23 May 2017

Book Review: Swazi Sunrise by Donna Chapman Gilbert

Amazing True-Life Story

Swazi Sunrise is the story of missionaries Lula Glatzel and Harmon Schmelzenbach. They left America in 1907, bound for southern Africa on what must have felt like a one-way trip into the great unknown. But they both believed God had called them to minister to the African people, despite the distance and the likely hardships.

The first quarter of the story follows their sea journey to Africa via Southampton, England, and the development of their relationship. I knew from the Acknowledgements before Chapter One that Lula and Harmon were going to get married, and that they were pioneering missionaries to Swaziland (a small African kingdom just north of South Africa). This meant the first quarter was a little slow, as I was waiting for what I knew would happen (and I say that as someone who loves a good romance novel).

The pace picked up in the second quarter as Lula and Harmon arrive in Africa, marry, and journey to what will become their African home. Aspects of their story weren’t unlike stories of pioneers in America or other countries—endless travel in a covered wagon, geographic isolation, food shortages, lack of medical care, and general deprivation. Lula and Harmon bore all their hardships with good grace, knowing they were doing the work they had been called to.

The best part of this story is that it’s based on fact.

Lula and Harmon were real people, and their faith and legacy is inspiring. They toiled tirelessly, through threats and turmoil, including attacks on their property. The insight into Swazi culture was fascinating, especially the parallels between their beliefs and the Christian faith.

I was saddened when I read about some of the African customs, like not breastfeeding a baby for the first four days of life—we now know that’s the most important time, because the milk is full of antibodies and essential nutrients.

But I laughed when Harmon was complaining about “those awful avocado pears.” I love avocado, although I know they are an acquired taste, and would have been even more so when Harmon was in Swaziland (and they are also full of important nutrients).

The writing wasn’t necessarily as strong as in some novels I read, but this was more than made up for by the compelling true-life story. Recommended.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can read the introduction to Swazi Sunrise below:

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