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CONVERSATIONS WITH THE VOICELESS: Finding God's Love in Life's Hardest Questions
John Wessells
Christian Living
ISBN: 0310257662

This small book is not an autobiography. John Wessells reveals nothing about his childhood. And of his youth? One sentence mentions a football scholarship-funding dream destroyed by a knee injury. And we learn that he became a Christian in his mid-twenties.

Rather, in eight anecdotal chapters, the book takes us into the world of John Wessells's therapeutic ministry of music, prayer, and Scripture reading in long-term care facilities for patients with traumatic head injuries --- all severely disabled, some in deep comas. Can they hear him? If so, can they understand his message, of God's love and John's worshipful praise, as he strums a guitar and sings at their bedside? These well-crafted personal stories whisper --- or occasionally shout --- yes, yes. There's even a story of "a man who once could not speak but who now says he became a Christian while in a coma," as a result of John's witness.

I don't know when I've read such a helpful and hopeful nonfiction book that does not skirt the hard questions asked by people suffering tragic loss of dreams, such as the woman, introduced late in the book, whose face "had the familiar look of a parent whose child has suffered a coma. It's a mixture of bewilderment and desperation." John's very presence seems to engender hope, and ultimately he realizes that might be the point of his ministry: "If you just go and sit with these people, it's enough. God can work through that....

"You don't even need to be strong yourself. [God] works through your caring and listening." And singing.

Here is help and hope --- but not without a pointed challenge. "Why is it so much easier to care about causes than about people?" He relates a telling experience of Christians outside a facility picketing against a parent's legal decision to remove a girl's feeding tube. He later learned that "despite all the protesters who had once shown concern for her, no one had ever returned to show similar concern for the other forty or more brain-injured patients who remained there."

As I read, I wished for more calendar signposts. The account (near the end of the book) of the death, from cancer, of John's four-year-old son in 1994 was the only story grounded by a specific year-date.

The book's title, CONVERSATIONS WITH THE VOICELESS, refers to lessons John has learned from the suffering, sometimes even silent, people he's met, including his son, who seemed uncannily aware of heaven. John Samuel "looked forward to a better place --- even while living fully in the place he was in.

"I believe that's the hope for all of us who want to listen to the voiceless. Nothing may change in our circumstances, or in the circumstances of those we love. But it is still possible ... to live with eternity in our eyes and hearts. And that changes everything."

   --- Reviewed by Evelyn Bence

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