Lela Gilbert is a prolific writer, with a particular focus (like myself) on the persecuted church, and also on Israel. Among her books are the excellent Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians (with Paul Marshall and Nina Shea) and Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner.
She also writes articles for a variety of publications, including the Jerusalem Post and the Weekly Standard.
Her latest book is a thriller, The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight, which tells the story of a team of commandoes working to help persecuted Christians. This resonated with me, as my Brother Half Angel series of thrillers have a vaguely similar theme. Lela kindly agreed to answer some questions about the book.
You have authored or co-authored many non-fiction books. Why did you now decide to write a novel?
Some people prefer fiction to non-fiction for their spare-time reading. But even in non-fiction, it is always effective to interweave stories of real people – to put a “face” on a situation, to embody it. I thought it might be effective to build a novel around people that readers could relate to, and to help them see the terrifying reality of Sharia law, mob violence and religiously-inspired cruelty.
Please tell me a little about it.
I wrote three novels and two children’s books in the early 90s and found them much easier and more enjoyable to write than non-fiction. But, of course, unless they are huge sellers they are not very profitable. So they are kind of a leisure-time pursuit in my view – at least at this point of my life. But in this case, I thought it was worth the time and trouble to bring to life the real story of Christian persecution in Nigeria. Sadly, it’s worse now than it was when I wrote it.
Just about every story in Angel’s Flight is based either on a real news story or on a military operation that actually took place, although not necessarily there. And of course the reality of Boko Haram is well-known now, more dangerous than ever.
As for religious persecution – I co-authored a major book on this subject called Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, which came out in 2012. And my best known book, Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Visitor also looks at Jewish and Christian persecution in Muslim lands. So it’s a subject that’s never far from my attention or my heart. In fact, I just returned from Kurdistan, where I was able to visit some of the Christian refugees there who fled ISIS.
You feature a group of commandoes rescuing persecuted Christians. Do you think Christians turn the other cheek too much? Should we perhaps – somehow – have groups of Christian military personnel who are able to help Christians in distress?
I think ‘turning the other cheek’ is often misapplied to violent circumstances which are entirely unrelated to the person-to-person conflicts Jesus was talking about. There is an entire Christian teaching on Just War Theory that deals with the defence of those who cannot defend themselves. Meanwhile, pacifism has become a symptom of a very self-absorbed – even narcissistic – form of Christianity in which little or nothing is deemed worth sacrificing or dying for.
And, in fact, some of the Christian villages and towns in Syria and Iraq are starting to form their own armed militias to keep ISIS and other brutal terrorist groups from murdering or otherwise devastating their families and communities. They have to provide their own arms, but they are being trained by “official” militias such as the Kurdish Peshmerga.
As for the idea of paramilitary groups, I guess a lot of us have grown increasingly frustrated while waiting for powerful governments to stop pontificating and take action. I got the idea of David Levine’s commando squad from a couple of rescue efforts I read about that were put together by wealthy business owners who fielded their own contracted warriors to liberate their personnel who were being held hostage.
Your co-author Jack Buckner is a retired military specialist. What particular contributions did he make to the book?
I have no idea about military weaponry, operations or culture. Jack was on the ground as a US Army Special Operator for decades and he knows how soldiers talk, think and act when they are on the job. He sketched out the way things would have to happen, filled in the blanks on guns and grenades and mines and the like, and I wove it into the rest of the story. There’s a smattering of words scattered throughout the text that may raise a few conservative Christian eyebrows, but we decided to let it be real – for the most part.
What has been the reception so far to the book?
Most readers say that they can’t put it down – it’s very absorbing and engaging to them. I’m always happy when my friends like my work, but I’ve been especially pleased when total strangers write glowing reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. I hope Angel’s Flight sells well, but not only because of profitability. I am convinced that fiction is a great way to inform people about how things really are, and how difficult life is in some very dark parts of the world. And if it works out, we can write more similar stories.
Lela, thank you very much.