Under Their Very Eyes (by Deborah Meroff with Tom Hamblin)

Some years ago, Tom Hamblin and his wife Edna were missionaries based in Cyprus. They travelled extensively, but we met them a few times. I had the privilege of hearing Tom speak more than once. He’s one of the few people I've come across who could talk for an hour or more, leaving the audience wanting more. It wasn’t just the incidents he described - which in themselves were often eye-opening - but his relaxed and engaging style. Tom has no website, but this is a video of him speaking at a church, a couple of years ago.

So when we learned that he had published his memoirs, in conjunction with the journalist and writer Deborah Meroff, we immediately ordered a copy for ourselves, and one for a friend who had been asking about Tom. The book sat on my to-read shelf for a few months, but I finally picked it up a couple of weeks ago.

After a foreword and introduction, chapter 1 of the book launches straight into a typical encounter Tom had at an airport. He had 100 kg excess baggage: all Bibles, in Arabic, which he was planning to take to a Middle Eastern country. The officials in Cyprus wanted to charge him thousand of dollars to do so… then someone in Arab garb waved him through.

There are many such stories of what can only be termed miracles over the years when Tom and Edna’s mission was to take Bibles - or New Testaments - in local languages into many countries around the world. They never tried to smuggle them; they were always open about what they were carrying. Many people were praying for them, and on occasions they were refused, or had temporary problems. But the vast majority of the time, they were allowed through, even welcomed.

The stories themselves are astounding, evidence of God’s call to Tom and Edna, and provision for their safety. Through these two ordinary people, extraordinary things happened. There are stories of divine encounters with people longing for Bibles in their language, or secret believers who had heard about Jesus on the radio. Tom takes no credit for himself; he was just one tool in God’s plan to reach out to countries where Christians are in the minority, or even persecuted.

And yet, at first, I found myself a tad disappointed in the book. Somehow it doesn’t portray the excitement that came across in Tom’s sermons or talks. I suppose that’s inevitable; when he was speaking, he would often talk extemporaneously, or adjust what he planned depending on the mood or feedback of his listeners, or the prompt of the Holy Spirit. A book is fixed in time, intending to tell the story in ways that can be understood by as many people as possible.

But I kept reading. I was interested in the brief background Tom gives, telling a little about his harsh, sometimes abusive childhood, and where he met Edna. There’s not a great deal about their family life, but enough to give a little flavour of them as people. The chronology is a tad confusing at times, but that’s because each chapter focuses on one topic, rather than a specific period.

Names are sometimes changed in the book, for the sake of the individual's safety, and in some cases Tom doesn’t even name the country concerned. But most of the time, the stories are told openly, mentioning trials and dangers as well as some of the incredible successes of his ministry.

I would recommend this to anyone interested in Tom’s life as an itinerant missionary; he has impacted millions around the globe.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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