Published by EP books – 2014. 115 pages
John Caldwell is a teacher on the Isle of Skye and a ministry assistant for Bracadale and Portree Free Church congregations. This small book is his testimony. Brought up in a typical West of Scotland housing scheme, John’s story is, as the blurb at the back of the book says, “the story of a young man’s deliverance from a lifestyle of desperation and delinquency to a new life of freedom and hope”. You might have the feeling that having read one ‘rags to spiritual riches’ story, you have read them all. There is a certain degree of cynicism that creeps in. However I loved this wee book. I would put it on a par with Mez McConnell’s Is there anybody out there?. Both are books which illustrate graphically both the desperate need that exist in our poorest housing schemes, and the way in which the gospel wonderfully meets those needs. This is the real deal.
John writes very well. He tells his story without being overdramatic and in a way which many people could relate to. His analysis of the culture is spot-on.“ the type of religion that many families experience in the West of Scotland is more a case of ignoring God than it is faith in God. His existence is sort of assumed, perhaps taken for granted, but he is expected to remain on the outskirts of our lives only to be called upon (or cursed) in times of trouble.” (p38)
His understanding and explanation of what was happening to him as God began to work in his life is wonderful. “ although I did not understand it at the time, I now know that God was opening my eyes to see the beauty of Jesus and one of the first ways I began to see his glory was in the creation. The whole world seemed like a massive signpost pointing to a creator God.” (Page 56)
I think one of the things that often discourages me about these kind of books is the unrealistic hopes and expectations which they put across. You know the kind of thing – “I was a miserable axe wielding, nun murdering scumbag and then I met Jesus and since then life has been absolutely wonderful all the day in every way”. What I love about this story is John’s realism – “Becoming a Christian did not immediately set me on a path of peace and rest. If anything, it launched me into a war. There was a battle going on, and I felt my life being pulled into opposite directions.” (Page 65)
Another aspect I loved was just simply the beautiful love of Jesus Christ, which absolutely shines through. if the mark of a good testimony book is that it leaves you giving thanks for Jesus Christ, rather than admiring the person whose story is is, then Christ the cross and the concrete jungle is a superb book!
“Another factor which enabled me to witness effectively to people was the deep compassion that God had put in my heart for folk who were in desperate circumstances. I felt suffering. Members of the Salvation Army once complained to William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, that they had tried every possible method to reach a particular group of people, and every attempt had failed. Booth replied, ‘try tears”? In other words, our hearts must be gripped by empathy for those who are suffering.” (Page 79)
There are very few books that I keep in my study at the church in order to be able to give to people. This has now joined that elite group. I have 20 sitting on my desk, and I will be disappointed if I do not share them with people within a year. Highly recommended. Get one to read for yourself, and get one to give to a friend. How I long for the day when John’s story will be just one of many thousands, as the good news is proclaimed in Scotland schemes.