Side by Side
By Jana Kelley
New Hope, 2015
In the dusty, Islamic country of Sudan, Mia's life collides with that of another young woman.
A young Christian American mother, Mia finds more than one dark secret on the streets of Khartoum. She finds Halimah, a young, upper-class Arab student with a bright future in her family's business whose risky and secretive decision has put her life in danger. What happens when the path of young mother intersects with that of a spunky Sudanese student? God transforms them both . . . forever.
Part of New Hope® Publishers' contemporary missional fiction line, Side by Side opens the reader's eyes to the life of Muslims in Sudan as well as some of the struggles that Christians face when living under Islamic law. The reader will be inspired to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith as well as pray for the salvation of those who persecute.
Side by Side is an unusual story, filled with hope, entertaining and compelling at the same time. In writing fiction that is inspired by real-life events, Jana Kelley fleshes out characters and scenes drawn from her 13 years in North Africa and the Middle East, bringing to life events that most of us only hear about in the news. Side by Side speaks to us with its powerful message, raises awareness of the persecuted church, and I don't see how anyone could not be impacted in some way by this story.
Jana has a writing style that flows easily across the page and her love for the Muslim people shines throughout. I appreciated the realism Jana conveys - all the way from barbaric Muslim customs, such as the practices of female circumcision or stoning a son/daughter to regain family honor, to cultural glimpses of joyful celebrations, family meals, and the forming of unlikely relationships.
The storylines of Mia and Halimah run simultaneously until their paths eventually cross. It's so easy to relate to Mia as a missionary because, while she and her husband came to Sudan with the goal of helping people, she makes mistakes, experiences spiritual warfare, finds that she and Michael are pulling apart, and wonders if coming there was a mistake. Halimah, an Arab student from a strong Muslim family, is pursuing an accounting degree so she can work in her father's business - yet she is secretly reading a Bible and has more courage than most of us could imagine.
It is so uplifting to journey with Halimah as, with great personal risk, she seeks truth through the Scriptures and connects with a small community of Christians. The contrast between works and the beauty of grace is vividly shown. And who of us, thinking back to when we first came to know Christ, can't identify with Halimah's emotions: "She was in love: in love with Jesus and in love with His children."
Mia's situation calls to mind the phrase, "for such a time as this," for Mia was ready and willing to be used when Halimah needed help. In a country where conversion to Christianity is illegal and punishment severe, both Mia and Halimah faced danger, and I couldn't help but reflect on what I would have done in either of their situations. Would the cost be too great?
Jana has done a wonderful job conveying spiritual truths through her work of fiction. Imperfect as we may be, God can and will still use us. And even in the darkest of places, God is constantly drawing people to Himself.
At the back of the book, Jana writes that many people in the Muslim world today have similar experiences to Halimah's - and as a result of reading Side by Side, the Muslim people are on my heart and I am more committed than ever before to praying for them and for those who share Christ with them.
Jana says that she wanted "to write a story that would grab the hands and hearts of women in both of my worlds and bring them together" - and I believe she has done just that with Side by Side. I hope we see more from all the characters in this book. Highly recommended to all readers.
Meet Jana online at www.janakelley.com, Facebook, and Twitter
Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review, and also for this giveaway.
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Congratulations to our winner, Jackie McNutt! I hope you find this book as enjoyable and moving as I did, Jackie.