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Book review – Stones of Remembrance in the Garden of Our Lives: One Family’s Experiences of the Faithfulness of God

Mission Round Table 18:2 (Jul-Sep 2023): 7

To read articles in this edition, visit this post on Mission Round Table 18:2.

Reviewed by Neel Roberts

Stones of Remembrance in the Garden of our Lives is two autobiographies in one. Before Elsie Purnell died of cancer in 2005, she told her life story to one of her caregivers who carefully wrote it down. Beginning with this manuscript, Herb Purnell was able to weave her story together with his own in a well-joined manner, hers being set off in italics. For those who have studied Thai, Northern Thai, or the Iu Mien languages, Stones of Remembrance introduces us to Herb who helped develop language learning materials—which are still used today—while actively ministering to these three groups for over half a century. Those who are involved with Third Culture Kids (TCKs) or who are TCKs themselves may naturally want to get to know Elsie Purnell who contributed so much to the development of tools and ministries to enhance the lives of TCKs, adult TCKs, and the parents of TCKs.

Stones of Remembrance reveals just how multifaceted their lives were. Elsie was at one time gathering a bouquet of flowers and presenting them to a queen. At another time, she was washing baby bottles for Cambodian refugee mothers. She displayed the same spontaneity of action in both cases. Herb was as comfortable studying Mien vocabulary in a bamboo hut in a Northern Thailand forest as he was teaching in a university. One also discovers just how different Herb and Elsie were from each other. Gradually, the reader perceives that their great faith in God and their high degree of mutual respect enabled them to come to agreement time after time on how they as a couple and a family were to move forward to fulfill God’s purposes for them. In fact, the book presents a case study of how one couple perceived that God guided them through Scripture, sermons, events, books, seemingly coincidental meetings with other people, and the advice and counsel that they often sought out from other Christians.

Trenton, GA: BookLocker.com, 2022. ISBN 979-8885310963. 492 pp.

Their raising of four children adds numerous unexpected twists and turns to their stories. These are never seen as distractions from their work, but rather as signs from God that he had new plans for their lives. Their individual responses to a great family tragedy were quite different and they recognized that they needed to deal with it in different ways, while at the same time being mutually supportive.

Stones of Remembrance does not tell you how to be a happy couple, or successful missionaries, or how to raise your children, or how to deal with sickness, pain, and grief. It is much better than that. It tells us, in their own words, how one couple, by God’s grace, was enabled to do those things. The book is full of thankfulness to God and to all whom God used to bless them. At the same time, it refuses to hide the fact that life may be clouded with sorrows and that not all our questions or griefs will be laid to rest before we are. I unreservedly recommend Stones of Remembrance.

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