On December 26, 2004, Hilary Alan and her family were on their way from their upscale home in North Carolina to a post-Christmas getaway in Florida. When a stubborn seatbelt refused to latch, they stopped at a Volvo dealership in Georgia to get it repaired.
Halfway around the world, an enormous tsunami was swallowing up entire villages, killing 230,000 people in its wake. Watching the CNN coverage of the disaster as they waited for the seatbelt to be fixed, the Alans were momentarily horrified by the images on the TV screen. Soon enough, though, they were back on I-95 heading for sunny Florida and a much-needed break from the stress of a typical American lifestyle.
Little did they know that the tsunami's aftereffects would soon turn their world upside down --- or perhaps better said, right side up.
"Missionary memoirs are usually worth reading. This one stands out as an exceptional story because of the manner in which the family exchanged the American dream for an assignment from God --- and because of Hilary Alan's wonderful ability to tell that story."
SENT is Hilary Alan's remarkable account of her family's decision to let go of everything but each other to follow God's leading. "Everything" included a brand-new home and all its furnishings, Curt Alan's six-figure income with a guaranteed, long-sought-after promotion, a church family they loved along with a ministry they started, and the prospects of a "normal" school life for preteen Molly and teenager Jordan, among many other things and experiences. In return for all that letting go, the Alans received a bug- and lizard-infested home with spotty electrical service and occasional running water, in a hot and humid Muslim area of Southeast Asia that was under Shari'a law.
And they came to love it.
The Alans were there to help rebuild following the tsunami. As Christians, they were a decidedly unvocal minority. But as Hilary Alan so beautifully shows, they learned to live their faith in a way that they never had to live it in the U.S., and that stretched each of them in ways they could not have foreseen.
Alan's memoir about the years the family spent in the unnamed Asian nation is both poignant and challenging. She writes in a refreshingly honest way about the decision to uproot their family, the training they underwent, the culture shock and subsequent adaptation to living in a third world, Muslim country, a second culture shock when they returned to the U.S. years later, and the yearning to return to Southeast Asia and a society they came to love.
Every chapter in SENT is well worth reading, but one especially significant chapter is devoted to Molly and Jordan's impressions of what it meant to leave the U.S. when they were in middle school and high school --- which conventional wisdom says is the worst time to uproot a family --- and be forced to adjust not only to a foreign culture but also to one that was hostile to their faith. It's clear that their lives were changed for the better and that they returned with wisdom and maturity well beyond their years.
Missionary memoirs are usually worth reading. This one stands out as an exceptional story because of the manner in which the family exchanged the American dream for an assignment from God --- and because of Hilary Alan's wonderful ability to tell that story. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on February 13, 2013