Wait for God to Notice, by Sari Fordham

This is a beautifully written, thoughtful memoir about author Fordham’s experience growing up in a Seventh-day Adventist missionary family in Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin. Wait for God to Notice is also an example of the kind of nuanced writing about faith and religion that we have not seen nearly enough of from Seventh-day Adventist writers.

This is a topic I have a lot of opinions on and will probably expand on in a longer piece sometime, but I’ve long felt that there are two common ways to write about religion that are not particularly interesting to me — the “everything is wonderful!” approach favoured by Christian publishers and bookstores, and the “everything is terrible” approach common in lots of mainstream novels and memoirs where people explore the damage done by religion. I’m not saying it’s not valid to explore that damage, anymore than it’s not valid to write about your positive faith experiences in a book that might sell in a Christian bookstore. There’s a place for both, but the place is unlikely to be on my shelf of best-loved books. What interests me are books about faith that explore both the dark and light sides — the power of belief that keeps people connected to their faith tradition, and the negatives (ignorance, fear, abuse, etc) that drive them away. That tension is what interests me; Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev is my favourite classic example of a book that does this well in the contexts of Hasidic Judaism, but it’s handled well in more recent works too, such as the evangelical Christian backgrounds of books such as Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom and Joan Thomas’s Five Wives.

I rarely see that tension and nuance well reflected in the writing of people in my own faith tradition (I have, of course, tried to do it myself a little bit, both in historical and contemporary fiction). Most Adventist writers have generally published with church publishers, which places their (our, for part of my career) books firmly in the “everything is wonderful category”; a too-realistic criticism of the church is not going to fly with a church press. I doubt whether Sari Fordham’s criticism of the church leadership that left her family in an unsafe mission post (respectful though that critique is) would have passed an editorial board at a church publishing house. But this nuanced, insightful memoir, focusing particularly on the character of Fordham’s mother, is unflinching in portraying both the family’s faith, and the limitations of that faith. The naivety of missionaries and the people who send them to places like Uganda is clearly on display here – not caricatured, as in a novel like Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, but portrayed with the understanding of someone who has lived through it. There’s so much more I could say about this book, which I thoroughly loved reading, but I will just say that I recommend it very highly.

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