Red Letters (Tom Davis)

Tom Davis, president of Children’s HopeChest and author of Fields of the Fatherless, has written a new book that reads quickly and hurts deeply—Red Letters: Living a Faith that Bleeds (2007).

I’m a slow reader, yet I finished the book in three days. However, processing and living these ideas will take much longer. In the final paragraphs, Davis states, “I don’t want you to think of this as the end of anything at all. Instead, thin[k] of it as the beginning—the beginning of a Red Letters life” (p. 167). A life lived on the truth found in Jesus words, the Red Letters of the gospels.

Davis uses brutal examples of poverty, disease and violence, along with biblical teachings, to exhort readers to live their faith in ways that help those in need, specifically by caring for people in Africa with HIV/AIDS.

This book reminded me of Good News about Injustice by Gary Haugen, both are hopeful yet viscerally sickening. However, Red Letters is much more informal. I’m beginning to observe a common internal response to this type of book, “God, take us home! Finish this mess! Help me make it better while we’re here! Stop this now!!!”

Weakest Chapter: 9—Snapshots of Hope. This chapter is supposed to help the reader believe that he or she can work for change by showing that other “ordinary” people have also done meaningful things. However, as far as I can tell, the supposed ordinary people all live in foreign countries—Swaziland, South Africa, India and Russia. At the minimum, they are working in these countries, something most of us readers can’t do. [this book review sites chapter 9 as the best.]

In Good News about Injustice, Haugen does a better job of accomplishing this goal by telling more detailed stories about three people who made significant change within the U.S.

Strongest Chapter: 10—How to Bleed. This chapter makes up for chapter 9 by offering practical steps that most of us non-practitioners of international development can take.

Most significantly, Davis presents the Five for 50 plan:

Step 1—Give five minutes a day to pray for those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Step 2—Give five hours a week to fast for those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Step 3—Give five dollars a month to the Five for 50 Fund to support worthy causes.
Step 4—Give five days a year to travel overseas to help alleviate poverty and suffering.
Step 5—Give five people the opportunity to join you on your journey.

Additionally, he recommends starting a blog, talking to friends, joining an action group like the One Campaign or Acting on AIDS, raising money with a charity badge (see My Profile drop-down menu), going on a mission trip, connecting with Children’s HopeChest or Compassion International, going on a mission adventure, making a gift/donation, changing your shopping habits by consider the Red movement or fair trade items, or adopting a child (a handful of international adoption agencies were listed). The appendix offers a lengthy list and description of change-oriented organizations that could use our time and money.

If the book’s purpose was to convince readers that poverty is horrible and Christians can and should do something about it, then Davis was successful. Writers of such books must play a fine balancing act; they must convince the reader that the problem is serious enough to warrant action, but not so overwhelming as to lead the reader directly to fatalism and depression. Thankfully, we have a God of hope.

For those who would like to follow-up with a deeper analysis of poverty and development, may I suggest The End of Poverty (Jeffrey Sachs), Walking with the Poor (Bryant Myers) and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Ron Sider).


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