Friday, March 11, 2011

In Japan the Crickets Cry, by Ronald Clements and Steve Metcalf

Steve Metcalf is a name that sounds so familiar to me but I can't place it. I don't think I recognize him as being the missionary to Japan whose story is told in this book. A Google search didn't help me out either. So I'm stuck. Maybe I knew one once. Anyway. (That distracted me throughout the book. And so now I will distract you with that incredibly useless fact! You're welcome.)

In Japan the Crickets Cry is a recent release from Kregel Publications. Written by Ronald Clements and Steve Metcalf, it tells the story of Metcalf's life's work (beginning in China and ending in Japan.) The tagline on the front of the book is, "How could Steve Metcalf forgive the Japanese?" As a teenager, Metcalf was one of 1,500 prisoners of war held by the Japanese in a camp during World War II. Metcalf's parents were missionaries in China and he had been sent to the Chefoo boarding school in China for his education. While at the school, he and his fellow classmates were taken captive. Due to his capture, he did not end up seeing his parents again until the end of the war (seven years later!), after the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. As a side note, he was held in the same prison camp as Eric Liddell and Mr. Liddell had given Metcalf one of his old pair of running shoes. Liddell ended up dying in the camp and Metcalf (as well as the other camp prisoners) were among the few in the world who were able to attend his funeral.

Metcalf relays his personal history from his growing up years in the Taku village where he grew up in Yannan, China, to being sent away to boarding school. We learn of his life as a former POW in Australia and his eventual calling to the mission field in Japan. Along the way we also learn about his family, his sister, his various romantic encounters and disappointments, language barrier issues, his marriage to Evelyn and eventual retirement. This book gives us a basic overview of his life and challenges.

I've read a few books on missionaries and I have to say this one didn't really impress me very much. While I can appreciate the dangers and struggles Metcalf and his family experienced, I read a whole lot of "Me, Myself and I" and not a whole lot of, "Look at what God has done." Oh sure, it's there, but he tone of the book reads more like a pat on the back of some sorts. I realize that is very harsh and certainly Steve Metcalf has sacrificed a great deal to lead the life he has. I would say it is clear that he is very interested in following God's leading and call on his life. But throughout the book I heard more of Metcalf's voice than a testimony of the greatness of God - which is what I would typically expect to read in such a story. Due to not feeling as if Metcalf was pointing me towards the cross - I didn't feel overwhelmingly inspired by this book as I have over the stories of other missionaries.

I have to say that the one thing that bothered me the very most with In Japan the Crickets Cry is Metcalf feeling the need to share his interactions and relationships with members of the opposite sex. When he was in Australia after the war he fell in love with a young lady who eventually decided she couldn't marry a missionary. (This is not something I would hold against a person.) He spent a lot of, what I think is unnecessary time, on this story and told us of his depression and devastation and how, despite the fact that she soon became engaged to some one else, he was still focused on trying to salvage this relationship. Then he told a story about how he was pulled aside by a fellow missionary and chastised for "leading a(nother) girl on" when he had no such intentions towards this female. He shared of her devastation in realizing that Metcalf harbored no romantic interests in her. I thought that story was uncalled for and just plain weird to include. (Truthfully, I thought that story was in very bad taste and he could have discretely brushed past that part of the story without affecting the rest of his testimony one iota.) Metcalf mentions several times that at various points in his life he seemed to be a "hit with the ladies" and this just really turned me off. It came across as egotistical and simply ill-advised and indiscreet to be making so much of his intentional and otherwise romantic interests. I was very much not amused and very much turned off by such confessions. There was simply no need.

I think Metcalf exercises some additional indiscretions in talking about some misunderstandings between his support base in the UK and his missionary organization in Japan. I guess I just don't think Metcalf exercised a lot of caution in telling his story and at times it felt as if he wanted to prove his innocence and wanted to justify his own actions and behaviors. I got more of that out of the book than I did about the mission work itself. True, he does share instances and occasions where the Gospel was shared with the Japanese but I rather felt those stories were few and far between. I was also taken aback by the idea that he would send his own children off to boarding school after he expressed his own distaste for his personal experience in such a setting. He mourned the loss of getting to grow up as a family with his parents present and yet he made his children endure the same thing. That just doesn't make sense to me at all!

I should probably stop talking. Suffice it to say, the premise of this book is really interesting. If you are looking for a personal story of one person's experience during and immediately after World War II in post-war Japan - this is a very interesting tale. If you are looking for an inspiring story of missionary work then I would have to suggest that you look elsewhere. I might have enjoyed this book more if I had not had pre-set expections as to what this book was going to be about. I'm going to label this book a memoir because that's what it felt like to me.

I will point out that in the acknowledgment section at the end of this book, Clements makes it clear that this book is told from the perspective of Metcalf alone and that no one else mentioned in the book was interviewed prior to publication. He expressly states that these are the reflections of Metcalf and also that he (Clements) takes full responsibility for their presentation. I appreciated that. It seemed the wise, logical and honorable thing to do at the end of such a story.

Anyway, there you have it. I was hoping for a hit, but this book ended up being a miss for me. Take it for what you will.

Thanks to Kregel for sending me a copy to read. Obviously, all opinions in this post are entirely my own.


Gidget Girl Reading said...

sounds interesting! how fitting for this to post today since Japan was hit with a quake and tsumani.

Barbara H. said...

I read a book from another boy in that same situation -- at that school during the Japanese invasion, being in prison camp with Eric Liddell, etc -- called A Boy's War by David Michell. It's been a long time since I read it and I can't remember much detail, but I thought it was good.

If this is meant to be an autobiography, I can't fault him for talking about his romances if they had a major influence on his life -- I guess it would depend on how much emphasis and what he told. I hope he thought about the fact that the girl he broke up with may not have wanted this info. public.

It's odd that he sent his children back into the same situation he lamented growing up in.

Don't think I'll be picking this one up.

Carrie said...

Butterfly - Um, yes. This post was obviously pre-set to publish! Even when I woke up this morning I couldn't remember which post was up for today! That's the way it works sometimes...hmm.

Shonya said...

I think I know what you are talking about b/c I've read books with similar tones--self-promoting. And can I just say I'm rather glad you didn't love it because I have too many books on my "want to read" list and am glad not to have to add this one?? giggle

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Well, I guess I'll pass this one over, given your take on it. Like Shonya, I have toooooooooo much to read already, so that's a good thing. :-)

Can't wait to hear what you have to say about Unbroken!

Stephanie Kay said...

Interesting. I doubt I'll pick up this book, especially after this review, but I do have a few thoughts on what you've mentioned.

First, I think we, as American Christians, put our international missionaries on pedestals and expect them to somehow be more spiritual or in tune with spiritual matters than "normal" people. I'm not saying this is you, Carrie, just making a generalization. Missionaries are just like the rest of us - full of sin and struggles.

Secondly, boarding schools for MKs (missionary kids) is quite common even today. This is a strange thing for those of us in the States but many MKs attend boarding schools and visit their families for weekends, holidays and school vacations. There are lots of different reasons for this - though I imagine that as home schooling has gained in popularity in the States it has also gained in popularity among missionaries. So because MKs are comfortable with the idea of boarding schools, even though they may not have enjoyed them, sending their own kids doesn't seem so strange.

I should add that my in-laws are retired career international missionaries. My husband and his sister were born overseas and came to the States every 4 years for a one year long furlough (or stateside assignment as it's called today). Both attended boarding schools at various times in their lives and have nothing negative to say about the experience. Also, many of my college friends were MKs. So I guess you could say missionaries and their children hold a special place in my heart. :)

Carrie said...

Yup, SMB - I agree. I KNOW it's not unusual for MK kids to go to boarding schools. (I had a friend who taught at one.) That might be more the norm than the exception? I know it's "normal" from their perspective and weird from some of ours. I just want to make it clear that the thing I found most strikingly odd in his story is that he really did NOT like his boarding school experienced and specifically stated that he mourned not being able to grow up as a family. So that is what I don't get. If you are MOURNING the loss of your own childhood within a family structure and you have a choice to change that for your kids, I don't particularly understand why you wouldn't. To be fair, he also said he had more of an understanding of what his own parents went through in making their decision when making the decision for his own kids.

So, that's that.

Definitely do not put missionaries (pastors, elders, etc.) on pedestals. =D (Thank you for saying that's not me - because it isn't!) We're all human. We're all sinners, saved by grace. I don't think that I'm trying to hold out missionary books as ones I wish to place on pedestals either and I can see how the way I wrote up this review COULD make it sound that way. (I know you didn't even read it that way and I totally get what you are saying and I believe I'm reading your cautionary statement correctly here.)

If I could try to say this another way - I would say that when I DO pick up a book on a missionary work, I like to hear what God is doing and how He is working in and through the lives of others. And I did get the impression from the marketing of the book (and words on the front and back cover) that this was a story about a man who decided to go back to a place that he didn't necessarily have pleasant memories from in order to work as a missionary. Instead it read like a, "Well, I had this experience and me, me, me." Which if I were just looking for someone's personal experience I would not find fault with. But since I was expecting a missionary book (something like Amy Carmichael or Jim Elliot-esque) it read "wrong" to me....if that makes more sense.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Unknown said...

Interesting review as this is my grandad you are talking about I know the man and in my entire life I have never met a more modest man that appreciates the small things in life in such detail, he is not an author so he may not have been able to express his feelings on paper and the unfolding of his story may not be to you're liking but I can assure you that this mans story is real and written from a normal humans perspective If you are looking for an entertaining story to match you're saturday evening this may not be the thing you are looking for but if you are looking for a true story that is written by a man that has lived life and devoted himself to religion then this is maybe a more appropriate read.

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