps unwitting] paraphrase, emanating from Exodus 8:1:
[God] didn't say, "Let my people go because they are socially awkward or because they are physically exhausted or emotionally depressed or spiritually empty." He said, "Let my people go, so that they may worship me." Worship was missing.
I admire Murphy's forthrightness in this book. Now a more seasoned missionary, Murphy does not shirk from pointing out African sin, which, after all, comes from the same Satanic source as North American sin. But rather than issuing a blanket condemnation of Kenyans who sin, Murphy condemns the attitudes of the heart, the ignorance of a better way, and the systemic issues in Africa to an equal extent.
I highly recommend missionaries (who are good writers) to consider publishing stories and theological ruminations as Murphy has done. Prayer letters eventually get shredded and prayer postcards fade and curl. But a book usually stays on a shelf - unless it is so well-written that it gets passed on to others who in turn begin to pray and share in the missionary author's life. A win-win situation either way, no?
Another thing I admire about Ryan Murphy is that he is actively looking toward the prize the apostle Paul speaks of in Philippians 3. The promise of being rewarded by Christ motivates him. He sees the sacrifice of a missions life in true biblical perspective:
In God's harvest time, He sits us down to a savory feast today and promises us a double-portion tomorrow. When you compare our miniscule work and our microscopic sacrifice with Christ's work and sacrifice, it's like placing a seed next to all the cornfields in Nebraska. Our blessings truly are far greater than our labors.
I look forward to reading the next chapter (pun intended) in Murphy's life and ministry three, four, or five years down the road. I've come this far in his missionary life adventure with him and can't, nor won't, stop now.
Editor's Note: You may purchase Winter Spring Summer Fall directly from the publisher at a significant discount.