No Reserves, No Retreats, No Regrets: The Early Life And Ministry Of Ed Erny, by Ed Erny
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Aneko Press/Life Sentence Publishing in exchange for an honest review.]
This book was originally intended, it appears, to be the first volume of a two-volume memoir about a missionary Methodist who spent much of his early life in India and after going to high school and college in the United States, spent much of his adulthood as a missionary of his own choice in Asia again. Some of what he says about his experiences as a missionary and teacher in Asia definitely rang true with my own experiences in the field. For example, of the isolation of being a missionary, the author says: “We were housed in a facility without heat and with few of the comforts to which I was accustomed. All of this contributed not only to full-fledged culture shock but also to plain old-fashioned homesickness. I soon discovered that adaptation to this environment was by no means an effortless thing. After the initial excitement of arriving and the novelty of “first times,” I found myself in desperate need of a kindred spirit in which to confide. The language barrier becomes a wall that prevents much comradeship or fellowship. For the first time in many years, I knew real loneliness. All of this threatened to draw me into a vacuum of despair (172).” And, as my own experience in Thailand would concur, the author’s experience as a teacher in the English language rings true: “Learning English is sometimes called the golden key. Most Asians who have mastered English are assured lifetime employment in some of the world’s best companies. Parents, realizing the tremendous advantage of English fluency, go to great lengths to introduce their children to foreigners and impress upon them the importance of studying this most difficult language with native speakers (184).” Suffice it to say that I found a lot to relate to in this book.
Although the book only covers the first twenty-something years of the author’s life, until his marriage after his initial post-college two year term of service as a missionary in Taiwan, the author’s widow writes a thoughtful epilogue that discusses some of the personal challenges of the author, which I was also able to relate to: “It seems that creative people often have a tendency towards melancholy, which makes them more susceptible to this kind of illness. This was a very fearful time for me. We were finally able to get good medical help, which brought relief, but Ed realized he would need to be aware of and deal with this issue for the rest of his life. Taking up watercolor painting proved to be a wonderful therapy (250).” The book’s chapters, which are largely titled based on the place or main event covered in the chapters, are chronological and written in a direct voice that is honest and vulnerable enough to include some painful memories, some reflection on the naivete of youth, and even some pedestrian examples of verses to go along with the interesting and compelling stories. The author even shows himself reasonably well-read in classic contemporary Christian works like The Pursuit of God , and had a personal acquaintance with the brave Dutch woman Corrie Ten Boom before she became famous .
This particular memoir serves a few related purposes, in that it details the formative years of life of a man who is painfully honest about himself and his family, including his struggles, and also one who is loyal to friends, and discreet about the problems faced by those around him, including plenty of moral failings relating to adultery among the missionary community of his own religious background. Despite the alien nature of the author’s specific religious background, the vividness of his stories about youth, about family life, and about his education and work experience, and his desire to be honest even when it hurt him at times, and his story about the courtship of his father (who was considered a bit old when he got married) and his own eventually successful courtship is entertaining if a bit personally painful as well. A fair-minded reader who has an interest in the lives of missionaries will find much to enjoy here, and the author’s life is one well worth celebrating and appreciating. Many readers will also appreciate the college stories and insights from traveling and living so much abroad, especially concerning the superstitious nature of much heathen worship practice.