Save My Children: The Story of a Father’s LoveThe novel chronicles a couple’s 50 years of army-barrack service, kissing boo-boos and breaking bread, planting gardens and training young boys in farm work.
Withering under the negligence of a step-father who neglected and abused her, Stormy turned to the solace of imaginary friends. The man who was to care for her after her mother’s death routinely used her as washerwoman and a punching bag, and then left her home alone for weeks on end with empty cupboards. Stormy was likely near death herself, frail and filthy, when she awoke in a clean bed with a kind woman mopping her brow, smiling like an angel and smelling like cinnamon. Her name was Elsie Jespersen and she and her husband, Harvey, operated Bethany Homes for Children. Stormy soon flourished under their care and made so many new friends at the home that she no longer needed her imaginary ones. “The sky was so blue and the grass green, and everybody loved each other, and Stormy wasn’t afraid anymore.”
Stormy’s story is just one of the many Emily Wierenga shares in her debut novel Save My Children, a fictional re-telling of the true story of the founders of Bethany Homes for Children. From 1948 to 1991 the Jespersens fostered more than 800 children, caring for up to 55 at any given time. Their home was a set of old army barracks on an expanse of Albertan farmland that they transformed into a haven of hope and a hospital for broken little souls. Mended by love, “children who had never been taught how to smile…cracked the world in half with laughter.”
A freelance writer and artist who served on Bethany Homes’ Board of Directors, Wierenga has lovingly written Save My Children in honour of Bethany Homes’ 60th anniversary. The novel chronicles the Jespersen’s “50 years of army-barrack service, kissing boo-boos and breaking bread, planting gardens and training young boys in farm work, driving 35 youngsters around in a big yellow school bus, and bleeding with pain as the children they loved were forced to leave.” Even as adults Bethany’s brood remembered Harvey’s offer that wherever they were and whatever they needed, they could always C.O.D.—“Call On Dad.” “For many he was the only father they’d ever known. For others he was the only father they wanted to remember.”
Within the pages of this book Wierenga inspires with illustrations of sacrificial love, entertains with the antics that took place on the farm, and encourages with evidence of God’s provision in honour of the Jespersen’s faith and obedience. Her keen powers of observation of creation, emotion, and the human condition are revealed through beautiful prose and metaphor. Readers will want to live in Wierenga’s world where the early morning sun licks bedroom windows “with weary lemon strokes” and clouds are like “whipped cream on a blueberry pancake.”
Wierenga weaves a strong cord of hope through the stories she shares in this compelling and heart-warming novel. This is “the heavenly Father’s story…written upon the hearts of hundreds of children, a story of love.”
Save My Children: The Story of a Father’s Love. Emily Wierenga. BayRidge Books, 2008.
Sharon Fawcett is the author of Hope for Wholeness.
Originally published on the Bethany Homes website, October 2008.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2008 Christianity.ca.