Wineskins Archive

December 7, 2013

Book Review: Kisses from Katie (June 2012)

Filed under: — @ 2:02 pm and

By Adam Gonnerman

Last week I read a glowing review of Kisses from Katie in the print edition of  The Christian Chronicle and immediately downloaded a copy onto my Kindle. The other reviewer wasn’t mistaken. This is a very worthwhile autobiography to read.

“People often ask if I think my life is dangerous, if I am afraid. I am much more afraid of remaining comfortable.” Katie Davis was a typical teenager in most respects. She loved going shopping, hanging out with friends and spending time with her boyfriend. Then, when she was 16, she announced that she intended to go serve the poor in a foreign country. Her parents resisted, but during Christmas break of her Senior year in high school, she and her mother went on a 3-week trip to Uganda, where they helped take care of children in an orphanage. She was hooked.

“Jesus called His followers to be a lot of things, but I have yet to find where He warned us to be safe. We are not called to be safe, we are simply promised that when we are in danger, God is right there with us. And there is no better place to be than in His hands.”

It took a great deal of cajoling and convincing, but she eventually talked her parents into letting her take a “gap year” between high school and college to serve in Uganda. As the father of a girl, it seems impossible to me to consider letting my daughter go by herself to a developing nation where she has no family or close friends. It’s so ridiculously risky. She could be raped, murdered, trafficked…we live in a world full of horrors. Somehow, she did it. Stepping not only out of her comfort zone but also taking a big risk, she moved to Uganda. During that year, at 18 or 19 years of age, she even started adopting children.

“Everywhere I looked in the Bible, from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of Revelation, people who believe in God are supposed to share with the poor. Helping the poor is not something God asks His people to do; it is something that, throughout all generations, He instructs us to do.”

What compelled Katie was her passionate faith in Christ. This was one of a few aspects of this story that really confused me. Her faith is strong and she comes across as evangelical, but at one point she mentions giving out communion at her parent’s Catholic church during a return trip to the United States. Having grown up Catholic, I don’t see how a non-practicing Catholic (or one converted to evangelicalism) could be allowed to do that. This either means that parish is particularly lax, or else she truly is a faithful Catholic who works freely with evangelicals. I say this because everything else in the book indicates that the faith-practice she was involved with in Uganda was essentially evangelical in nature.

In any event, her deep faith motivated her to see what so many in the affluent West skim over in their Bible reading: The many, many passages that reveal God’s heart for the poor and oppressed. She not only saw this truth in Scripture, but realized she had to act on it.

“The truth is that if only 8 percent of the Christians would care for one more child, there would not be any statistics left.”

One of Katie’s first efforts in Uganda was to organize a child-sponsorship program. She and her Ugandan friends began working to identify children in extreme and genuine need…and the list grew well beyond their plans and expectations. God provided donors, however, and the program led to the formation of Amazima Ministries, a non-profit that is continually expanding into new forms of outreach.

More than this, Katie herself began taking in children and “adopting” them. I write that in quotation marks because it seemed beyond strange to me that during her gap year, and as a young, single woman, she would be taking in children and forming a family. She now has 13 Towards the end of the book she indicated that under Ugandan law these were foster children, which clarified some of the matter for me. Still, the fact that she was forming a permanent, stable home with a fixed group of foster children during her gap year indicates to me that she never really had any intention of moving back to the United States.

Then again, perhaps she never really thought that far ahead.

“I didn’t realize then, but I strongly believe now that there is a common misconception that whatever happens to us is the will of God. It’s as though we think: Okay, I can do whatever I want and God will either do something or He won’t and that will be His will. It will all work out. It will all happen just like it needs to. I don’t believe this anymore. I believe that God is in control, yes, but I also believe I have a choice: I can follow Him or I can turn my back on Him. I can say yes to Him, or I can say no. I can go to the hard places or I can remain comfortable. And if I remain comfortable, God who loves us unconditionally will continue to love me anyway. I may still see His glory revealed in my life and recognize His blessings, but not like I could have. I can miss the will of God. The rich young ruler certainly did. He didn’t fall dead, as Ananias and Sapphira did; and maybe he went on to live a great life, but it wasn’t the life he could have lived had he said yes to what Jesus was asking of him.”

Of all the beautiful, inspiring things Katie had to say in this book, the section quoted above is my favorite. I’ve long rejected that awful cliché that says “everything happens for a reason.” Try telling that to a child dying of cancer, or her parents. Say that in the face of gross human error that costs hundreds of lives. Announce it to victims of rape. Yes, there’s a cause to every effect, but it isn’t always God behind the scenes making it all happen. He is sovereign, but not a micro-manager to the extent of promoting pain and sorrow.

Deeper in her observation about the will of God is a truth I’ve found in the past several years of my unofficial exile from Brazil. It’s the fact that not everything I do, in the long or short term, is God’s will for my life. I can miss his will through rebellion. I can fall short through sin, either active or passive. If I fail to do the hard thing to which I know I’m called, I can miss the best God has for me. Such is what I believe to be the case for me regarding Brazil, but I’m hopeful that I’m learning my lessons and soon will be restored, more competent than before, to the mission of God in that country.

“Here is the thing: I want big things from God. We want big things from God and then think it’s strange when He asks us to build an ark, or feed five thousand or march around a building for seven days with seven priests blowing trumpets made from rams’ horns. I am asking for big things from God. Big things like a van I can take my whole family to church in and a house with ten showers. Bigger things like 147 million orphaned children in the world to each have a mommy who knows what they like for dinner. So really, I am not surprised at the craziness of my life. Every morning, as I wake up with some impossible task in front of me, I know that God will meet it with impossible strength and love. I serve the God who used Moses, a murderer, to part the Red Sea; a God who let Peter, who would deny Him, walk on water. A God who looks at me, in all my fallen weakness and says, ‘You can do the impossible.'”

Katie shows us all that doing great things doesn’t require a college degree or infinite material resources on hand. It takes the blessing of God and a willing heart.

Although the way this book was organized confused me a bit, with details left out and the story not quite told in order all the way through, it’s a challenging story and one worth reading.

“In the days of Jesus, He expected everything of His disciples. Do I believe He requires the same today? I do. And I want to live like I believe it.”

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