The Daughters of Caleb Bender series by Dale Cramer is based on the daughters of the author’s own great grandfather who was the elder statesman of a colony of Old Order Amish who emigrated to Mexico in the 1920s when the state of Ohio passed laws requiring the Amish to send their children to public schools. Dale’s father was born in Mexico so he has a strong vested interest in these stories.
Multiple daughters mean multiple possibilities for romance. In the first volume, Paradise Valley, sixteen-year-old Rachel, not old enough for courting, falls in love with Jake before her father moves his family far away to Paradise Valley. Her sister Emma fears that the truth about her hasty marriage will lead to humiliation.(Click here to read my review of volume 1.)
In this second volume, Captive Heart, where the fledgling colony is beset by brutal bandits and a deadly epidemic, Jake risks his soul to shows his love for Rachel. Her sister Miriam is torn by the forbidden feelings she has for Domingo, their Mexican hired hand. Domingo is drawn to Caleb Bender’s deep faith, but respects the fences that faith puts between him and the young woman he has loved from the moment he saw her.
Dale Cramer is one of my favorite Christian writers. I can easily lose myself in his vivid setting, story and complex characters. Bender’s mentally-challenged, eldest daughter Ada is especially compelling when she, who has always been a child although her body is grown, must help someone who is weaker and more helpless than herself in a desperate, life-threatening situation.
Given the bandits roaming Mexico following the revolution, the Amish at Paradise Valley can only live their peaceful lives if someone else is willing to use violence to protect them. Caleb Bender even travels to Monterey to ask the Mexican government to send protection. He returns home well aware that the community does not have enough money to pay the expected bribe even if their religious convictions did not prohibit it. My own ancestors were Quakers, another branch of the pacifist, Anabaptist tradition, so I am not unsympathetic with the ideals of non-violence. But I struggle with the beliefs presented here. When Miriam’s Amish suitor, Micah Shrock, uses a hunting rifle to threaten the bandits that would have kidnapped and raped the girls in the picnic party, his father derides him, “Why on earth would you even think of threatening a man’s life like that? Would you really want to spend eternity in hell?” (p.60)
Micah defends himself saying, “I could have repented of it later,…”
But his angry father responds, “And what if they killed you? Did you think of that, boy? What if they shot you down even as you murdered one or two of them? Would you face Gott with blood on your hands? FOOL!” (p. 61)
There are several things that disturb me here theologically. First the idea that sin is no big deal; I can always repent later. (I have heard that idea expressed in regard to sexual sin.) Admitedly, Micah is presented as a weak man, not one Cramer would have us emulate. Later in the book when killing does take place, the author makes a strong case that things are not so simple. Even with repentance, sin leaves deep scars and consequences.
The second problem I have is with Ira Shrock’s assumption that God will condemn for all eternity based on a single act of self-defense, or in this case, defense of the vulnerable. But if he does believe this (which according to Cramer the Amish do), how can he ask someone else to go to hell for him? The peaceful way of life the Amish seek depends on someone else using physical force and even violence to protect them from godless bandits.
I long for Cramer to delve more deeply into this subject that is the crux, not only of Amish existence in 1920s Mexico, but of my own existence in post 9/11 America. Jesus Christ taught us to turn the other cheek. He died to reconcile us to God and to each other, but in Nigeria Christians are finding that turning the other cheek only leads to getting that one slapped as well while their churches are burned and their families murdered. It is a subject that merits more than a sub-theme in a bonnet romance. I have met Dale Cramer; I am impressed with his mind and with his perceptions of the real world, not to mention his skill with words. He does not pretend to resolve these issues in this book. Captive Heart will be enthusiastically received by readers of historical romance, but I am hoping that the next volume will give me more substance to grapple with.
[I received a free review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.]
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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