Letters from My Father’s Murderer – A Journey in Forgiveness – A Book Review


Letter from My Father's Murderer - A Journey in ForgivenessLetters from My Father’s Murderer – A Journey in Forgiveness

By Laurie A. Coombs

Kregel Publications, 2450 Oak Industrial Dr. N. E., Grand Rapids, MI 49505

978-0825442292, $14.99, 2015, 230 pages

Reviewed by Richard R. Blake

From Vengeance to Forgiveness – A Search for Truth, Justice, and Understanding,

Laurie Coombs’ ‘memoir “Letters from My Father’s Murderer – A Journey in Forgiveness” opens with the  details leading up to  and the aftershock of the tragic death of her father, a murder victim.

Devastated, but determined. Laurie went on with her life; finished her college education, married her fiancé, Travis, and began a family. On the surface things looked well, however, Laurie was experiencing a paralyzing anxiety and depression.  Laurie walked away from her family’s church as a teenager, her skepticism left her broken and angry. As the hatred of her father’s murderer heightened she became obsessed with questions of justice and a spirit of bitterness.

Responding to a friend’s invitation, Laurie, Travis, and her girls visited a nearby church. Although still skeptical, Laurie returned to the church week after week.  She experienced a deepened awareness of the possibility of healing from her emotional and mental symptoms through faith.  Jesus offered peace and forgiveness. Her hunger for truth led to her redemption, personal peace and a heartfelt passion to share her story.

Laurie’s journey of forgiveness led to a definite step of obedience to connect with the murderer of her father.  Her process of forgiveness and healing led to corresponding with Anthony, her father’s murderer. These letters are recounted in the story of God’s working in their lives through the process of forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation.

Coombs’ writing is articulate, well organized, and authentic. I came away with a deeper awareness of the emotions felt by the survivors and the bitterness evidenced in victims who have lost loved ones due to tragic circumstances. “Letters from My Father’s Murderer” is timely and relevant with an important message for the families who are grieving in response to the tragedy of crime, accidents brought about by others, and those losing loved ones while in the service of our country.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.


Families on the GallowsFamilies on the Gallows of Criminal Justice – A Local Church Response to Families in the Crisis of Incarceration

By: Roger W. Hollar

Mercy Heart, P. O. Box 163783, Fort Worth, TX 76161

978-0984429509, $ 19.95, 2010, 154 pages

Reviewed by Richard R. Blake

Mercy Heart Chapel Program – A Model for Ministry to Offenders/Ex-Offenders and Their Family Members

“Families on the Gallows of Criminal Justice” is the story of the birth of Mercy Heart, a ministry to at risk families and children of inmates. Testimonies from former inmates, their spouses, and family members tell of how they have been ministered to in areas of redemption, recovery, and restoration.

The book is divided into two sections:

Part One establishes the crisis families of the incarcerated are facing: including: The loss of income, family and friends, and the emotional and psychological issues they experience. Chapter two describes the birth of the Mercy Heart program and challenges the reader to become involved in a similar outreach ministry in their own church.

Part Two provides a model for starting a Mercy Heart Chapel Program; with action steps for establishing the ministry, enlisting and equipping volunteers, evangelism, and church planting.

On a lighter note Hollar includes some “Texas Wisdom” notes to re-enforce the important principles presented in the text. The photos provided throughout the book add a visual impact imparting an added dimension of vision and challenge.

The helpful forms included on an accompanying CD provide tools which add to the value of this manual as a continuing resource for a successful ministry.

“Families on the Gallows of Criminal Justice” is an important manual for every church and faith based ministry reaching out to families in crisis as the result having an incarcerating loved one. Highly recommended.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

Copies of the book are available through the Restorative Justice Ministries Network Store at:  http://rjmntexas.net/store.html

 

Correctional Chaplains – Keeper of the Cloak by W. Thomas Beckner – A Book Review


ImageCorrectional Chaplains – Keepers of the Cloak

By: W. Thomas Beckner

Capella Press, Orlando, Florida

978-0985107833, $ 24.95, 2012, 178 Pages

Reviewed by Richard R. Blake

Academically Relevant and Practical in Application

“Correctional Chaplains – Keepers of the Cloak” by W. Thomas Beckner is highly endorsed by leaders in Criminal Justice, Correctional Services Agencies, Educators, and Prison Chaplains.

The book is written to help the reader understand the work of the chaplaincy in present-day correctional situations and settings. Beckner begins with a brief history of the correction chaplaincy, the changing role of the chaplain, and the search for a meaningful model. He also introduces the personal, pastoral, administrative opportunity of the position. The goals and results of retribution, rehabilitation, reform, and redemption are reviewed and evaluated.

Beckner discusses psychological and social issues as the root causes that drive irrational behavioral patterns in individuals that lead to a lifestyle of poor choices resulting in criminal acts. Beckner than establishes working core principles and concepts designed for prison chaplains to be used as guidelines for serving the spiritual needs, liberating truth, and freedom from bondage. Beckner’s writing is Biblically based, academically relevant, and practical in application.

W. Thomas Beckner’s “Correctional Chaplains – Keepers of the Cloak” is an important book for chaplains both professional and lay, as well as anyone considering serving in any capacity in the corrections field.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

Copies of the book are available through the Restorative Justice Ministries Network Store at:  http://rjmntexas.net/store.html

Love in a Cauldron of Ministry – Perspectives on Christian Prison Ministry – Book Review


Love in a Cauldron of Misery_Love in a Cauldron of Misery – Perspectives on Christian Prison Ministry
By Kirk Blackard
Wipf and Stock Publishers
199 W. 8th Avenue, Suite 3
Eugene, Oregon 97401
978-1620322727, 2012, $ 21.00, 218 pages
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake, richard330@yahoo.com

A Challenging Approach to Christian Prison Ministry Today

Kirk Blackard expertly combines poignant stories, interviews, and historical background to introduce the reader to a divergence of views, opinions, and perspectives on prison reform, retribution, rehabilitation, and restoration within our country’s justice system.

The book is divided into two parts. In part one Blackard traces the historical perspectives from the Colonial days to the recent explosive growth, overcrowding and crisis found in today’s prisons. Part two presents four basic Biblical principles for prison ministry based on Jesus: teaching the Gospel by living it, fostering forgiveness, building wholeness, and encouraging restoration.

Through the expressed opinions and observations of lay ministers, inmates, theologians, ethicists, criminologists Blackard interweaves these perceptions as they relate to the myriad of problems faced by prison officials, political pressure, the incarcerated, family members of the inmates, faith based prison organizations, and the individual Christian reaching out in a ministry of love.

“Love in a Cauldron of Misery – Perspectives on Christian Prison Ministry” has opened my eyes to see the potential of the power of Christian love to bring hope, redemption, and restoration to individual men and women condemned to misery behind prison walls. I recommend the book be assigned as required reading for those considering careers in criminal justice and for Christians exploring the opportunity of ministry with state and federal prisons or in local jails.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

Copies of the book are available through the Restorative Justice Ministries Network Store at http://rjmntexas.net/store.html.

Urban Assault – The Word on the Street by JD Morgan – A Book Review


Urban Assault – The Word on the Street
By: JD Morgan
eheapress, 106 San Pablo Towne Center
San Pablo, California 94806
978-0857703, $ 15.99, 2013, 306 pages
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake

Rebuilding Relevance into the Ministry and Life of the Urban Church

Urban Assault – The Word on the Street introduces a new standard for defending the faith described by JD Morgan as the “Urban Apologetic.” In a bold proclamation, Morgan challenges the Church, its leaders, and individual members to recognize the crisis-call to evangelize the inner city.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I presents a strong case for urban evangelism, a brief history of the ‘hood, and explains how post Christian and anti-Christian influences have taken root within the “household of faith.” Morgan contends that to function as the church was intended it must “refocus, and redirect its ministries both inside and outside its walls as a conduit to salvation and to recommit ourselves as a church and as individuals to the ministry of reconciliation.”

Urban Assault – The Word on the Street is written with conviction, is credible in analysis, and provides plausible, workable solutions for making an impact on the opportunities, theological relevance, and civil responsibility. Morgan informs readers of complex root causes that have created the urban ghettos which are resulting in crisis in the inner city across America.

Morgan is a visionary, a leader, and an evangelist who has rallied around him a team of men and women dedicated to join in a movement of those who are willing to leave the safety of the sanctuary to go out into the streets and meet the people at the point of their needs. The testimonies, passions, and solutions of some of these called-out ones are included in Part II – The Calling, and in Part III – The Called.

In the late 90’s I operated a Christian bookstore in San Leandro, California. An invisible demarcation line delineated San Leandro as a suburb of urban Oakland. Geographically I was considered suburban. My passion and purpose for ministry was urban. I envisioned extending my ministry by reaching into the urban community with the Gospel message, while providing a service to individuals and the churches in both communities.
At our first meeting JD Morgan and I shared our dreams and visions across a counter in my bookstore. In the years since, I have admired James for his perseverance, for his constancy in the faith in times of adversity, and for his integrity as a minister of the Gospel.

I was humbled when asked to contribute a chapter in this book about my experiences while working behind the scenes for a faith-based organization ministering to men and women behind prison walls. I count it a privilege to have had a small part in bringing this book to fruition.

Urban Assault – The Word on the Street has an important message for every American.

Book Review: Walking Thru Hale by Angie Pelphrey


Walking Thru Hale

By: Angie Pelphrey

Yawn’s Publishing, 210 East Main Street, Canton, GA 30114

978-0981867342, $ 19.95, 2009, 300 Pages

Reviewed by Richard R. Blake

Stories of Addiction, Bondage, Incarceration, and Redemption

“Walking Thru Hale” is a beautiful compilation of over 300 short fictional and nonfiction heartfelt stories of women who discovered freedom from lives of rejection, abuse, bondage, and low self-images. Angie became addicted to prescription drugs while being treated for the excessive pain that accompanies fibromyalgia. When her addiction became greater than that which could be handled through doctor’s prescriptions, Angie found ways to steal pills from her patients.  In 2004 she was arrested and sentenced to two years in the Ohio Reformatory for Women.

The book is written with refreshing candor, transparency, and humility in a conversational style that gives the reader a sense of visiting with Angie over a cup of coffee. Her narrative allow the reader to catch the glimmer of hope in a prisoner’s eyes as they discover personal freedom from the bondage of their addictions. Angie Pelphrey tells of her own struggle with addiction, of her incarceration, and of her redemption.

The book is filled with insight into recovery, new beginnings, with devotional inspiration, personal encouragement or spiritual applications. As I read the stories of rejection, anxiety, and fear, I sensed a plea for understanding, empathy, and intercessory prayer.

Today Angie is the Recovery Administrator of New Beginnings Outreach Ministries’ Freedom Hall Recovery Center.  “Walking Thru Hale” is engaging reading made up of stories of survival in the cold, uncaring world of prison, of finding hope while incarcerated behind a razor wired fence,  and of ministering while living as a captive of prison.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Gangster to Doctor by Ray A. Ransom, PH.D.


Gangster to Doctor

By: Ray A. Ransom, PH.D.

Samson Publishing, Inc., P. O. Box 22934, West Paul Beach, FL 33416-2934, 978-0974941363, $ 13.95, 2012, 360 Pages

Reviewed by Richard R. Blake

A Powerful Story of Poverty to Riches, Crime to Prison, Purpose and Principles

“Gangster to Doctor” is Ray A. Ransom’s true life story. Ray’s story reads like a definitive novel of the south. Ray was born turning the tumultuous years of political unrest in the late 1950s. His earliest memories include discussions overheard in his home regarding racial tension, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the assassination of Malcolm X.

Overcoming unimaginable hurdles Ray became vitally influenced through his involvement in school integration in the 1960’s. Ray made a promise to his grandmother at the age of seven to become a doctor. This commitment became the driving force and Ray’s life purpose. A purpose that took turned into an amazing journey before reaching its achievement.

As a teenager Ray became a martial arts master. At age twenty Ray was already a father raising three children. A year later he was Florida’s youngest real estate broker. At the same time he was establishing himself as a man to be feared. He took upon himself a form of street justice as a result of being betrayal by trusted partners and his mistrust of law enforcement agencies.

Ray became a millionaire by his twenty-fifth birthday. A series of encounters with the law forced him out of real estate resulting in his becoming a drug-dealing gangster. In time he was on the top of the Division of Organized Crimes list, indicted on fifteen federal counts, and sentenced to serve sixteen years in prison.

During his time in prison Ray earned a B. A. degree, an MBA, and a Ph.D. degree. This fulfilled the commitment he made to his grandmother to become a doctor. Ray’s writing is engaging, written with purpose, and highly informative. He warns the reader of the results of bigotry, racism, injustice, and needed social reforms.

Today Ray draws on his life experiences to coach and educate his readers on the risks of misdirected pursuits and their consequences. Ray’s life is a testimony of the higher purpose and plan of God for Ray. During his imprisonment he changed the thousands of prisoners to follow a better path. He has contributed to prison reform, promoted proactive programs and training for at risk youth.

“Gangster to Doctor: The True Life Story of a South Florida Gangster who Became a PH. D.” is a powerful account of poverty to riches, crime to prison, purpose and principle.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: One Life Matters by Marty Angelo


Once Life Matters: A New Beginning

Marty Angelo
Impact Publishing (2006)
ISBN 0961895446
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views (5/07)

While on a roller-coaster ride of self-destruction, Marty Angelo experienced the thrills and pinnacles of success and the despair and depression of the pits of personal failure.  For fifteen years he pursued a career as a music business entrepreneur.

“Once Life Matters: A New Beginning” is his life-changing memoir. Such well-known celebrities from the music industry as Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, and Rob Grill all had a part in Marty’s rise to success as a manager and promoter.

Although outwardly successful, Angelo was searching for more, for meaning. During this fifteen-year journey he experienced the powerful hold of drugs, alcohol, and rock/disco music on his life.

In March of 1981 Angelo had reached rock bottom.  It was at this point that Marty experienced a dramatic and powerful life-changing conversion to Christianity. Since that time, he has become a strong witness of God’s saving grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

In Marty’s own words, “It took me thirty-five years, but I finally found peace through Jesus Christ. The decades of the wild life I led, along with the few times when I was close to finding the right path, weave an amazing story. I’m not proud of the many problems I created for myself–the incredibly stupid things I did–but I’m not running from them or trying to cover them up either. In fact, by telling my story here, I hope you, dear reader, can learn the lessons I learned without going through the trials and dangers I faced.”

Since his conversion in 1981, Marty has served significant roles in full-time ministry with Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship, as a counselor with Teen Challenge, and as director of evangelism and court liaison with the Faith Farm Ministries.

Angelo’s writing is engaging, entertaining, informational, and inspiring. He made himself vulnerable, exposing his weaknesses as well as his strengths.  I appreciated the no-holds-barred approach in telling his story, balancing the message of his newfound life as a follower of Christ with his experiences in the music industry and well as a glimpse into his life while serving time in the Federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky.

Marty views this book as a ministry. It is his prayer that readers will discover the truth of God’s Word and be motivated and encouraged to take a stand for God.  This is a book that will challenge hearts, offer hope, and I believe it will change lives, which is, I am sure, exactly what Marty intended it to do. I feel confident that “Once Life Matters” has that kind of potential.

As Reviewed for Reader Views

Book Review: Once Life Matters: A New Beginning By: Marty Angelo


Once Life Matters: A New Beginning

Marty Angelo
Impact Publishing (2006)
ISBN 0961895446
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views (5/07)

While on a roller-coaster  ride of self-destruction, Marty Angelo experienced the thrills and pinnacles of  success and the despair and depression of the pits of personal failure.  For fifteen years he pursued a career as a  music business entrepreneur.

“Once Life Matters: A New  Beginning” is his life-changing memoir. Such well-known celebrities from the  music industry as Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, and  Rob Grill all had a part in Marty’s rise to success as a manager and promoter.

Although outwardly  successful, Angelo was searching for more, for meaning. During this  fifteen-year journey he experienced the powerful hold of drugs, alcohol, and  rock/disco music on his life.

In March of 1981 Angelo had  reached rock bottom.  It was at this  point that Marty experienced a dramatic and powerful life-changing conversion  to Christianity. Since that time, he has become a strong witness of God’s  saving grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

In Marty’s own words, “It  took me thirty-five years, but I finally found peace through Jesus Christ. The  decades of the wild life I led, along with the few times when I was close to  finding the right path, weave an amazing story. I’m not proud of the many  problems I created for myself–the incredibly stupid things I did–but I’m not  running from them or trying to cover them up either. In fact, by telling my  story here, I hope you, dear reader, can learn the lessons I learned without  going through the trials and dangers I faced.”

Since his conversion in 1981,  Marty has served significant roles in full-time ministry with Chuck Colson’s  Prison Fellowship, as a counselor with Teen Challenge, and as director of  evangelism and court liaison with the Faith Farm Ministries.

Angelo’s writing is engaging,  entertaining, informational, and inspiring. He made himself vulnerable,  exposing his weaknesses as well as his strengths.  I appreciated the no-holds-barred approach in telling his story,  balancing the message of his newfound life as a follower of Christ with his  experiences in the music industry and well as a glimpse into his life while  serving time in the Federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky.

Marty views  this book as a ministry. It is his prayer that readers will discover the truth  of God’s Word and be motivated and encouraged to take a stand for God.  This  is a book that will challenge hearts, offer hope, and I believe it will change  lives, which is, I am sure, exactly what Marty intended it to do. I feel confident that “Once Life Matters” has that kind  of potential.

Book Review: God’s Feet are in My Sandbox by Rick Anderson


 

God’s Feet Are In My Sandbox  By: Rick Anderson

Tate Publishing & Enterprises, LLC, 127 E. Trade Center Terrace, Mustang,Oklahoma73064, 978—1617398100, $ 17.99, 2011, 226 pages

Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views (07/2011)

The Struggle to Reconciling Faith and Justice, Love and Hope

Author Rick Anderson openly chronicles his spiritual journey. His story begins as a twenty-one year old loser with an alcohol problem contemplating suicide. He goes on to candidly share the events that led to divorce and remarriage. He describes how he surrendered to preach the Gospel. He relates the experiences behind a decision to adopt a Chinese orphan, of losing his wife to breast cancer, and of later finding love again.

In my review I have tried to go beyond the information shown on the back cover of the book to alert the potential reader that much of the story leads up to the highlights of his ministry on Death Row. For other readers, the subtitle “Faith Chronicles of a Texas Death Row Chaplain” may lead to similar expectations.

Rick tells of his experiences as a Chaplain ministering to condemned men on Death Row at the Polunsky Unit of aTexasprison.  He details the events that led to his being made a scapegoat by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in their effort to place blame on him for an embarrassing death threat against a Texas State Senator which was posted on the internet.

I personally was drawn intoAnderson’s narrative right from the beginning. The prologue beautifully explains the basis of the title “God’s Feet Are In My Sandbox.” I also was very impressed with the wayAndersonintroduced encouraging words from the Psalms and other selected scripture passages that added spiritual insight and encouragement, promise, and inspiration to the incidents of the preceding narrative.

Many readers will appreciate the clarity with whichAndersonpresents the Gospel message. Other readers may be looking for more detailed insight into the role, duties, and policies applicable to prison chaplaincy. Anderson draws attention to on going discipline practices often prevalent behind the scenes in the prison environment, of the need for prison reform, restorative justice, and into the ongoing debate regarding the death penalty.

I have been moved again to re-examine God’s involvement in the “Sand Box” of my life.