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BOOK REVIEW
Hidden Sorrow Lasting Joy
The Forgotten Women of the Persecuted Church
by Anneke Companjen
This astounding volume tells the stories of the women of the suffering Church. It is a compelling book that describes sadness and pain yet it is filled with the hope and joy that Christians have in Jesus.

In "Hidden Sorrow, Lasting Joy" (HSLJ) Anneke Companjen has provided the world with important and astounding testimonies of women who have not only "struggled with separation, loss and uncertainty" but have also "been ostracized by their culture, left alone to care for fatherless children, and subjected to crushing poverty" for their faith in Christ. HSLJ is a compilation of simply written yet powerful biographical snapshots of women who have had to endure not only their own suffering but also the persecution of someone they love and care for. Even though the faith of these women "has been stretched to the limit" and even though they "are not superwomen" Companjen sadly notes that they have seldom "been the subject of prayer campaigns or human-rights projects."

Written with compassion and love, the biographies in HSLJ have not been written from afar but have all been compiled from first hand testimony. The love and feelings that Companjen has for these women is evident throughout the book. After the death of one of her sisters in Christ, Companjen says that she "felt guilty" and questions if she had prayed enough. To an elderly Chinese Christian lady who was separated from her husband for twenty years Anneke says: "For many years I have prayed for you." The people Companjen writes about are her friends, are people she knows and loves. They are people she has taken the time to care for, weep for and pray for. They are people who she now calls other to care about. In HSLJ Companjen has given voices to the unseen and unheard women of the suffering Church.

Companjen doesn't try to embellish these women with fanciful tales and false attributes but gently reminds us that they "are women with the same longings, desires, and fears as you and I." As humans they suffer the same emotions and fears as all humans do. Companjen does not hide the humanness of these women but rather allows their frustrations; hopes, fears and joys to emerge from within the narrative. After the death of her child, one women questions God: "How could you allow this to happen to us Lord? All we ever wanted to do was serve you. Why didn't you protect us?" Another women breaks down crying and "is unable to shake the hands with" her friends husband who had arrested and persecuted her son years before. A third woman angrily and tearfully asks her husband, who is about to leave on a second mission trip shortly after returning home, "So you're leaving me again?" HSLJ is filled with voices like these. They are voices that represent the broad sweep of humanity. "Some," says Companjen, "are young, some are old; others are aging too quickly for their years. Some are rich in hope; others contend with relentless depression. Above all else they very much need our prayers."

HSLJ is a book written by a Christian woman about other Christian women and although many of the circumstances written about in this book are heart-wrenching stories, they would not be complete without an examination of how God has worked in the lives of those who are suffering for His name. It is true that not all the stories in this volume have happy endings, but most of them do provide astounding testimony to the work of God in a suffering believers life. Throughout this book God's provision for His children is made clear. A Chinese lady with six children starts to receive money and mysterious food packages after her husband, an evangelical pastor, is imprisoned for his faith. A second woman, who rode on a motorcycle for half a day to see her imprisoned husband but is denied her visitation rights, is "comforted to realize that Jesus understood how she was feeling," and "gradually her tears stopped as the pace of the Lord returned."

Restricted for space, Companjen was, I suppose, forced to be selective in the biographies that were written and published. In this she has responsibly attempted to represent women from all parts of the world: South East Asia, South Asia, East Asia, South America, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Companjen has also been careful to include stories of different types of persecution. In some cases husbands have been persecuted, in other instances a loved one has tragically been killed. Some families represented have been separated by forced exile, and other women have been estranged from their families and exiled alone. In another instance a single women has taken a message of support from the Church in the west to a dangerous war zone of immense strife and danger. Companjen acknowledges that in HSLJ she has "only been able to share a few stories of women who are paying the price for their faith," and that "there are many, many more around the world." She should therefore be applauded for this representative approach, which reveals the global nature and severity of suffering persecuted Christian women are forced to endure.

So once again, the burning question is "What can we do?" The penultimate chapter provides an answer to this question. Stay informed, advocate and keep in touch with the women who are persecuted but most importantly pray. Companjen states, "prayer is the most important effort we can make," and observes: "Whenever we ask persecuted Christians on our visits what we can do to help them, we get the same answer almost every time: 'Please pray for us.'" At the end of each biographical sketch Companjen identifies critical pray points not only for the woman written about but also for the country in which she lives.

The women in HSLJ are certainly (to this reviewers mind) among the forgotten heroines of the faith. They have lived inspirational lives, in some of the most dire and tragic circumstances imaginable, by simply trusting God. Although Christians around the world may have forgotten these heroines, they have not been forgotten by God, who strengthens their faith and enables them to endure despite the circumstances. Although these women are forced to endure terrible suffering and severe afflictions for their faith in Christ, "the story of the suffering Church," says Companjen, "is about seasons of sorrow that must be hidden, and about joy that will last eternally."

-PKS (24-Feb-2004)