Heroes of Faith Challenge Winners (Get Inspired!)

The Heroes of Faith Spring Reading Challenge at Gracepoint Berkeley church is officially over. In all, we had 14 people finish, with some people completing twice.

Here are some noteworthy statistics/awards:

  • Most favorited Heroes of Faith: George Mueller (Christian Heroes Then & Now) and Corrie Ten Boom (The Hiding Place)
  • Post-College finishers: 5
  • College Student finishers: 7
  • Elementary Student finishers: 2!
  • Female finishers: 12
  • Male finishers: 2
  • Most represented ministry: tie between Klesis and Koinonia Berkeley with 3 each.
  • Double finishers: Seniors Emily Rah and Krystal Han, from a2f Berkeley and Koinonia Berkeley respectively
  • Most senior finisher: Sarah Kim (?? years old)
  • Youngest female finisher: Julia (9 years old)
  • Youngest overall finisher: Wesley (8 years old)

With their permission, I am featuring our youngest finishers and their mini-reviews. I hope you’ll be inspired to pick up some more books!


Julia (holding her favorite biography) celebrating her completed bookmark with two of her friends!

Hi, my name is Julia. I’m 9 years old and in 4th grade. The heroes of faith book I liked the most is about William Wilberforce. I liked that book the most because when he really starts to understand the true meaning of what it is like to be a Christian, lots of people are asking him to present a bill against slavery to Parliament. After like a week he finally decides that he will present the bill. He decided to do that because this guy named Thomas gave him a copy of his essay to read. After he read all those words he started studying slavery. He learned all of these crucial facts about what people were doing to slaves, and that is what led him to the point when he presented the bill to the others.

Throughout half of his life he fought for others to have their freedom even though people kept on rejecting the bill. He still persevered, he brought up the bill several times, and had lots of supporters too. He eventually succeeded and it became a law officially.

This inspired me because he was a really bad person before. He would never study and his tutor would make fun of him if he studied or went to church or even read the Bible, so William would just gamble away and drink a lot. But when he met his old friend Isaac, he turned into a Christian and wanted to help all slaves get their freedom.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone.


Wesley not only reads Heroes of Faith biographies, but plays baseball too. 🙂

Wesley is 8 years old and in 3rd grade. Here is his mini-review of his favorite book from the challenge:


My favorite Christian Heroes book I read is about Jacob Deshazer because he was stuck in jail for many years and then he told a lot of people about God in China. When he was in jail for many years, he got to read books and one of them was the Bible. He read it 15 times before he gave it to someone else. This is how he became a Christian. I also thought it was cool that he was part of the Doolittle Raiders who first attacked Japan with a B25 bomber.



Recommendations from Pastor Ed Kang

Sunday at Gracepoint Berkeley church‘s college worship service, Pastor Ed Kang gave some suggestions for ways to make the most of the precious gift of winter break that college students have. When I was in college, I definitely did not appreciate and consider the reality that the time in college is the ONLY time I would ever have this gift of a month-long vacation!

Among some of the suggestions, Pastor Ed recommended some books. First, he suggested winter break would be a great time to read through the entire Bible. Then he recommended Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles, all by C.S. Lewis. And if that was too intimidating, to start with The Screwtape Letters.


It brought back memories to my freshman year of college a “few” years ago, when Pastor Ed issued the same challenge to start building up my faith by reading C.S. Lewis books.

Which C.S. Lewis books are your favorite? Which ones are you going to tackle this winter break? 

Alicia: My Story, A CYL Book for the Ages

“What’s your favorite book?” This is one of the questions I get the most from people. And I have so many that I needed to start breaking them down by genre, or other ridiculously narrow categories so as to afford me more favorite slots, such as “My favorite book I read during the years I owned my Scion was…”

Since people have pointed out that favorite means ONE, and my overuse of it was rendering it meaningless, I have exchanged “favorite book” for books that “CYL,” or change your life.

Hands down, one of my absolute top three CYL books is Alicia: My Story by Alicia Appleman-Jurman. I’ve hesitated to write a post about it, because I know I cannot do it justice. But starting today, it is $1.99 on Kindle and other e-book versions. I don’t know how long that deal will last, but it has compelled me to finally post about it.

I love reading or watching anything about or set during WWII (see: shout out for The Book Thief, another CYL book). I also love memoirs and biographies. I also love books featuring strong female protagonists (Katniss was NOT the first, y’all). Alicia is all of those and more. I happened upon the book during a browsing session at Barnes & Noble on Shattuck Ave (we hardly knew ye). The title and cover don’t exactly scream, “Read Me,” but for whatever reason I picked it up, and boy, am I glad I ever did.

We were going through Ruth in our DTs at the time, and perhaps that colored my perspective as I got to know Alicia’s life story. As she lost each of her family members to the Nazis (I’m not giving away any spoilers, don’t worry), she continued to survive, with only her wits as well as the help of others. What was astounding was she didn’t allow her circumstances to overwhelm her or justify being selfish, but she continued to think of others. She ended up taking care of thousands of orphaned children, counseling them, mothering them, providing for them, when she herself had her own traumas and needs to tend to. All this would be admirable enough, but then every once in a while, she would mention things like, “I would soon be 14.” And you’re like…WHAAAAT?!?!

To date, reading Alicia the first time was one of the most moving reading experiences I have had. Alicia came to me at just the right time in my mid-20s. As I studied the life of Ruth, and got engrossed in the life of Alicia, I had this moment of, “My life is truly a picnic” and I committed to stop complaining about my life and how “hard” it was to deal with x, y, z first-world problem.

Then I proceeded to tell everyone around me to read it, and stocked up on copies to give away. I think Michelle from Gracepoint San Diego church was one of the first. And she couldn’t put the book down either! She would read it while Stephen was at soccer practice. 🙂 Over the years I have gifted it to many people, sometimes with a forceful, “You HAVE to read this.” Some people I remember for sure are Sandra from Gracepoint Davis church, Mia and Susan from Gracepoint Minneapolis church, Lydia from Gracepoint Los Angeles church, Anna, Christine, Hannah, Elise, pretty much any of my housemates over the years, and countless others…you can try asking random sisters if they’ve read it if you want to find out how they liked it! I think I’ve recommended it to many brothers as well. 🙂

While the book isn’t as well known as Night by Elie Wiesel, it is every bit as worthwhile a read. Alicia settled in the Bay Area when she came to the U.S., and devoted her life to sharing her story as a survivor of the Holocaust, especially with students. I therefore had the opportunity to meet Alicia in 2003, when she came to speak at the high school where I used to teach. It was before the era of always having a camera with me, so I do not have a photo of our meeting. But to prove that you can remember a life experience without a photo, I can still feel the firmness of her handshake and the attentive focus of her eyes as we had a short exchange, and I was able to express a bit of how her courage inspired me and so many others I have passed her story onto.

All this to say, I highly recommend this book for anyone who is in about 5th grade and up!

Have you read Alicia: My Story? Were you one of the ones I “forced” to read it? What books have “changed your life”?

Wisdom From the Wemmicks – Pt. 2!

After Alex shared about her experience reading Max Lucado’s Wemmicks books, she decided to share some of the books with her life group. They read You are Special and You are Mine, and had a time of sharing about the gospel truths and life lessons they drew from the books.

Here’s Kaylin, one of the juniors in Klesis at Berkeley, with another plug for the wonderful children’s books:

This was one of the most memorable life group times. I was struck afresh by how the gospel is so simple that it can be presented in a children’s book, while I often make the gospel unnecessarily complicated. I found the Wemmicks and Punchinello’s story to be true to our own world, and was able to draw wisdom that achievements and material possessions are just stars, dots, boxes, and balls. Their story reaffirmed that I am not special because of anything I do, but the fact that I am the Maker’s. The gospel was so clear to me as I was reading the book and I was warmed by Eli’s love towards Punchinello. These books are so good; they are truly layered and deep! After life group, I went on amazon to find the whole collection to read to my baby cousins. 🙂

A limited quantity of the entire collection will be available at the bookstore soon! Perfect gifts for the holidays. 

Book Review: The Mysterious Island

Awhile ago, Johnny, one of the Element youth guys asked me during our Bibliopolis time if I had a copy of The Mysterious Island. I had never heard of the book (gasp!), and when I asked him where he heard about it, he told me his small group leader Denny (class of 2013 from Gracepoint Berkeley church) told him that he had to read it. Always on the hunt for new voices to feature on the blog, I shamelessly asked him to write a review. And he did!

mysterious_island-coverIn 8th grade, I read a book called The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne. I wanted to read it because I had also read Around the World in 80 days, Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by that same author and thought it was good stuff. I actually don’t remember too much of the content now, but the book did have a partial influence on my college major and career path.
The book is set during the American Civil War and has five dudes and a dog from the Union army who escaped, as war prisoners, if I recall correctly, in a hot air balloon. They land on the eponymous island and now they have to find a way to get back to society somehow.
The main character is the balleringest civil engineer and through his ingenuity, he’s able to find systematic ways to find and cook food, create nitroglycerin to blow up granite and use it to create space in a granite cliff behind a waterfall so that they can have a fortress to protect themselves from wild animals. He somehow makes a telegraph on this deserted island and is able to determine where they landed as well. On the island, they also encounter an orangutan which they adopt as their pet. And all the while, of course, mysterious things keep happening on the island, where the stranded characters suspect there is someone else on the island.

So, in a nutshell, in just one book, you get a cool civil engineer, a pet monkey and five guys trying to survive on a deserted island in their manly, engineered waterfall-guarded granite fortress. Too good. So come college applications, what does a 17-year-old who did OK in math and physics and knows nothing about what engineering really is about end up doing? Apply for civil engineering programs and aspire to be just as ballering. BOOM. Books change lives, folks. Read on!

I don’t know about you, but that was pretty much the balleringest book review and plug for reading I’ve read this year! 🙂

Have you read The Mysterious Island? Or any other Jules Verne book? I confess I haven’t, but this review bumped The Mysterious Island up my To-Be-Read List.

Wisdom From the Wemmicks

As the holidays draw near, people have been sending me emails asking about book recommendations for this relative, or that aged friend or coworker. So I hope that a series of posts on good books will be helpful for those of you at our churches in Gracepoint Ministries and beyond!

For those of you looking for good children’s books, I highly recommend any of Max Lucado’s Wemmicks books. I confess I’ve had a couple of them in the library for awhile, but didn’t read them until recently. And I was pleasantly surprised and ministered to by the books for their deep truths about our source of worth that comes from our relationship with God our Father and Creator.

I’ve been reading and rereading the books with different groups during our Bibliopolis reading time, and have been making adults who walk by read them as well!

In fact, here is a short testimonial from Alexandria Shen from Gracepoint Berkeley church, who read four of them in succession on a study break. 🙂

I just read four of these books and cried! They are moving and delightful reads reminding us of God’s love. You’ll likely find yourself identifying deeply with Punch and the Wemmicks (read the books if you don’t know what a Wemmick is).  If I had kids, I would definitely read these to them. For now, I think I might just read them with my life group!

As you can see, the Wemmicks books are great for children of any age! So they will make great gifts for children or the adults who will read them aloud for them.

My personal favorite out of the six is Best of All. Which one of the Wemmicks books do you like the best? 

Two Books for Intercessory Prayer

For the month of December, I will try to post as many book recommendations as possible, since many people are looking for good books to buy for people, as well as to read during the colder, perfect-reading-weather days.

Today’s recommendation comes from Susanna, from Gracepoint Berkeley church. She has two recommendations for books to help with intercessory prayer. As a pioneer of many prayer workshops, I for one am going to take her recommendation seriously!

I would like to recommend the following book to help you pray scriptural prayers as you intercede for those who are far from God:

Prayers for Prodigals: 90 Days of Prayer for Your Child by James Banks

This prayer book is written by a pastor who had two prodigal children, one of whom struggled with substance abuse for 7 years but is now a minister of the Gospel.  Although it is written to pray for prodigal children, I found this book to be helpful to pray for anyone who is a prodigal, may it be a parent, sibling, relative, friend, or someone you are reaching out to.  You just need to insert your loved one’s name in the prayer.  I have been using this book to intercede for some people, and it has given me so much hope, strength, and confidence in God’s promises, especially when you feel weak and heartbroken.

The following prayer book is for parents, children’s ministers, and youth ministers:

Prayers for Your Children:  90 Days of Heartfelt Prayers for Children of Any Age by James Banks

Again, the prayers are scripture-based, and based on Biblical themes.  It’s a wonderful springboard to pray and claim promises of God daily for your children (of any age).  Although this is written for parents, it is a helpful resource to pray for children or youth that you are ministering to over the themes of purity, protection, faithfulness, fruitfulness, etc.

I will end with an inspiring quote from James Banks:

“We have a God-given responsibility to pray for them as long as we live.  And we have the comfort of knowing that because of God’s kindness our prayers can even outlive us, finding their answers years after our own lives on this earth are done.”  

Both of these books are readily available for purchase at online booksellers, and in the HB bookstore!