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Book review – The Axe and the Tree: How Bloody Persecution Sowed the Seeds of New Life in Zimbabwe

Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No. 3 (Sep-Dec 2017): 40

Reviewed by David Harley

Having lived in Africa, Asia and Europe, David Harley and his wife Rosemary have expertise and experience in a variety of areas within Christian work. David has served as Principal at All Nations Christian College (1985 to 1993) and as General Director of OMF International (2001 to 2006). He studied at Cambridge University and holds doctorates in missiology from Columbia University in the USA and the University of Utrecht in Holland. He is the author of several books, including Preparing to Serve and Missionary Training. Since his retirement, David has continued to minister through speaking and preaching around the world.

On the night of June 23rd 1978, eight British missionaries and four of their children were massacred in an isolated mission school in Vumba, Northern Zimbabwe. This book tells the story of the events leading to this massacre, the response of the mission community, and the subsequent impact of this tragedy on the growth of the church in Zimbabwe.

From one perspective it is not an easy book to read, for it speaks of the heartbreak of those who lost friends and colleagues, and of their struggle to understand the purposes of a sovereign and loving God. At the same time it is an inspiring book, providing as it does a model of faith, love, and perseverance. Peter and Brenda Griffiths, who built up this mission school, were not present on the day of the massacre, but had to cope with its aftermath. They believed that forgiveness was the only appropriate Christian response to what had happened. Through their willingness to forgive and their determination to persevere in their God-given calling, they were able to play a critical role in the development of the Elim Church over the next thirty years. The most poignant moment in the book describes the impact on those who committed this atrocity of the message of forgiveness in Christ and the willingness of Christians to forgive.

This book is based on many years of study and meticulous research. It is a significant contribution to the history of Christian mission and provides a vivid illustration of the tensions faced by Christians living under persecution and caught up in a war of liberation. The author is not afraid to address the difficult political and theological questions raised by this tragedy.

Many people can write. A few have exceptional descriptive powers. Steve Griffiths is one. Every chapter reflects the mood and tensions of the period about which he writes. Many passages evoke the beauty of southern Africa in which he grew up. This book is well written, informative, and inspiring. I found it challenging and informative. It moved me to tears. It may do the same to you.

The Axe and the Tree: How Bloody Persecution Sowed the Seeds of New Life in Zimbabwe
By Stephen Griffiths
Oxford, UK: Monarch, 2017

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