This story of journey is common enough that we can each identify ourselves in these pages, and extraordinary enough that it will reach the quiet places in our hearts and call us upward. --William Paul Young, author of The Shack This … see full wiki
The much-loved Baptist minister and prolific author, F. W. Boreham, wrote, "The man whose biography is not worth writing has never yet been born." While I agree with the sentiment, most people will probably never get past the thought of such an undertaking. I do not want to discourage anyone from the attempt, myself included, but few can tell their story as eloquently as Boreham in My Pilgrimage. In Message in a Body (www.messageinabody.com), Joseph Anfuso approaches that rare company. He provides a beautiful account of his life and in the process imparts grace to the reader.
It is a gift that is hard to resist. I was well into another book when I started Message in a Body. The former was no small source of pleasure, but once I began Anfuso's book, it quickly became a contest, each vying for my attention. They both seemed to beckon from the table, "Choose me." Wanting to be fair-minded, I determined to give them equal time. But my resolve began to wither as the Anfuso book drew even and then quickly overtook the other. Seeing that the race was lost, I gave in to the delight of reading Message and finished it in a matter of days.
I had forgotten how inspiring a biography could be. I frequently read and delight in books on doctrine and theology, but this reminded me of the pleasure that comes from reading a salvation story. It recalls an incident in the life of the famous London preacher, C. H. Spurgeon. Let me quote from his own words, "‘Leaving home early in the morning,' he says, ‘I went to the vestry and sat there all day long, seeing those who had been brought to Christ by my preaching of the Word. Their stories were so absorbing to me that the hours fled without my noticing how fast they were going. I may have seen some thirty or more persons during the day, one after the other, and I was so delighted with the tales of divine mercy they had to tell me, and the wonders of grace God had wrought in them, that I did not know anything about the passage of time.'" "Their stories were so absorbing," Spurgeon said. Similarly, I was fascinated by Anfuso's journey to find the truth. It was so engrossing that I continually looked forward to reading it. It was like discovering a lost treasure.
I marveled at Anfuso's quest. He was genuinely searching, and even references those named in the following lines from The Who song, "The Seeker":
I asked Bobby Dylan I asked The Beatles I asked Timothy Leary But he couldn't help me either
They call me The Seeker I've been searching low and high
Such was Anfuso's earnestness and futility that this song could serve as a soundtrack for part of his life. The hours fled as Spurgeon found himself lost in tales of divine mercy. The pages flew by as I lost myself in one seeker's journey toward the truth.
This story is told with remarkable honesty and grace. Those who have a hard time with organized religion will have no trouble relating. This is someone who resisted the idea of Jesus being the only way. You could say he was determined to discover that there was more than one way to God.
Anfuso provides just the right amount of detail. It never becomes sordid, and Anfuso is charitable in his outlook toward others and the events that transpired. He never casts a shadow on other people.
I can even see God's hand in the timing of this publication. If Anfuso had his way, this would have been published shortly after his conversion to Christ. Had that happened the story would have been incomplete because the latter part of the book chronicles the formation of Forward Edge International (www.forwardedge.org/), a ministry that he founded, which is changing our world one life at a time.
Originally, geared toward short-term mission's mobilization, Forward Edge has expanded to "long-term, need-meeting" projects. In fact, the book opens with the compelling saga of how one long-term project with a far-reaching impact began to take shape. I was immediately captivated by unbelievable squalor but borne along by the hope that pervades this volume.
This reviewer had more than a little interest in this volume because of my experience with the author and his ministry. I had the privilege of going on one of the first Forward Edge teams. My group went to Birmingham, England to participate in the Billy Graham Mission England outreach in 1984. For one week we worked with a local church inviting people to come. The week of the meetings we rode on a bus with those who came to hear Graham. The third week of our trip was a trek through the rest of the UK. I am grateful for the opportunity that this gave me to explore my interest in missions. Without reservation, I recommend Forward Edge for any who are looking for an opportunity to invest their time, talents or treasure in projects that are making a difference.
Lastly, the title of this book intrigued me. Having lived with Anfuso through part of his story—for many years I was part of a home fellowship group that he led in a church that we attended―I thought it had something to do with the importance of being involved in a community of believers. As foundational as that is in his life, the title refers to Anfuso's lifelong battle with feelings of inferiority that stem in part from his smaller stature as compared to his twin brother, Francis. God used this difference and his subsequent struggles to repeatedly affirm his love for Joseph at critical junctures and as a means of communicating His call for Joseph to be a servant.
One of my fondest memories of Anfuso is the humility that he exhibited in his teaching and leading of worship in our home group, often opening by gently strumming his guitar, humming the melody, and beginning to pray and/or sing as we all joined in. Until recently connecting through Facebook, it had been more than 20 years since I had contact with Anfuso and his wife, Karen, but I know from years spent in close proximity, they are humble servants of the church.
By the way, this isn't just a story of God's pursuit of a man who sought to resist the claims of Christ. It's also a beautiful love story of how God brought Joseph and Karen together. I relished that part, especially since I met them shortly after they married. I enjoy learning how couples meet, and Anfuso wonderfully recounts the budding and blossoming of their love.
This is a story that I did not want to end, and thankfully, it continues on in the work of Forward Edge and in the lives of the Anfuso family. In Christ, we are part of a never-ending story. There will always be more to tell, and I imagine that throughout eternity we will be absorbed in the wonder of God's marvelous salvation. In the meantime, I will be delighted if Anfuso puts pen to paper again to tell more of the extraordinary things that God is doing through ordinary people. Even if he never does, he invites us to write our own story by living life on the forward edge.