Harry turned to Christianity some time later, and through his ministry Ella herself came to know the Lord. After twelve years of patient waiting, during which time Harry affectionately nicknamed her "Piglet", Ella accepted his proposals. They ministered for two years in South America, when the health of their two children and the prospect of the third baby's arrival forced Harry to bring his family back to England. But before he left alone to return to South America, and indeed, almost immediately upon their arrival in England, Ella St. John gave birth to their third child, Patricia Mary.
This little girl would grow up to work as a nurse in WWII, and later on join her brother Farnham in Morocco where he directed a missions hospital. She lived from 1919-1993, and is best known as a beloved author of children's books.
Before she moved to Morocco, Patricia spent some time as a house mother in a boarding school, and while she was there she wrote the beautiful classics Treasures of the Snow and Tanglewood's Secret. I read Tanglewood's Secret many times during the summers of of my tenth, eleventh, and twelfth years; and loved the movies adapted from both novels. Our mother read aloud many of her other titles: Rainbow Garden, Star of Light, and Three Go Searching; and later on I discovered The Secret at Pheasant Cottage for myself.
I bring her up this week, because as we approach the Easter season, I am reminded of her clear Gospel message portrayed in every book. The charm and beauty of Patricia's works lie in that her evangelistic messages are not forced like many of today's offerings. Coming to Jesus is not an obligatory event tacked on at the end of the story, but a joyous and natural result of God's love drawing a person to Himself. This is a portrayal of evangelism as it should be.
For today's review, I chose one of her books that I had never read until this weekend, a book that truly portrays a unique angle of her writing style. Most of her stories are rather quiet and peaceful, though they have their heartache as well. But this one takes the reader back to the ancient times, shortly after the resurrection of Christ, and spans the turmoil of many years.
I present to you Twice Freed, by Patricia M. St. John.
I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.
~Philemon 1 (ESV)
The boy Onesimus lives in the valley of Colosse as slave to his master Philemon, his mistress Apphia, and their son Archippus. The son of a Greek slave and a native Colossian woman, Onesimus knows well the story of his father's death: a lover of beauty, who could not bear to exist as a slave. Onesimus is determined to win the freedom his father never saw. Vengeful and bitter, the betrayal of his childhood companion Archippus only serves to heighten his resolve of returning all the grief he has received at the hands of Philemon's family.
He succeeds all too well.
Philemon travels to Ephesus during the time of the festival of Artemis (Acts 19) to trade for wool, and also to learn more about the teachings of Paul at the request of his wife Apphia. While he attends Paul's teachings, Archippus watches the games with Onesimus in attendance on him. Caught during the riot of Ephesus, Onesimus sends whispers through the crowd that Archippus is the son of a detested Christian, and they trample the boy, leaving him crippled for life.
But Onesimus plan disintegrates, for Philemon decides to take on this new faith, and Archippus with him. They bring it back to Apphia, and a little church gradually springs up in Colosse and the surrounding area. Onesimus doesn't want the Christian God of love. He wants the gods and goddesses of beauty that his father worshipped so many years ago. Now a young man, and well looked upon by family he serves, Onesimus takes the first chance he finds to flee his slavery, and sets out for Corinth and Rome.
A fictional narrative, it is true, but a pleasant and Christ-honoring portrayal of the life of Onesimus the slave.
Patricia dedicated Twice Freed to her sister, for travelling with her along the route of Onesimus' journey during the research period. I find it captivating that this was a story in her heart from a very young age, and when she was a younger child, she told her father that she wanted to write a story about Onesimus. He took her down to the library and gave her a stack of books to read about biblical history. Decades later at the age of 51, her childhood dream came true and the story idea she had tucked away for so long appeared in print. Some dreams are a long time in the making, but nonetheless valuable even when begun in childhood.
It's a good story; an engaging and non-graphic look at early Rome, suitable for ages 10 and up, but appealing to those older as well. If you love the rest of St. John's works, then Twice Freed would make a valuable addition to your library. It's not meant to be a scholarly tome, nor a work of art. Rather, it's intended to be a simple story revelling in the joy of finding a Savior, Jesus Christ.
So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
May our love of Christ's sacrifice be rekindled as we approach this Easter season.