|T'S RARE THAT I read a book through from cover to cover in one sitting. |
But there was something so intensely compelling and readable about "The Last of the Wagon Pioneers" by John and Patty Probst that I couldn't put down.
The book is the first in the seven part "The Strangers and Pilgrims Series," that follows the lives of four generations of the Trevor family. A web site promotional for the series reads, "Their life experiences run the full spectrum of human emotion drawing the reader into a deep involvement with this family-even following them in death into the very heart of heaven where mysteries and questions of their life lived are finally answered."
In "The Last of the Wagon Pioneers," I met Farmer Trevor, a very likeable fellow who knows that his destiny was more than forever being a farmer in the town of his birth. Despite being discouraged by his father, he dreamed for years of moving to a new part of America.
However, unlike many people who never live out their dream, Farmer risks everything and takes the plunge. As the back of the book reads, "Taking his two small children and his wife, Emile, across dangerous terrain, Farmer embarks on a journey beyond his wildest imagination. He holds a worn piece of paper promising a new life and a claim to Section 9 of an Oregon homestead ... As the last of the Wagon Pioneers, the Trevor family must rely on their faith in God, the love of a family, and a horse drawn ... wagon to make the journey."
Farmer Trevor and his family successfully navigate across America and start living out Farmer's dream. And in Book 2 of the series, titled "A Place For Farmer and Emile (and which I am still reading)," we find that Farmer and his family quickly grow to love their new home.
The book cover reads, "Happy days are filled with friends, visiting family and precious moments in their newly found church. The homesteaders have created a bond that far surpasses earthly friendships. The Lord has truly blessed them. But dark days lie ahead. The Great Depression followed by a terrible war strike at the very heart of Farmer and Emile's faith. The world has become an evil enemy that threatens to separate family and rip them apart. Can they survive? Will happier times ever return?"
Well into book two, I was deeply involved in the life of Farmer Trevor and his family and was shocked at its surprise ending. It deeply impacted me, and I don't mind admitting that I cried while reading it. But one of the hallmarks of good writing (both fiction and non fiction) is that you are able to identify with the characters about whom you are reading. You feel their joy and sorrow and both rejoice and weep with them - and that's exactly what I did. With that in mind, I recommend you get hold of both books and enjoy an inspirational and emotionally moving read.
How "Strangers and Pilgrims" Began
I was curious about how the series came about, so I asked John and Patty what made them write the books and how long it took.
In an e-mail interview they said that in the mid 1990's the Lord directed them to write a series of seven novels, which they titled "The Strangers and Pilgrims Series." The title was taken from the Bible verse of Hebrews 11:13 ("All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth." New Living Translation).
The Probsts told me that they wanted the first book to set the stage for the rest of the series, and the remaining six books "were to involve shifts from the physical to the spiritual realm."
They said, "We had done a few television and movie scripts, but writing novels (like this) was definitely uncharted territory for us, and to be honest a bit scary."
The Probsts added, "We knew we must totally rely upon God to not only sharpen our writing skills, but also give us the necessary stories and images for the series. The incredible work that God has done on our lives and in this project can only truly be seen in the pages of the books. Each book has taken a year to write the first draft, then another six months for editing and rewrites."
I wondered if the Probsts if they had maintained a particular writing schedule.
John said that while most of what he and his wife have done in ministry has been accomplished "on a wing and a prayer, I write best in the evening and at night. Many of the ideas and images come to me in the middle of the night and when the Lord was really moving inspiration down to the depths of my soul, I could write two or three chapters in one evening. Patty is great with research and editing! She has had such a vital part with her insights-especially with the female characters."
I asked the Probsts about initial reader reaction to the books.
John said, "The characters have become like family to many of the readers ... We are hearing that even hardened individuals who wouldn't pick up a Bible are reading our books and receiving the messages of the stories. This becomes a stepping stone to Christ, and to His Word."
Reader comment about the books published on the Probst web site was impressive.
One person wrote, "I just finished 'A Place for Farmer & Emile' ... I was nearing the last chapters ... The emotion I felt was overwhelming and I started crying and had to (lay) it down lest they throw me out of the restaurant. Wow, what a powerful book! I saw so much of God's power in the whole thing ... Praise God for writers that send such a powerful message to the urgency of speaking to the lost. I can hardly wait to read the next one! God bless and keep that pen going."
Another person wrote, "Your ending of 'A Place for Farmer & Emile' totally threw me! Now I can't figure where you will go with the third book."
I wondered what John and Patty want these books to accomplish in the lives of both Christians and non Christians.
They said, "God gave us a mission with a message. That message is, 'Heaven and hell are real, and not everyone is going to heaven.'
However, John said, there's a problem. It's that man tries to make his own ideas about heaven and hell in spite of God's clearly laid out requirements about what it takes to get to heaven.
He said, "In these last days I believe that the Lord wants to give us a glimpse of what He has for the believer in a simple heart warming story. 'A Place for Farmer and Emile' lets the reader take a journey into that wonderful place called paradise. It is there that incidents which have been concealed or a mystery in this life becomes clear. Purposes of chance meetings, conversations, consequences of decisions and actions in this life are all revealed. For the most part people are too busy living to think about dying, but I believe God wants us to think about the place we are going after we die."
He added, "What if God means what He says? What if the Bible is true? What if there is a real heaven and hell?"
The Probsts added, "Hollywood has done a dismal job of portraying heaven! Either everyone goes there, or we get second chances, or we go as a different person, none of which is scriptural. If Hollywood boldly places these kinds of ideas and images on the screen, then why can't Christians present a Biblical one? When Christ wanted to explain a truth He used stories. This is what we see as God's purpose with this series, presenting the spiritual realm in story form."
The description of heaven you'll read in the book comes from much prayer, John said. "When the Lord set us on this course, we determined we would not read any material from other authors. We desired that everything about the spiritual realm would come through prayer from the Holy Spirit and the Bible so all the credit goes to Him."
If you buy John and Patty's books, I know you won't be sorry. They're a well written, inspirational and encouraging read and in addition to reminding you about America's past, will help keep you focused on what lies ahead.
To buy "Strangers and Pilgrims," go to www.johnpattybooks.com.
Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City: A Call to Service." Additional details about "Homeless" are available at http://www.HomelessBook.com He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
More columns by Jeremy Reynalds