Book Review: Too Small to Ignore, by Dr. Wess Stafford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Between being a father and having spent the last decade and more in education, I fully expected to have an affinity for this book. I’m around kids all the time and, generally speaking, love them (especially mine!). That said, I was not prepared for the outstanding writing I found in these pages. For the vast majority of this book, Stafford is not preaching a world-view (though that comes in due time), but rather he is telling a story, his story. With the help of Dean Merrill, Stafford recounts his extraordinary childhood as the son of missionary parents in a tiny West-African village called Nielle. He does so with a purpose, however, using his very personal story as a springboard to larger theological issues.
The tale is crafted in elegant prose which brings to life not only the landscape, but the people as well. It is not a long book, and it’s clear that Stafford is choosing his stories strategically. He does not give an exhaustive biographical account, but rather uses the descriptions of Nielle’s culture to make a social or philosophical point. In chapter 3, for instance, he lovingly talks about the close-knit, communal nature of the village before smoothly stepping into a discussion of the age segregation which goes on in so many American churches. The transition feels natural and organic, not heavy-handed, as though you were listening to a friend talking in person. It was unclear to me whether this was Merrill’s influence of Stafford’s, but, then again, a good co-authorship should feel seamless. This pattern is repeated, time and again, through the first half of the book, before the narrative shifts to a much more direct treatise on the importance of children.
Stafford does not abandon his memoir-style narrative, but he does extend beyond it into an explanation of all that underlies his work with Compassion. In a nutshell, he argues that it makes sound theological and strategic sense for the church to place a stronger emphasis on children (I’m talking, as Stafford does, about the universal Christian church here, not any one denomination). Through thoughtful and thorough use of scripture, he makes a convincing argument for the nearness of children to God’s heart. Moreover, he shows how investing in children will grow not only Western churches, but impoverished communities everywhere. His passion is clear and visceral, but balanced by clear writing and careful rhetoric.
There is a growing marketplace of Christian books which are little more than Biblically-based self-help. This is not one of those books. In fact, I would suggest that this volume stands in opposition to that style. It does not bid the reader to look inward, but outward. It is a book very much focused on the voiceless other, a point of view which finds its appropriate genesis in the person of Jesus Christ.