City Lives

City Lives is one of the best books telling Christian testimonies I’ve ever read. How do I know? Firstly, I finished the whole 200-page book in a weekend. Secondly, I couldn’t help telling people about it while I was still only half-way through the book. Thirdly, I thought of writing a comparison book review of City Lives and another testimony type of book and decided not to because I felt it would be rude to dismiss the other book completely. But I honestly feel this one is so much more engaging and better written. Fourthly, it moved me to tears many times.

Here’s an excerpt from one of my favourite stories about Jeremy Marshall, the CEO of UK’s oldest private bank. His story starts like this:

Jeremy Marshall has experienced the best of times and the worst of times. He knows the feeling of power, sitting at an executive desk on the top floor of a bank as CEO, and the powerlessness of lying on a hospital trolley as a chemotherapy patient. He has known life in the fast lane of a career in international finance, and life in the lay-by, broken down and out of work. He has enjoyed the sunshine of earning more than many of us will see in a lifetime, and endured the storm of a terminal diagnosis that no amount of money can change. He’s been waited on in board rooms, and been bored in waiting rooms. He’s known the stress of long hours in the bank with too much to do, and the stress of long hours at the hospital with nothing to do. He’s had the thrill of the view from the top of the tower, setting the vision for a banking business in strategic planning, and the terror of sitting alone in the darkness at the bottom of the pit, having lost his eyesight. He knows what it’s like to be on one side of the desk telling someone, ‘You’ve had it; your job is over,’ and to be on the other side listening to a consultant tell him, ‘you’ve had it; you’ve got 18 months to live.’…

In addition to lives changed by Jesus, the book weaves in biblical teachings on work itself as well. It talks about why working in banking is not a bad idea, why trying to jump a few inches further into a sandpit is not a waste of time, why playing a role of an immoral and ruined man can actually bring people to Christ. I was actually surprised by the story of a man working in the fashion industry. In my very narrow-minded view of people and very small view of God, I thought, yes, there are Christian teachers, doctors, professors and scientists, but there couldn’t possibly be any Christians in the fashion industry – it’s SO VAIN! But I was gladly surprised by the story of Simon Ward and my wrong-thinking I gladly correct!

I was moved seeing people facing illness and death with peace and a great sense of humour, people who are able to say “preparing for death is like getting ready for a trip to the Seychelles. The destination is wonderful, but Heathrow is a total mess!” A cabinet minister, Jonathan Aitken, who descended from a position as “a potential successor at Number 10” to “an iron bedstead” in a jail drinking tap water and nibbling at a stale bread roll while hearing the violent threats from fellow prisoners, was able to give the lighthearted answer to:

“Does anyone other than your next of kin know you are in prison?”

“I think perhaps 15 to 20 million people know I’m in prison” refering to the rage of the public! But what happened later in his prison cell was really the jaw-dropping episode which I do not want to spoil for you!

I never knew that after the TV show, the young Bake-Off star Martha Collison moved on to bake with Archbishop Justin Welby and talk about her faith in front of hundreds of young people, or that she went to Cambodia with Tearfund to teach women baking skills as a way of gaining an income to reduce the risk of child trafficking.

Behind all the joyful and peaceful, as well as sorrowful and tragic stories is a great big God who awes me again and again. I often feel a bit depressed hearing sermons talking about the increasingly hostile society of the UK towards Christianity. But this book really encourages me and reminds me that God is way more powerful than the devil. Thinking about people like the insurance executive Richard Borgonon in the City of London reading John’s gospel with people in his industry and producing notes like The Word One to One, the UK doesn’t seem to be as a depressing place. The ripple effect is reaching all over the world. And talking about The Word One to One, I was heavily involved in translating it into Chinese a few years ago! What an exciting and humbling thought!

It’s an encouraging read for any Christian. It’s also suitable for giving as a present for any non-believing friends. It’s very well written and easy to read. Although all stories are about life transformed and life lived for Jesus, each story has a slightly different focus on the gospel, for example, evangelism, eternal life, the power of the Bible, miracles of healing etc.

Praise God for this little book which I picked up almost as an afterthought at Word Alive earlier this year. It reads like a jewel and feels like a miracle!






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