25 May 2008

Once Blind by Kay Strom with interview

Once Blind
The life of John Newton
by Kay Marshall Strom
Authentic Publishers/January 2008
ISBN: 978-1-934068-27-4/
250 pages/softcover/

Gripping Biography Opens Readers Eyes
to Horrors of 21st-Century Slavery

Kay Strom’s new release exposes atrocities of modern-day slavery
by exploring compelling legacy of John Newton

“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.” – William Wilberforce
Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX—Today, over two hundred years after John Newton struggled alongside William Wilberforce to bring an end to the African slave trade, three times as many people around the world are living as slaves. When the first abolition bill passed in 1807, four million people were enslaved; today the number is estimated at twelve million. In the new biography, Once Blind (Authentic Publishers), author Kay Marshall Strom skillfully employs the legacy of John Newton to call attention to 21st-century slavery throughout the world.

After years of research into the former slave ship captain’s letters, treatises, journals, and church archives, Strom has penned a riveting biographical narrative of Newton, a broken and desperate man whose stirring hymn, “Amazing Grace,” has testified to millions of his transformation from the worst of the worst to a ringing voice for God. His personal accounts of the slave trade and piercing cry for abolition, along with the work of his friend William Wilberforce, helped turn the heart of a nation against the African slave trade to bring it to an end. Once Blind draws readers into Newton’s life in an engaging way few biographies can. Readers are introduced to his troubled childhood, his forced service to the Royal Navy, and God’s pursuit of Newton with relentless love and amazing grace. Newton once told Wilberforce, “There are two things I know in my life. I am a great sinner and Christ is a great savior.”

Strom is convinced her poignant account of John Newton’s fight against slavery two centuries ago is a very relevant call to action for believers today. “Slavers today don’t sail the high seas with chained captives packed into the holds of their ships like in the days of John Newton,” Strom writes. “And they certainly don’t march the slaves out to auction blocks behind the post office and sell them to the highest bidder. Yet when people are owned as property, bought and sold, physically punished for not working hard enough, locked up so they can’t leave, and thrust into deplorable or dehumanizing work conditions, then, whatever they’re called, they are slaves… Never have we needed John Newton’s legacy more than today!”

Unexplainably, most people are completely ignorant of the gruesome details of present-day slavery:

• Forcing a woman or girl into commercial sex, especially one under eighteen, is one of the most common forms of human trafficking today—rampant especially in Eastern Europe, Asia, India, and Nepal.
• Millions of people are enslaved as bonded laborers, especially in India.
• About 218 million children between the ages of five and seventeen are trapped in child labor, according to the International Labor Organization.
• As many as 300,000 child soldiers are presently forced into over thirty areas of conflict/war around the world.
• The U.S. government estimates that between 15,000 and 18,000 domestic and sex workers are trafficked into America each year and then tricked into working for little or no pay.

“Bringing awareness to modern-day slavery is my passion,” states Strom. “I have done extensive traveling and writing and have seen firsthand the individual faces of suffering in India, Sudan, and Nepal. We as Christians have stepped back from ‘doing justice and loving mercy’ like the Bible commands, when we should be in the forefront. As I address audiences across the country about this subject, I am asked again and again why we do not hear about these injustices. I have to answer them honestly. It’s inexcusable.”

Perhaps John Newton’s own explanation is just as applicable today. “The slave trade was always unjustifiable, but inattention and interest prevented for a time the evil from being perceived.” Fortunately, Once Blind deftly lays bare this evil, leaving readers no further defense for apathy and inaction.

Q&A for Kay Marshall Strom,
Author of Once Blind
1. What is special to you personally about Once Blind (in comparison with the many other books you have written)? What connection do you have to this subject?
My first introduction to John Newton’s story was in church, told by the worship leader as we prepared to sing “Amazing Grace.” The story so moved me that I made it the subject of my second book—a chapter book for children entitled John Newton: The Angry Sailor. That book stayed in print for over twenty years, went through numerous printings, and was translated into many languages. I was invited to tell John’s story at many venues, from school groups to a Christmas event that drew 1,200 women. I was even invited to South Korea to share his powerful story and, when I finished, the entire congregation stood up and spontaneously broke out singing “Amazing Grace” in Korean! Over the years, I have come to think of John Newton as a personal friend, and to take his admonishments to heart. Now, more and more of my writing is taking me to places where I see firsthand the harsh realities of modern-day slavery with all its awful faces.

2. Why did you decide to write Once Blind in narrative form?
I believe that the story is more immediate, compelling, and powerful told this way. Surely this is why John Newton used it to effectively illustrate his message of God’s amazing grace to the listeners of his day. And the crowds who came to hear his exciting story ended up turning to Christ. It was John’s story that helped turn the heart of his nation against the slave trade.

3. What kind of research did you conduct in order to write the book?
Most of the research was based on John Newton’s own writings—his biography, his collections of letters, his treatises on the slave trade. I also used the writings of others, such as Josiah Bull, who had access to people who knew him and to his unpublished writings.

4. How much of your story is true?
Basically, the book is true, although I did employ some literary license. Although John Newton recorded his motives and actions, and certainly his opinions, he was light on specifics, names, and details. So when I was unable to find these from other sources, or when the sources were contradictory, I supplied details and situations that realistically fit the time and place, yet which enabled readers to get the full impact of what was happening. For instance, Mick Bass was not factual, but his was a fairly common situation aboard such ships at the time, and what happened there allows us to see the actions John Newton describes as his own. A great deal of John Newton’s dialogue is taken from his own writings.

5. Tell us about John Newton. What is it about his life that has left such a lasting legacy for readers today?
Several things. First of all, his redemption gives us hope. If God’s amazing grace was sufficient for such a self-described “wretch,” than none of us need feel hopeless. Second, it gives us a great picture of what God can do with a life that is turned over to him. Third, it is a challenge for 21st-century Christians who have in some ways become overly self-absorbed and removed from the humanitarian issues of the day. It was Christians who brought about reforms in so many areas in the past. Certainly today, with the tremendous resources entrusted to us comes responsibility. John Newton’s example challenges us to reach beyond ourselves with whatever we have.

6. How was John Newton converted from a blasphemous troublemaker and slave ship captain to an outspoken abolitionist and the author of the dearly loved song “Amazing Grace”?
God would not give up on him. He would not let John Newton go. It took near-death in a cataclysmic storm, but God proved that his grace was greater than all John Newton’s sin.

7. What exactly was John Newton’s role in ending the African slave trade?
For one thing, he was a mentor to William Wilberforce and the one who actually counseled him to stay in politics. Also, John Newton’s writings depicting the realities of the slave trade so horrified the British people that they were forced to face the truth. Later, when he denounced the slave trade from the pulpit, he greatly influenced the crowds who flocked to hear him. Then William Wilberforce persuaded him to testify before Parliament in order to counter the argument that the complaints about what happened on the ships were greatly overblown. Wilberforce wanted firsthand testimony from one who had been there. That’s when the threats poured in. But John would not be intimidated. His testimony was shocking and persuasive.

8. Most people, including Christians, are amazingly unaware that slavery continues today. You wrote this book to awaken readers to the real horrors of 21st-century slavery. Can you tell us about them?
Anti-Slavery International estimates that a full twenty-seven million people are currently enslaved around the world. These are people who are treated as property, forced to work for little or no pay, and sometimes bought and sold. The most widespread form of slavery is bonded labor, with ten million entrapped in India alone. But it also includes sex and labor trafficking, child slaves, and forced marriages. In Sudan, women and children are kidnapped and sold as traditional slaves.

9. You have traveled to many countries and have personally witnessed the atrocities of sex trafficking and child labor. Will you tell us about some of your experiences?
In May I will be going to Nepal to gather specific trafficking stories and to visit a home for girls who have been freed from traffickers. Last year I met a teenager in India who had been sold into prostitution by her father. She managed to escape and made her way back home only to have her enraged father attack her with a machete. She begged me to bring her home with me. She said, “I’ll work for you forever and you will never have to pay me.” Slavery is all she knew.
But I also met a group of bonded laborers in India who had been released through the efforts of Indian Christians, and then helped to self-sufficiency through micro-loans and businesses. The women had been so successful that they started their own bank so that they could lend money to others who managed to escape bonded labor. One told me, “Never again will there be a generation in our village working for the landowners. We will be the last women here who cannot read or write.”

10. Why do we not know about these things?
That’s a good question! Perhaps, as in John Newton’s day, because it is much easier to live in ignorance. But many of us are determined to see that we and those around us do know. And as that is being accomplished, as William Wilberforce said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say, ‘I did not know.’”

11. What can we do as Christians to help fight the war on global slavery?
The first thing we can do is educate ourselves on situations that engender and allow slavery, then pass that knowledge on to others. We can also support one of the wonderful organizations working on behalf of the enslaved. We can make our voices heard to our elected officials because they need to understand that this is vitally important to us. And last but by no means least, each one of us can pray, knowledgably and faithfully.

My Review:
This is a really interesting book. I knew parts of John Newtons story but didn't know as much about the first part of his life. The way he turned his life around was amazing. Anyone wondering if they can truly be forgiven just needs to read this book and Know God is very forgiving. I have watched Amazing Grace and knew John Newtons support to abolish slavery but it was really interesting reading how John Newton helped to get Slavery abolished. This is a really amazing book that I would recommend to anyone. 5 out of 5 and on my top 10 reads list.

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