Category Archives: Brother Half Angel Series

Kissing the Koran – A Christian Soccer Captain’s Duty

Coptic Martyr3My thriller “The Coptic Martyr of Cairo” – part of the Brother Half Angel series – has a sub-theme that involves soccer. One of the protagonists – an Egyptian Islamist – is crazy about the sport, and this forms a back-drop to a clash in the book between Muslims and Christians.

One of the leading Mideast soccer powers, along with Egypt, is Iran, which has competed four times at the World Cup. I was interested to see that its captain is a Christian. According to a recent report in The Guardian:

As Iran’s national football team prepared to head to the World Cup last year, Andranik Teymourian stood next to his teammates while they lined up to kiss the holy Islamic book, the Koran, as part of the farewell ceremony.

Iran Christian football captainAlthough he is not a Muslim, the Iranian Armenian didn’t want to rock the boat and so performed the ritual for travellers, which is a quintessential part of Iranian culture. The cleric holding up the Qur’an could hardly disguise his amusement at the scene.

The 32-year-old midfielder, known as Ando – or Samurai, due to his hairstyle – is not shy of showing his Christianity, often crossing himself on the field.

In other soccer news, the Daily Pakistan newspaper presents “Five reasons Pakistani Women’s Football team will make you a fan!” On display are five very attractive players.

Pakistan Christian soccer playerReason #3 is Joyann Geraldine Thomas – “She is not just the first Christian woman to play for the Pakistani women’s football team, but also one of the youngest. She made her international debut shortly after turning 17, in 2014.”

Finally, devoutly Christian Brazilian soccer star David Luiz was recently baptized, and he took the occasion to announce that he would not engage in sex with his girlfriend until after they were married. This led to press reports that he was a virgin.

For some reason this angered Luiz, who accused the press of a lack of respect. “I’m not a virgin. I’ve had more than one girlfriend in my life,” he announced. “Some people in the press don’t respect people in life. I can put my head on my pillow and sleep great because I respect everyone. My religion, my baptism, I’m very happy.”

China – Ripe for the Harvest

The first novel in my Brother Half Angel series – titled simply “Brother Half Angel” – concerns the church in China. I felt that, despite some intense persecution – or, perhaps, because of it – this was a fast-growing church, and I wanted to highlight its potential.

Brother Half Angel - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013So the novel tells the story of an underground seminary in a Chinese city, managed by a hero of the faith who has spent much time in prison for his beliefs.

Now we are seeing an increasing number of news reports about how the church in China is expanding at a rapid rate. The latest has just been published by Charisma magazine and is titled “You Can’t Ignore the Miracle of Christianity in China.”

It highlights five key points about the church and its growth.

1. China will likely become the largest Christian nation in the world by the year 2030.

2. More Christians attend church on Sundays in China today than in Europe.

3. Spiritual hunger is exploding in China, even though the country is officially atheist.

4. Persecution of Christians is still rampant in China, but it does not seem to be slowing church growth.

5. The growth of Chinese Christianity is linked to its economic growth.

I would add a couple of points of my own. Firstly, there is absolutely no social benefit to be gained from becoming a Christian in China. But it is clear that as China transforms from a Communist society to an increasingly materialist society there is a huge spiritual vacuum in the hearts of many.

Secondly, as the church grows, it is starting to reach out abroad. We see South Korean missionaries just about everywhere nowadays. I predict that soon we shall be seeing Chinese missionaries too.

I can only say a loud “Amen” to these words from the Charisma article:

Many Americans today seem discouraged by evidence of spiritual decline in the West. Now would be the best time for us to heed Jesus’ words in John 4:35: “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are ripe for harvest.” Our pessimism has blinded us to what is happening in the East.

Salt of the Earth – A Novel Idea

Ideas for novels come from many different sources. My novels tend to reflect current events, and so I get plenty of ideas from reading newspapers and magazines.

My novel “Festival in the Desert” – part of my Brother Half Angel series of thrillers – is about Islamist terrorists in the West African country of Mali and their attacks on a Christian mission hospital.

I am a fan of world music – pop music from countries around the globe – and the initial idea for the plot came from an article in a British world music magazine “Songlines.”

It was about Mali, pointing out that the country had some of the most interesting music anywhere in the world, thanks to great artists like Salif Keita, Amadou and Mariam, Ali Farka Toure, Toumani Diabate, Rokia Traore, Oumou Sangare, Tinariwen and many others.

But the article also pointed out that the musicians faced many threats to their livelihood, including Islamist terrorists, Tuareg (the north Mali desert people) separatists and drug runners. In other words, an irresistible combination for a novel.

Festival in the Desert - Smashwords cover Jan 2013While writing it, I discovered an interesting fact about Mali. In the far north of the country are some famous salt mines. For more than 600 years salt has been mined there, and camel trains transport giant slabs of salt on a three-week trek from the mines to the city of Timbuktu. All this activity helped make Timbuktu a great city and one of the centers of learning and culture in West Africa.

I used this information peripherally in my novel. But now I have just returned from a holiday in central Europe, and discovered that an interesting tourist attraction is the salt mine near Krakow. Until recently salt had been mined there since the 13th century.

Now more than a million tourists annually enter and view salt sculptures, giant underground caverns and four chapels. It is a magnificent sight.

But it got me thinking. Salt makes many appearances in the Bible. In the Old Testament it was added to all offerings. Lot’s wife was turned into salt. Jesus told believers they were the salt of the earth.

Salt! I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I think I have a new subject for a novel.

Buddhist Extremists and My Novels

Military Orders - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013So you haven’t heard of Dorje Shugden, the extremist Buddhist group now in the news for their opposition to the Dalai Lama. Well, that’s not my fault. For I made them the villains of my thriller “Military Orders.”

The title of a lengthy post this week on the Foreign Affairs website sums up the group – “Meet the Buddhists Who Hate the Dalai Lama More Than the Chinese Do.”

That’s what happens when you write novels that are based on current events. These events are apt to overtake your novels.

I have already written about how soccer riots in Egypt mirror events in my thriller “The Coptic Martyr of Cairo” and how the burning of churches in West Africa was foreshadowed by my novel “Festival in the Desert.”

A few excerpts from the Foreign Affairs post sum up its tone:

Dorje Shugden is an obscure trickster spirit, believed to have originated in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in the 17th century. And though the spirit’s followers in the Western world probably number only a few thousand, they’ve been surprisingly successful at generating attention for themselves and their campaign to discredit the Dalai Lama. 

…Besides protesting the Dalai Lama during his trips to the United States and Europe, Shugden followers produce websites filled with anti-Dalai Lama material and write and distribute pamphlets, articles, and books denouncing the Dalai Lama. Consider, for example, “The False Dalai Lama: The Worst Dictator in the Modern World,” published in October 2013.

The book describes its purpose as helping people to “understand the deceptive nature” of the Dalai Lama, who stands accused of “destroying pure Buddhism in this world.” If that weren’t enough, it depicts the Tibetan spiritual leader as a “Muslim” who is firmly in the grip of a “fascination with war and Nazism.”

One might think, given Beijing’s well-known hostility toward the Tibetan spiritual leader, that the book is a work of calumny sponsored by the ruling Chinese Communist Party. But its publishers are, in fact, enthusiastic Buddhists. Specifically, the International Shugden Community, a California-based organization representing a small religious sect whose members worship Dorje Shugden, and whose website claims its mission is “exposing the dark side of the Dalai Lama.”

My thriller “Military Orders“ has a somewhat fantastical plot about a plan by a Christian church to “hijack” the next selection of a Dalai Lama – after the current incumbent dies – and install in his place a secret Christian. During my research for the book I learned about Dorje Shugden, and they seemed to fit my plot perfectly – opposed to the Dalai Lama, but also no friends of Christians. They made excellent villains.

Expect them to appear in the news again, especially once the current Dalai Lama dies.

And this time you will have heard of them.

Care Needed When Christian Novelists Write About Other Religions

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a program I am involved with, to help inmates of a Florida prison develop their writing skills. I donate copies of my novels, and the prisoners critique them.

As I noted, the reviews can be brutally honest. And it has set me thinking about how we Christians portray other religions in our novels.

Military Orders - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013My thriller “Military Orders” has a somewhat fantastical plot about a plan by a Christian church to “hijack” the next selection of a Dalai Lama – after the current incumbent dies – and install in his place a secret Christian. Of necessity it includes a lot of information on Tibetan Buddhism, for which I did a considerable amount of research.

I believed – and believe – that it is a resolutely Christian novel, faithful to Scripture and to Christian doctrine.

But one of the inmates, Keith, disagreed –

This book is intended for people who are interested in the Dalai Lama and think that Buddhism is the true religion.

I did not enjoy this book because of the way it portrayed the one and only God and Christians. Like it was God’s plan to protect the Dalai Lama. Are you serious?

And the church was going to bribe a Christian family to give up their child and make believe he was the Dalai Lama. First of all, if a Christian family gives up their child for money, they ain’t really believers. And what did you mean that the child was “christened?”

And here is a three-star Amazon review –

This books comes from a concept that I wouldn’t say is necessarily Christian, but the ending leaves it open to what might happen in a world where a ‘”reborn” Dalai Lama was found as a child. Since I don’t believe in being born again and again, it didn’t hold my interest as much as a book would with more intrigue or twists and turns.

Hot Rock DreamingI’ve looked again at what I wrote, and I truly believe the reviewers have it wrong. I think my novel has a strong Christian message. I wasn’t out to knock Buddhism – with which I once had an involvement – but I believe that the book clearly shows Christianity to be the true religion.

I would note that in a previous mystery, “Hot Rock Dreaming,” also with a strong Christian message, one of the main characters was a woman who practised shamanism, and that was a strong theme of the novel. That book was a finalist in the Australian Christian Book of the Year awards.

So it’s win some, lose some. But certainly Christians need to consider carefully how they depict other religions.

Why I Wanted “Timbuktu” to Win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar

Congratulations to “Ida,” the Polish winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. But I was hoping that another of the five nominees, “Timbuktu,” would win.

Festival in the Desert - Smashwords cover Jan 2013I’ve not seen either movie, but I hear that “Timbuktu” is a powerful portrayal of life in that West African city – in northern Mali – after Al Qaeda-associated Islamists took control. For 10 harsh months they governed the city, and the surrounding region, with growing repression, before French-led forces kicked them out.

In the words of one writer

It dares to tackle one of the most urgent topics of our time, yet it’s also a magnificent work of art. It celebrates the force of love and the resilience of humanity even as it delves deep into the nature of evil. It’s been a while since I saw a film that pulls off a comparable feat.

Though my own reasons for wanting the film to win were a little more selfish. For my own novel “Festival in the Desert,” part of my Brother Half Angel series of thrillers, is also set in Timbuku. And it too tells a story of Islamists who are trying to undermine the authorities.

In addition, my book has a strong Christian theme, featuring a mission hospital in the city that is under attack.

But “Ida” – which also has a religious theme – was the winner, so congratulations. And I look forward to viewing “Timbuktu.”

Captive Audience for My Books

Authors love good reviews for their books. But more important are honest reviews, and recently I’ve been getting a lot of these.

I’m a member of an online writers’ initiative, the John 3:16 Marketing Network. One of the best things the group has done – in my opinion – is setting up a writing ministry to prisoners. We donate copies of our novels to a Florida prison, for the inmates to read and critique as part of a writing program. As you might imagine, the reviews are sometimes brutally blunt.

Maria Kannon - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013I have just received the latest batch of half-a-dozen reviews for three of my thrillers. Here is Charles on “The Maria Kannon,” a novel about attacks on a church in Japan:

Overall, the book was an enjoyable read….I would read Roth’s other works.

And Lian, who signed his review “A brother in Christ,” on the same book:

All in all a good read for an evening or weekend. I enjoyed it.

And Keith:

I believe the main point came at the end of the book, how a Christian should forgive and love instead of seeking revenge. I enjoyed the book. It had a good story and action. Also it didn’t drag with many pointless details. It just kept flowing.

Military Orders - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013But Keith was less impressed with “Military Orders,” which features a missionary who becomes involved in a Christian scheme to find the next Dalai Lama:

I did not enjoy this book because of the way it portrayed the one and only God and Christians. Like it was God’s plan to protect the Dalai Lama. Are you serious?…And that Professor Rafa [the book’s hero] is a coward not a hero. Two times he ran to save his life and left the kid with the kidnapper. And just to save his life he offered information on another child that the kidnapper knew nothing about. He risked the life of another child and his family just to save his own. Selfish coward!

Finally – gulp – here is Napier, reviewing “Brother Half Angel,” which is about attacks on an underground Christian seminary in China:

Brother Half Angel - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013The story itself left me well short. The disconnect between Ling and the feelings of those in service with him went on and on ad nauseum. I felt the Westlokes were weakly defined and came across as nagging and henpecked. Jenny’s incessant whining made me want to shut the book. The conflict of good against evil was shallow….The awesome theme and motivation I feel was left flat by a weak plot with no resolution.

I told you these reviews were brutally honest.

But Napier does at least end his critique positively:

I would be interested in reading other “Brother Half Angel” stories. A hero for the faith is always worth reading about.

Amen to that.

Soccer Riots in Egypt – Why My Novel Sometimes Reads Like a Daily Newspaper

My Brother Half Angel thrillers are based on current events, so it is little wonder that, now and again, some particular news item seems to be lifted straight from one of my books.

It has just happened again, with news that rioting at a soccer match in Egypt has led to the death of around 25 fans from the Zamalek club.

Coptic Martyr3Soccer fans from Egypt are not the only ones with a proclivity towards violence. But what marks them out is that they are also involved in the country’s politics.

Soccer club supporters were involved – often quite murderously – in the Arab Spring demonstrations and in the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

In my novel “The Coptic Martyr of Cairo I featured a violent soccer club fan as one of the main villains. Here is an excerpt –

But still, it was summer and he was bored. It wasn’t just the intense heat. It was the lack of soccer. Here in Egypt he followed Al Ahly, the country’s top team, and was a member of the Ultras, their fanatical supporters. The Ultras specialized in beating up the supporters of their opponents. Mohamed was just thirteen when he and his friends began traveling down to Cairo to watch Al Ahly games. The best were always those against their hated Cairo rivals Zamalek, when the taunts and provocations of players and supporters alike usually turned the pitch into a war zone. In fact, the Egyptian soccer authorities often imported foreign umpires just for this game, such were the passions on and off the field. Just as enjoyable – and bloody – were the matches between the Egyptian national team and their hated rivals the Algerians.

It was their fighting prowess that led the Muslim Brotherhood to recruit the Ultras when the Arab Spring uprisings began.  Mohamed had been on the front lines in Tahrir Square, braving the tear gas and the bullets, along with the other Ultras, fighting for an end to the hated Mubarak regime. He had little doubt that it was the muscle of the Ultras, not the weak-kneed protests of the democracy advocates, that had brought down the government.