A Boy's War by David Michell (OMF International, 1988)
In 2010, revelations of unspeakable abuse of missionary children at not one but two West African boarding schools only confirmed my intense belief that missions organizations sinned greatly against the very families that gave everything to serve with them, by expecting—often requiring—parents to send their children away to boarding school at a very young age. After all, isn't one of the (multiple) lessons of the Old Testament story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, the counter-cultural message that God does not ask parents to sacrifice their children, but himself provides the sacrifice? How did the organizations dare preach Jesus Christ while demanding sacrifices to Moloch? I'm not talking about high school-aged children who chose to go to boarding school for the sake of a better education and preparation for college, but little ones, as young as six, whose education would have been better accomplished at home with their parents. I daresay the parents' missionary work would have benefitted as well, as the native peoples would have more easily accepted them as fellow human beings as they watched them interacting as families.
Granted, there are many excellent boarding schools. My quarrel is not with families who choose this as the best educational option for their children, but with the missions that mandated the practice. Why did the organizations rip children away from their parents in the name of God, and why did their parents put up with it? It was a long time before I came up with a theory: it may be because so many missions organizations have their roots in England, and other countries where sending small children off to boarding school was standard practice, a historical and cultural given.
God can redeem even the worst situation, and for a moving example, read A Candle in the Darkness, an article by Wess Stafford, president of Compassion International, who transformed his boarding school tortures into a life-long determination to stand up for children who cannot speak for themselves.
But A Boy's War is not about that kind of boarding school. It's about the amazing resilience of children, who can thrive and even have a great deal of fun under very difficult circumstances if they are supported by those who provide love and a semblance of stability. David Michell was the son of Australian missionaries to China, one of many children sent off at the age of six to the far-away Chefoo School of the China Inland Mission. A few years later, Japanese invaders had taken the entire school captive, and eventually the students, teachers, and staff ended up at the infamous Weihsien Concentration Camp, where Olympic champion Eric Liddell died and is buried.
This is the story of heroic teachers and other school personnel, who managed to create for the children in their care something remarkably resembling normal life—including a good education—under circumstances of incarceration, overcrowding, filth, hunger, and ever-present fear, disease, and death. Told from the boys' point of view, the loving sacrifices of the adults are more implicit than graphic, and there's nothing inappropriate for children to read. The book is short, under 200 pages, and the vocabulary unchallenging. Unfortunately, however, it seems that the author was primarily writing for adults: the story is not told in a way calculated to grab the interest of a child. Otherwise, my copy would already be on its way to our eight-year-old adventure-story reader. We'll see how he does with God's Smuggler, first.