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A Twist of Faith: An American Christian’s Quest to Help Orphans in Africa, by John Donnelly, Beacon Press, Boston, 2012
John Donnelly is a veteran reporter who has spent many years writing on the subject of AIDS and particularly AIDS in Africa. Twist of Faith came about because of his interest in the many faith groups in Africa who were dealing with the pandemic, but not showing up in official statistics and reports.
A Twist of Faith is the story of one man, David Nixon, who is on a mission from God to do all that he can to help children in Malawi, one of the poorest African nations, and among one of the nations hardest hit by AIDS. The book recounts Nixon’s experiences over a period of about seven years, from his arrival as a naive young man full of energy to one who has grown much wiser, but no less passionate in his desire to provide a future for the children in and around the area of Malawi where the school he helped build is located. We also get to see the challenges to Nixon’s faith that arise from trying to find the best way to help the children.
One thing that sets this book apart from a lot of others, is that we get to see glimpses into Nixon’s life, from his childhood right up until present day. As a result we get to relate Nixon’s actions to his own upbringing, to his relationship with church leadership and his own personality. Donnelly neither takes Nixon’s faith at face value, nor does he go out of his way to be skeptical about what Donnelly believes. Rather, by and large, he leaves the reader to make their own decisions.
The main method Donnelly uses to allow the reader to evaluate Nixon’s approach to life, and to helping orphans is to place it within the context of other efforts both governmental and non-governmental. This allows the readers to comprehend some of the complexities and nuances of trying to help provide a better future for the AIDS orphans of Africa. You may not agree with Donnelly’s views on orphans and orphanages, but you will be better informed about them by books end.
This book is a good primer for anyone who’s heart is broken by the plight of orphans, but doesn’t know what to do about it. After reading A Twist of Faith, you will hopefully ask yourself, why do I want to help? How can I help, and most importantly how can I make sure that what I do actually helps? Thankfully, this book allows the reader to learn from Nixon’s own experience and to allow that to inform their decisions.
As a priest, I would particularly recommend this book to anybody considering doing short or long-term mission work. It might save a lot of grief along the way.