Along with making cookie dough to eat with no intention of baking it, one of my secret joys is reading children’s books. Well-written children’s books can transport you to places you’ve never been. They can teach you while delighting you. One of my favorites is Titus, A Comrade of the Cross. The book was selected as a winner for a writing contest in the 1800s. The contest was for a book that could most set a child’s heart on fire for Christ. It does just that for a reader of any age in a very compelling way.
Strong: How God Equipped 11 Ordinary Men with Extraordinary Power (and Can Do the Same for You) by Catherine Parks is one of my new favorite children’s books. In her work, Parks gives a short, accessible biography for 11 men in history. Some are known and some unknown, but they were all ordinary men strengthened by God for what they were called to do. The men on these pages recognized they needed God’s power (xiii). True strength isn’t a lack of tears when hurt, mere physical ability, or being able to do things alone. Strength comes from outside of us. It comes from our Creator. And Parks reminds the reader that the same God who strengthened these men can strengthen you too. Here are a few highlights from stories told in the book:
Alvin York: Generosity
Alvin York demonstrated a strength of generosity. He grew up in the late 1800s in Tennessee. He was a drunkard and a gambler who fought regularly. Through his reckless youth, he had a faithful mother who prayed for him. He came to know Christ, and his life radically changed. During World War 1, surrounded by German fire with seven of their 18 men dead, York, as the highest-ranking soldier, found himself in charge. With only eight soldiers and very little gun fire, York captured 132 German soldiers. You’ll have to read it to believe it.
He trusted God and walked faithfully in a difficult situation. God protected him and honored his courage and conviction. After those events, he was a hero put in the spotlight. He received many offers for money, but he wasn’t interested in personal gain. He decided to use the proceeds to build a school so kids in his community could receive a good education, an opportunity he didn’t have in his youth. Despite his fame, he lived simply and helped others. “He was a normal man who knew God had given him much so that he could use it to serve those around him” (13).
Elka of the Wai Wai: Standing alone
Elka of the Wai Wai shows the strength of standing alone. He was the leader of an indiginous people group in South America. As a witch doctor, he was imprisoned by fear until he heard the gospel. Elka’s life is very different from those of us that live in the states, but we share the same great Savior and faithful God. As I read his story, I was challenged, and I was led to praise the God of every tongue, tribe, and nation. His story depicts progressive sanctification. Just like me, “He discovered that following Jesus didn’t mean he would become perfect overnight. He had to choose to obey each day and to confess his sin when he failed” (83).
George Liele: Compassion
George Liele demonstrated a strength of compassion. Born into slavery, Liele was taught to read and write by his slave owners. He attended church, but believed he could only be loved by God if he did good things. But he submitted his life to God. His story will challenge those who have grown up in the church or in cultural Christianity to consider the gospel again.
Liele had a talent for teaching and was ordained as the first black pastor in the Baptist church in America. He preached to both white and black members in his church. He was freed by his master in 1776 and later moved his family to Jamaica and started preaching the gospel there. He was thrown in jail while there for preaching the gospel to slaves, but he was released and went right on preaching. He was the first known Baptist missionary, taking the gospel to Jamaica 10 years before William Carey went to India. He “left a legacy of slaves and former slaves who knew freedom and rest in Jesus Christ because of his faithful teaching” (149).
More faithful men throughout history
In addition to these, the reader will learn of the strength of sacrificial love in missionary and martyr Jim Elliot’s life. They will learn of the strength of endurance from Jackie Robinson, who amidst fierce discrimation, used his athletic ability to seek the good of other African-Americans. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s courage is shown as he, a pastor in Nazi Germany, took a stand against Adolph Hitler. George Müller’s life demonstrates a strength of faith as he trusted God to provide so much so that he and a number of orphans sat down to breakfast with no food in the house. They prayed, and the doorbell rang. God provided milk and bread in surprising ways.
Brother Andrew’s strength in obedience is seen as he took the Bible to people in different countries. Eric Liddell teaches the reader how to know what matters. He served the Lord as an olympic athlete, a missionary to China, and a prisoner of war during World War 2. He lived for what mattered. John Newton showed strength in his godly ambition. As a former slave trader-turned-preacher, Newton helped abolish slavery in England. William Carey demonstrates a strength in humility through his faithful service in India. Known as the father of modern missions, William Carey told a friend, “Mr. Duff, you have been speaking of Dr. Carey; when I am gone, say nothing about Dr. Carey—speak about Dr. Carey’s Saviour” (134).
Each biography has a picture, quote, story, questions, and a verse. There are also one-page summaries at the end of the book for each of the men’s lives. The structure of the book makes it useful for reading alone, for use in a group of 8–11 year old boys, or for a family to read together. It deals with important and sometimes complex issues like persecution, racism, conviction, obedience, sin, reconciliation, confession, and more in an age-appropriate way that will lead to fruitful discussions between young men and Christian parents or leaders in their life. It also helps expose kids to other cultures and what others may experience that they don’t.
We all need heros, whether we are 8 or 80. And we need to understand true strength. This book will be a resource, delight, and encouragement to boys, girls, women, and men of all ages. In an age where there is much confusion about gender, this book gives strong examples of men while not stereotyping or overcategorizing. It was for me. So mix up a batch of cookie dough, and dig into this book. You won’t regret it.