I just finished reading Emily Foreman’s book, We Died Before We Came Here. It was recommended to me by some friends who are missionaries in North Africa. I’ve been making slow progress on the book for the last several months. At the end of November and beginning of December, though, I surged through the last third of the book.
The story is powerful. It’s about an American family who moves to North Africa. They’re motivated to share God’s love with the people of an unnamed country dealing with significant poverty, prison overpopulation, and cultural obstacles to the Gospel. They do the long, hard work of building relationships and meeting practical needs, and gaining the trust of political- and civic leaders. And then, just as their ministry was starting to flourish, tragedy strikes. The husband and father of the family, Stephen, is assassinated by al-Queda operatives in the country. His wife, Emily, and their children flee the country. But amazingly, the work of God in that part of the world continues.
Tertullian wrote: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Nearly two-thousand years of Church history support this thesis. Still, new stories like the Foremans’ bring new appreciation for the way that physical death can lead to spiritual life.
The way that Emily Foreman writes their story is simple and straightforward. It’s not compelling on the literary level. At times, the book borders on hagiography, idealizing Stephen in a way that actually (unintentionally) casts doubt on the story’s credibility. But if I was in the author’s shoes — with young children who would one day rely on this account as a significant reference point for what happened to their father — I might do the same thing. I’m just saying I, personally, might have appreciated a more nuanced portrayal.
Through Gates of Splendor, by Elisabeth Elliot, is the gold standard for these sorts of missionary biographies. This book doesn’t supplant it. But I do appreciate the way that it makes similar issues contemporary.