The Long Highway Home
Atlanta, Georgia, October 2005
I rapped twice on the door of the seventh-floor apartment in the posh retirement home on Peachtree Street. “Peggy? You in there?”
I unlocked the door and found her, as I knew I would, sitting on her balcony looking out at the hubbub below. At ninety-two, Peggy Milner rarely strayed outside in the late afternoon. She reserved her errands for the morning, before her body pitched its daily fit, as she put it.
I knelt down by her wheelchair, and she slowly maneuvered it so that she was facing me. Her thin wrinkled face was surrounded by abundant white hair, cut in a bob. Her green eyes, still bright in spite of cataracts, met mine. “So?”
“The doctor says I have a year to live. And that’s optimistic.”
Her eyes misted. “I’m so sorry to hear it, Bobbie,” she said, reaching out a feeble hand to stroke my face. “I wish it could be me.”
I knew she meant it. Peggy had been ready to go meet Jesus for years. “Well, I’m thankful you’re still here for me. What would I have become without you, Peggy?”
“You and the Lord would have done just fine, no need of me. What did the doctor say about treatment?”
“A pill for two months. After that, aggressive chemo, if the cancer hasn’t spread.”
“Then you know what you need to do. As I’ve been saying for nearly twelve years, Bobbie, go back.”
Tears sprang to my eyes. “But I’m afraid. What if I can’t make it right? What if I fail again?”
She sat back in her chair and said, almost sharply, “Dear child, what have you to lose now? Go back.”
“Tracie wants to go with me.”
A smile spread across Peggy’s face, lifting the sagging skin. “So you have made plans.”
“I didn’t say yes yet.”
“Say yes, Bobbie. Close the wound. Let it heal. Go back.”
Still on my knees, I laid my head in Peggy’s lap, let her hands rest softly on my back, heard her voice, the sound of age, the sound of wisdom, whisper a prayer for me. “Dear Jesus, take Bobbie back, so she can forgive herself. So she can remember what she knows. You make all things new.”
Timisoara, Romania, a few weeks later
Slowly, deliberately I walked into Timisoara’s Victory Square where back in December, 1989 thousands of protestors fighting to bring down Communism had stood with their candles lit. Where I had stood on that fateful night. I placed my cane carefully between the cobbled stones. I couldn’t afford to stumble or fall. There was the statue of Romulus and Remus surrounded by students and businessmen, the fountain spraying water, a multitude of pigeons waiting their turns to splash beneath it. The gardens were planted with bright purple petunias, and roses were everywhere. Timisoara was called the city of roses. I’d forgotten.
With Tracie at my side, I hobbled along, trying to make the limp less visible, determined to blend into the scenery, heading purposefully in the direction of the Orthodox church at the end of the square. The wonder on my niece’s face reminded me of the way I’d felt all those years ago, discovering a whole new world.
“Oh, this is beautiful!” She drew out the syllables as we stepped into the cathedral. She’d said the same thing at every single church we’d visited.
We watched as a line of several elderly Romanian women approached a painting of the Virgin and Child that stood on an easel in the center of the church. One by one the women moved forward, bowed, and kissed the icon.
“How weird,” Tracie whispered. “They actually kiss the painting. That’s not very hygienic.”
I shrugged and gave her a wink.
“And why aren’t there any pews in this church?”
“It’s Orthodox,” I whispered. “Everyone stands.”
I actually wished a bench would magically appear before me. Pain throbbed in my left leg, and I leaned heavily on the cane.
“Aunt Bobbie, are you okay?” Tracie took my arm. “You’re trembling!”
“No worries, dear. Just a little tired.”
“Look, over there. Against the wall.”
She took my arm and I didn’t protest, just planted the cane in front of me and walked slowly toward a mahogany bench where two older women were seated. I settled beside them, and a wave of anger surged within me, taking me by surprise.
I’m thirty-nine, Lord. Isn’t that a little young to die? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I look forward to spending eternity with You, but there are so many other things I wanted to do here first . . .
I watched Aunt Bobbie sitting beside two elderly women on a well-worn bench inside the Metropolitan Orthodox Church. The older women, with sagging, wrinkled skin, talked animatedly to each other while Bobbie leaned back, head against the wall, eyes closed, her right hand clutching a cane. Something was definitely wrong with this picture.
Bobbie was the young, cool aunt all my friends admired as we were growing up, and practically a second mother to me. She loved history, loved travel, loved to be spontaneous, loved people. And she was dying. When my mom called to tell me of Bobbie’s diagnosis, I dropped my cell phone on the floor in disbelief. And the next week I called Bobbie to say it was time for that month-long trip to Europe we’d always talked about.
My aunt had lived in Europe for ten years as a young woman. She had a mysterious career there, and I’m sure I hadn’t heard the half of it—she actually smuggled Bibles into Communist countries in the 1980s, and worked at an orphanage for deaf children in Romania. But then my father dropped dead of a heart attack at forty-two, leaving Mom to care for six children. Bobbie got the word and hopped the next plane to Atlanta, where she swooped into our lives in her flowing bright orange pantsuit, the “eternal rescuer.” That’s what Mom called her. To me, and to my five younger brothers, she was an exotic creature, all fun and adventure and generosity, taking our minds off the fact that our father had just died and placing them on the gifts she had brought to us from Europe. I’ll never forget the look in Mom’s eyes—extreme gratitude in the midst of her grief. There was nothing subtle about Aunt Bobbie, and yet she had an almost imperceptible quality of grace about her, something strong and yet comforting and cozy, something that made me want to be with her and hope and pray it would rub off on me. She never made me feel that whatever drama was going on in my life at the moment was ridiculous or unimportant.
Bobbie knew how to rough it. Once in a village in Bulgaria, when her contact didn’t show up, she dug a hole in the ground to keep the wind from slicing through her and slept outside in the freezing cold. She said it was “an awesome experience.” But another time, while I was in high school, a girlfriend invited her to take a cruise on the Mediterranean, and they stayed in the best suite on the ship. She loved that too.
“You just have to appreciate whatever comes,” she used to say to us kids. “Each day is a twenty-four-hour adventure.”
So Mom and I had decided that Bobbie needed a quaint luxury hotel in Venice, and she agreed—on the condition that she could plan our next stop, in Timisoara. The place we were staying here was definitely not luxurious. In fact, Bobbie called it a “Communist hotel.”
“You know, it’s all dark, heavy wood, oppressive, unimaginative.”
I watched her remove her slip-on Keds—always before she’d worn high-heeled boots or sandals—pull herself into the low and sagging double bed we were sharing, set her cane down, and smile at me.
“Ah, that’s better.” She made light of her earlier moment of exhaustion at the church and said, “It’s completely to be expected as a side effect of the meds.”
It did not exactly placate my fears, but she dared me with those bright blue eyes to disagree. My throat constricted, and I blinked back tears. I hopped on the bed and flicked on the little side light.
“Do you ever think about what you used to do? All those years living in Vienna and smuggling Bibles? Do you miss it?”
Bobbie loved to tell me stories of that life, but when I’d asked her this question in the past, she’d always said something like, “How could I miss that life when I have you and your brothers to fill my days and nights?”
But now she stared at me, and somehow her eyes dimmed. “I think of it every single day of my life.” She quickly reached for my hand and squeezed it. “That doesn’t mean I haven’t been happy. Aching for one thing and enjoying something else aren’t mutually exclusive.”
“I suppose you’re right.” I made a face and focused my attention on a piece of peeling beige paint on the wall in front of me. I knew what she was referring to. My aunt was infamous for making a point from something in her life so that I could apply it to mine. “Yes, I’m loving every minute of this trip. But it still hurts so bad that Neil broke up with me. I don’t know if there will ever be a single hour in any day when I don’t think about him.”
She sighed. “Love is painful sometimes, isn’t it?”
“It sucks.” Then, glancing at her, I dared to ask another question that I’d asked her loads of times before, a question to which she usually gave a silly reply. “Come on, Aunt Bobbie. Tell me for real—did you ever want to be married?”
She smiled. “Well, of course I’ve thought about it—still do at times. You know, people do marry even after forty!” She laughed. “Thought about it, but then I inherited a family, a large family with a lot of kids, and I didn’t even have to bother with a husband.”
“But you would have preferred to stay in Austria, do your work there?”
She cocked her head, rested it against the red-cushioned headboard, and closed her eyes. “Tracie, life has seasons. I entered a season of nurturing your family. It wasn’t forced upon me. I chose it with gladness, and I have never regretted that choice. Another season might be coming now.”
Another season? That’s what she thought of dying? I didn’t want her to enter that season. Ever.
Somewhere in Iran
Hamid was so tired of running. For two months now he’d been constantly looking over his shoulder, afraid of who might show up with a gun and pull the trigger. He shuddered as he pulled the filthy blanket around his shoulders, thinking of the news he had heard the day before, coming through the radio in little patches of static. Four killed in a bombing in his Iranian village, massacred. Was Alaleh one of them? And seven-year-old Rasa? He could not allow himself to think of it.
And the baby . . . surely the little one would be born soon. Where would Alaleh go for the birth? Could the midwife be trusted? His stomach cramped with the questions. Did Alaleh show Rasa photos of her father, remind her how much she was loved? How Hamid longed for news. How he wished he could turn back the clock, had said “No thank you” to the neighbors when they invited Rasa to their daughter’s birthday party.
Little Noyemi was Rasa’s friend, and Hamid and Alaleh liked the neighbors, even though they were Armenian Christians. They were good people, kind people with strange convictions, brave people who held firm to their religion in spite of the pressure from others.
And Alaleh was so ill with the pregnancy. Twice she had miscarried, and the labor and delivery with Rasa had not gone well. But this time, the doctor said, with plenty of rest, Alaleh would carry this child to term. Agar Khoda hast. If God willed. Hamid himself was busy at the university and worried about rumors of the government’s new plan to bring in the military against the intellectuals. Preoccupied with this and Alaleh’s health, he had welcomed a place where Rasa could be with other children, even for an afternoon. How could he have foreseen . . .
But one afternoon turned into a week, as the neighbors explained that they had a guest from America who wanted to tell stories to the children each day. A special club for the children. How Rasa’s eyes sparkled every time she returned from the children’s club! She brought little crafts she had made and told stories of the nice woman. It was only on the last day, when Hamid came to pick her up, that Rasa had presented her father with the book.
“Baba, the nice lady gave this to me. It’s a good book with wonderful stories. It is for me.”
Hamid took the small colorful book with the Farsi title from his daughter.
“The nice lady said it was a good book, but”—and Rasa’s eyes had grown wide as she leaned into him—“but it is a dangerous book. I must not show it to anyone. Only you and Maamaan.”
He knew the book, and even holding it in his hand, he felt dirty. The Ingil, the New Testament. In their own language, Farsi. Blasphemy! He should never have let Rasa attend the club. It was brainwashing! He sat with the other parents, most of them Armenian, on the last day of the club, and heard the young American woman speaking in English and the translator beside her telling of the Christ, the prophet. Calling him God. Blasphemy!
He took Rasa’s hand and led her away amidst her tears and protests. Why had he not left the book there? Instead, he had hurried out of the neighbors’ house with Rasa clutching the book to her chest. It was a short walk to their home, a minute, less. But that day the religious police were on the corner of the street. Did they know of the American woman, of the children’s club? Were they watching to see if any Muslims attended? Hamid saw them too late. They approached, as they always did, with authority, brandishing guns. His arm tightened around his daughter. He quietly took the book from her hands, then, feigning a cough, he bent over and slid the book onto the sidewalk behind him, near the Armenians’ house where it belonged. The police searched them both, found nothing, and Hamid and Rasa fled inside their home.
Of course the police found the book eventually, and of course they came the next day to question him. He’d known they would be back. He knew the stories. Men who had disagreed politically were thrown into prison for months, years. But what would they do to a Muslim carrying a Christian book? The punishment for blasphemy was death.
There was no time to do anything but flee. Alaleh, heavy with child, her face streaked with tears, begged him, “Go now, Hamid. I will find you, no matter what happens. I’ll come with our children.”
Little Rasa hugged his legs, crying, “Don’t leave, Baba! Don’t leave! Take me with you, Baba!”
His mother cried and said, “You must leave now. Leave, Hamid, or they will kill us all.”
The last kiss, passionate, terrible, the wrenching away, then hugging Alaleh to him, feeling the tightness of her belly against his . . .
He had fled on a night like this one, with the moon cupping its hand as if to catch a falling star and the sky a cobalt blue fading to black. He closed his eyes to shut out the piercing memories of their good-bye, the frenzied packing of documents, the money hidden in every piece of his clothing.
Only twice since he left had he heard Alaleh’s voice, whispering, fearful, full of love. “Rasa is growing strong, beautiful, she loves her father. The baby is kicking so often at night I don’t sleep!” She had said it with humor in her voice, so he wouldn’t worry. But Hamid did worry. “I love you, Hamid . . .”
After two months of running, he was still far from safe. The mountain village where he now hid was barely sheltered from the perpetual gunfire down in the valley. His traveling companions, two brothers named Ashar and Merif, were intellectuals chased from their home by the government. They thought he was the same. They had all walked from Tehran to the northwestern most part of Iran. It was there they met the smuggler, Zemar, who had led them into a Kurdish village where they stayed with a family. There had been food and blankets—for a price, of course. Then they were put onto a flatbed truck, zigzagging through the mountains. When they reached a police checkpoint in the mountainous area, the truck stopped and the smuggler took them into a house, told them to dress in warm clothes, and put them on horseback. They rode through the night to the next Iranian village, always with the hope of getting a little closer to Turkey.
They left the horses then, and together they had scaled mountains and hidden in caves, scavenged for food and huddled around campfires. Sometimes they traveled with Zemar, sometimes, as was now the case, they were left to follow a crude map on their own, trusting that Zemar would indeed meet up with them at the next agreed-upon location. Together with Ashar and Merif, Hamid had killed wild rabbits and drunk from streams in the middle of the night. And always they listened, they waited, ears trained for the sound of the enemy.
Last week Hamid had been shot in the arm as they raced through the mountainous terrain, following the silent smuggler. He had escaped only by sheer determination, forcing his feet to run, ignoring the exploding pain near his shoulder. The bullet had gone straight through his arm, and the wound showed signs of infection. Now his arm throbbed with pain underneath the makeshift bandage.
Soon they would cross the mountains of northwest Iran into Turkey and travel to Van, the city near the border where refugees arrived, terrified but alive. Another smuggler was to meet them there. From Turkey Hamid would travel to Bulgaria and then on to Austria! Austria, where his cousin Jalil now lived, having gained asylum. Where there was a possibility to start a new life. And then, oh then, God be praised, yes, Khoda be praised, then he could bring Alaleh and Rasa and the baby to join him. Agar Khoda hast.
The three men huddled around the fire, warming their hands, gathering the thick blankets around them as the November sky blinked down a thousand stars. The outline of the snowcapped Mount Ararat far in the distance, with the stars above shining like thousands of exclamation points, should have caused him to burst into song. He was a philosopher, and this night the perfect canvas for him to paint his words. Instead he felt a hollow aching and cold, cold fear.
What if Alaleh and Rasa were dead? Then what hope was left? Why keep running and hiding, why cling to a dream of building a better life of freedom and peace? If they had been murdered, there was no hope.
As the static on the radio grew worse, Merif reached forward and turned the dial, searching for another station with a stronger signal. Suddenly a voice came through, loud and clear.
“. . . from every nation, it is there. The cry for freedom, for hope . . .”
More static. More fiddling with the dial, the three men glancing at each other, glancing up at the stars as if they might betray them, then back to the dwindling fire and the radio.
“. . . and so there is hope in spite of the fear, in spite of the pain, in spite of the bloodshed. The words of the Savior call out ‘Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take . . .”
The static increased, the words faded into nothingness, the men grumbled. With the fire dying away and the cold rushing in to steal their breath, they huddled together for warmth and listened for some other word of their village, of their home, something to give hope.
Hamid stretched out on the hard ground, pulling the blanket over him, cupping his hands under his head for a pillow, and thought of beautiful Alaleh, of bright-eyed Rasa, of his unborn child, of the fuzzy voice from the radio saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Strange words. But oh, how he longed for rest.
~from The Long Highway Home, by Elizabeth Musser, c2016. Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
My husband and I have had the privilege of visiting The Oasis over the past years in our role as Pastors to Workers in Europe. We’ve seen the work that goes on at this Christian welcome center which is literally a five-minute-walk from the government refugee housing camp in Traiskirchen, Austria. A few years back, the stories I heard of refugees coming to faith in Jesus Christ as they learned of Him at The Oasis inspired my novel The Long Highway Home.
Over the past months, the news of the refugee crisis played out across Europe has often shown the horror and desperation these people are experiencing. This summer, more than 5000 refugees poured into this refugee camp in Traiskirchen which has a capacity of housing 800. In the midst of this crisis, our team of missionaries is seeing God at work in powerful ways. One of the workers at The Oasis offers this glimpse into what the Lord is doing now:
During the past four weeks, a growing number of Afghan and Iranian refugees are coming to The Oasis, seeking more than clothes. The local Austrian church, in walking distance from The Oasis, has opened wide its doors to these refugees. With the help of a young Afghan who came to Christ 18 months ago and the partnership of the church leaders, this church now welcomes over 20 refugees who attend the service (which is translated for them) each Sunday and enjoy a meal after the service.
Four weeks ago, twelve of these refugees were baptized at this church. As they shared their testimonies, both the new believers and the listeners wept tears of sorrow and joy. These twelve new believers have gone back into the refugee camp and brought twelve more refugees to The Oasis to attend the Bible classes that take place twice a week. REJOICE and PRAY with us for this movement to continue. His Spirit is calling and many are coming.
On a recent Saturday morning, our team held an orientation meeting for people interested in helping us at The Oasis. Fifteen people from several different churches attended. Then, in the afternoon, over fifty people from eight different local Austrian churches participated with us in a street outreach. First they met at The Oasis for instructions and encouragement and then we sent them out, two by two, into the streets of Traiskirchen to bless the refugees. God is breathing grace and courage on the church in Austria. It took the crisis to shake up the believers, and they are responding in love and mercy and in word and deed.
Be encouraged by what God is doing in the midst of the masses and crisis and please pray for the workers at The Oasis and for the volunteers who are coming from the Austrian churches.
For more information on how you can help, please visit:
The post appeared in the Dutch online magazine PUUR
October 13, 2015
From American Readers:
~In a day of full-blown refugee crisis, The Long Highway Home is very timely and culturally relevant. From a realistic view of what life looks like for a displaced and persecuted family to the dilemma of how to respond to those whose life has become a living hell, Musser?s characters inspire us to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in our own backyard. Entertaining, thought provoking, and challenging!
~Considering the current news, this book is wonderfully appropriate in understanding the present refuge crisis in Eastern Europe. It fleshes out the people desperately seeking freedom - something that Americans are slow to understand. Although it is quite different than Ms Musser's earlier books, it is equally well written, fast paced with a wonderful story line. A wonderful read. I recommend it highly. I would also add that her background in France gives her credibility that other authors might well lack.
~The Long Highway Home is a heart warming, deeply moving story of the mighty power of God at work in our time. From a refugee center in Austria where dedicated people are giving their lives to serve hurting people, God brings transformation and healing to refugees but also some of the people who were working there. The rescue of a family from the clutches of Iran touched my heart as God used many people to bring them freedom and hope. Elizabeth has again brought us a wonderful heart stirring story with a soul.
Kevin Dyer, founder of International Teams
~How excited I was to receive one of your special 'pre-launch' editions of The Long Highway Home! Last evening I read the final pages and I was not disappointed with the unexpected, but hoped-for ending. I have collected and have shared all your other books over the years with many of my friends and they have loved every one of them as much as I have. Thank you, Elizabeth, for another wonderful read that brings us a better understanding of what refugees undergo and how our trust in God, our only real refuge, gives us the hope and promises we all need no matter what our trials are. You have blessed us once again with what will be another best-selling novel!
~Stories are powerful. They can help towards tearing down prejudices and stereotypes. This book tells several different people's stories in a moving way that changes the way you view those who are different from you. Riveting storyline, I couldn't put it down!
~If I have circles under my eyes, it is because I was up until 2 this morning finishing this book! It has consumed all my free time the last few days because I could not put it down. As always, Elizabeth's books are great. Our book club at church has read the majority of her books because she is a favorite of ours. But there are a few that have spoken to me in a very personal way. This is one of them. God has been impressing on my heart the plight of the refugees from the Middle East and what my response should be. We often think first of the political or security ramifications, but often the eternal ramifications for these that Christ died for get lost in the mix. This book not only reminded me that we have brothers and sisters in Christ caught in the cross fires, but that all of them are people Christ sacrificed his life for. It also reminded me to pray for those who are manning the front line, and of the many ways we can serve those in need if we only look for them. If you like books that will affirm your faith and that challenge you to step boldly into what God has for you, this book is a must read!
~I really enjoyed the book - so amazing that it is largely based on true stories! American Christians need to be aware of what our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer for His name's sake. Thanks for putting it into an intriguing novel format!
Sara Smith T.
~Elizabeth Musser, The Long Highway Home has captured my heart! I reluctantly let it end as I go with new characters with whom I fell in love! Thank you again for being true and faithful to your gift!
~Full disclosure: I'm a conservative American lawyer who doesn't read much fiction about anything. Then why did I read The Long Highway Home and what did I think of it? Simply put, I read it because a lady in our extended family asked me to read it; and she assured me that much of what author Musser has written in the book happened at a small refugee center in Austria- called the Oasis. I knew that Julie- whom you will meet in the story-worked for years at a refugee center in Austria; but because she worked in Austria-the home of the musical The Sound of Music, and all things fanciful-it was hard to grasp just how this little storefront fit into the 21st century refugee crisis in Europe and points east.
So mostly out of a feeling of family obligation, I put aside my Wall Street Journal and legal texts on a long plane ride recently and started reading Elizabeth Musser's book. Wow! What happened next even surprised me. It was not a political screed from the left or right. But what became clear early in the book is that it is a story about how God's loving and protective presence is brought to life; Jesus’s “hands and feet” are almost palpable as seen through the sacrificial efforts of just a few souls at the Oasis. Incredibly, these inspired few just seem to be doing their God-given jobs, without complaint, in the gut-wrenching and terror-filled real world in that corner of the globe.
Once I got familiar with the characters in the story, I couldn't put it down. I finished in three nights and longed for more. I don't think I've ever read a story in which the author brought faith, love, terror, happiness, and ultimately God's glory to life through her characters as well as Elizabeth Musser has done in The Long Highway Home. I assure you, once you enter the lives of God's "hands and feet" here on earth in the form of Bobbi, Julie, Stephen, Tracie and all the others in the story you will come to realize that Jesus is alive and very present at the Oasis.
~I finished The Long Highway Home and spent a lot of tears on those pages ! What a GREAT book. It should be as big a hit as Swan House. I LOVED it. Every character was so beautifully developed and all the issues so real.
~This is a novel for the times we are living in. Elizabeth has once again written from her heart and draws her readers in to literally travel on the same 'long highway' with the characters. Her various settings often reflect her writing from personal experience & knowledge of the situation. I highly recommend this be on your book list for this year.
~The Long Highway Home-Elizabeth is one of my favorite authors, and I appreciate the captivating way that once again she has woven fiction and history together into a deeply moving and inspirational story depicting the harsh realities facing refugees. Realities that were new to me. I enjoyed the creative way Elizabeth shared the characters' stories by alternating them within the chapters and how she tied them together. Their stories captured my heart and caused me to grow in compassion for the many refugees and their families that are fleeing for their very lives today as well as enormous respect for those brave Christ followers/Bible smugglers/Refuge Safe House workers! Powerful and riveting story, I couldn't put it down! The unconditional love, perseverance and great sacrifices made by the characters are inspirational. Looking forward to her next book.
Terri La Brie Director of Prayer Lifesprings International
~I really enjoyed the book - so amazing that it is largely based on true stories! American Christians need to be aware of what our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer for His name's sake. Thanks for putting it into an intriguing novel format!
Sara Smith T, Opelika, Alabama
~Elizabeth Musser has been given the gift of writing about the reality of the Lord Jesus in everyday life. She never comes across as 'preachy' or 'religious' just real! It's obvious that she has a very alive walk with the Lord and she so ably expresses this in the characters of this novel. The Long Highway Home will grip your heart as you realize the struggles many people are experiencing as they search for truth and the joy they realize as they take the risk of believing in Isa al Masi. Your eyes will be opened to the plight of refugees seeking freedom from persecution in today's world. Just be prepared to have your heart sing as you wipe tears.
~I grew up hearing about The Oasis and the people that worked there. The Long Highway Home brings that special place to life and it is so special to witness the work there up close in this story. This book also serves as a reminder for us Christians that our prayers for brothers and sisters around the world in dire circumstances are needed and powerful. Even though we may never see the work accomplished by our simple words, God is weaving beautiful stories with them. An important read for us a globally minded Christians in this day and age.
~For most of my adult life I had little interest in fiction and even less in Christian fiction. I only read The Long Highway Home because a long-time friend who works with refugees had it sent to me. I could hardly put the book down and read it in about a week. It is a riveting story of refugees, relationships, renewal, regret, restoration and even some romance. It is spellbinding and exhilarating. The author advances the story by alternating perspectives from the main characters. One group is an international team of missionaries to refugees. I already knew that such people had compassion, but I didn't realize they possessed such resourcefulness, organizational ability, intrepidity, and perseverance in the face of dire and daunting circumstances. The second group often feels hopeless and desperate in the face of overwhelming adversity, although some have a vague sense of hope derived from an inchoate knowledge of Jesus. The overarching goal of the first group is to see the second group share in their hope, purpose and sense of belonging.
~What a hopeful, inspiring and factual novel! For more than 10 years, I've been aware of the Oasis ministry in Austria, and been receiving newsletters and prayer requests and praises from a team member there, and been in prayer for so many of the refugees and team members. However, this 'novel,' which actually reads like reality, based on what I know of the Oasis, made me appreciate even more greatly its many heart-filled, God-directed ministries, and the hope it offers to each refugee. It also helped me to understand how our many mission agencies - like broadcasts of the gospel - work well, through the Spirit's direction - to help those in need. Thank you for this wonderful story of God's faithfulness, and the reason that we can have hope, step out, and simply obey His opportunities!
~Your amazing and excellent book, THE LONG JOURNEY HOME, has been such a blessing to my friends and to me. It surely helped me to understand the plight of refugees more, and caused me to understand a bit more of my own parents. My father and mother came from Syria through Ellis Island when they were teenagers.
~I really enjoyed this book!! It was excellent, and so very uplifting. It was so cool to see how God was at work, and it was so well written. I would definitely read this again!!
~The Long Highway Home is one of the best novels I have ever read ~ it's hard to surpass The Swan House and The Dwelling Place! As in all of Elizabeth's novels, she has once again had real world and fiction collide with God in charge and showing up at just the right moments with just the right Bible verses we need to hear. I love books where one circumstance influences so many others. Faith, love and serving others is what its all about.
~A very enjoyable read. Although I was aware of the refugee situation and had been praying together with my husband for them, Elizabeth's novel made us realize even more how much those Christians need our fervent prayers. And, not only the persecuted believers, but also those who are questioning and looking for and needing the grace, hope and love they could have in Jesus.
~Through The Long Highway Home I walked in the shoes of refugees who fled their homeland because they were identified as being open to the Christian faith. I gained new understanding of their dangers, fears, and trials, as well as of their hopes, dreams, and faith-struggles. I?m grateful for these new insights into an issue that is so prevalent in our time. I also appreciate being introduced to The Oasis in Austria and getting a glimpse of ministry that reaches out to encourage and help the refugees through showing the love and sharing the truth of Jesus Christ. The Long Highway Home is not only well-written and engaging, but is relevant to understanding our world today. It will strengthen my prayers for those in need and the ones who minister to them.
From Dutch readers (the novel came out first in Dutch in 2015):
~I have just finished Aan de andere kant van de bergen (The Long Highway Home). It touched me as few other books have done, although I read often and extensively. Thank you for so faithfully portraying the trials of refugees, those who aim to help them and God who in so many ways aims to draw them to His Father’s heart! I would, however, prefer to re-read it in the original English, so I would like to be informed when the English version is published! Would it help to write a recommendation somewhere, to confirm that there's a real need for it?
Thank you, once again!!
~Thank you so much for all the marvelous books you write. I just finished the book about The Oasis in Austria and it inspired me a lot to pray for the refugees!!! Many times, I had tears in my eyes, while reading about all those characters. And you managed to write just as it is in life: many persons, many stories. I thank our dear Lord for giving you such a writer’s gift.
~…In Aan de andere kant van de bergen (The Long Highway Home), Elizabeth Musser has multiple storylines that come together at The Oasis, a welcome center for refugees in Traiskirchen, Austria. The Oasis is actually a real place which does a lot of work among refugees... Slowly but surely Musser develops the characters in an ultimately hopeful story, despite the terrible trials of the refugees. It is a novel in which the faith of Christians and their love for fellow human beings are central. It is refreshing to read that one of the main characters, Tracie, in spite of her Christian upbringing, is very skeptical about the faith her Aunt Bobbie professes. Disillusioned with God as a youth, her cutting remarks about Christians are eventually pacified by the powerful example of short-term volunteers. The book makes you aware that we can do something about the refugee crisis…Sometimes a novel is a trigger to make readers think about a current issue. That was the case for me. Not only did I have a real page-turner in hand, I also learned again to fold my hands and pray for the people who search for freedom and asylum and to open my heart to the stranger who is my neighbor.
~…It is also a story of faith. Watching lives change in Jesus' name as we pray, trust and see miracles happen. It is extraordinary to witness this while reading this story. At the same time I can see a kind of balance in the story, by the unbelief of Tracie and the initial skepticism of Stephen. That makes it realistic, lifelike: The wonders of God in a world where pain, sorrow, doubt and fear are still the order of the day… Although the story is sometimes complicated by the many storylines, it's a realistic story that touches you deeply. From different sides you are taken into the raw reality of refugee life and see the deep needs in this world. Simultaneously, the book shows the importance of faith and prayer, and lets you think about your opportunities to do something with it. "On the other side of the mountains” means that you cannot close your eyes to the plight of the refugees in the world and calls you to action.
~Especially the tough journey of Hamid and the terrible world of smugglers are very well defined. The different ways that the protagonists go to God for the readers are very recognizable and therefore familiar. The author shows the reader in this book what kind of world we live in and what struggles some people have run for freedom of religion.
~It is a story you keep thinking about when it's over. It's good to see that it can also be so different than we are used to in a country with religious freedom.
~(A quote from the book) Home. Where was home in heaven's name? An image flashed through my head: Hamid grabbed my hands as if he would not let go of me and thanked me for my promise to write an article about his family. I saw the lean, intense Carol from behind the bar to look at me and nod in the middle group of refugees. ‘Of course it's worth it. It's hard work, hard work. But it's worth it.’ Elizabeth Musser confronts us in her latest book with the raw realities of refugee life. This book does something to you!
~The Long Highway Home is the best book from Elizabeth Musser. Since last year’s refugee problem in Europe, you get a new picture of what the refugee have gone through to come all the way up north to Norway. They have walked almost all the way from south Europe, through Russia before they came to us.
Janneke Greve, Norway, 2016
Endorsements for The Long Highway Home
The Long Highway Home is a compelling and convicting novel that brings the refugee crisis that’s in today’s news vividly to life. Elizabeth Musser weaves the individual characters’ stories together with great skill and insight, creating a novel that touched my heart and made me ask God how He wants me to help. Every Christian who looks at the refugee crisis with fear needs to read this book. Unforgettable!
Author of Waves of Mercy
As the leader of a global non-profit that works with refugees all over the world, I am profoundly grateful for the research and accuracy that is apparent in Elizabeth Musser’s The Long Highway Home. Readers should know as they read this book that while it is written as fiction, it accurately portrays the perils and miracles that are experienced along the refugee highway. Not only will this book keep you on the edge of your seat as you watch each character develop, but it will drive you to your knees to pray for those who need to know the love, grace, and compassion of Jesus and the dedicated people who work with them.
President & CEO
The Long Highway Home is Elizabeth Musser’s best novel yet. With all the cloak-and-dagger thrills of refugee smuggling and dangerous border crossings, the story is also timely and important as it deals with the current highly-charged issue of Middle Eastern refugees fleeing to the West. Based on her own life experiences, Musser is able to bring authentic details and real human faces to those often impersonal issues. As with Musser’s other books, she brings multiple viewpoints and exotic locations (including France, Austria and Iran) to converge in one exciting finale. In The Long Highway Home, American smugglers, missionaries, young students and seekers, persecuted Christians and refugees come together in a story of dashed dreams and second chances, faith and hope, and ultimately love and sacrifice. Highly recommended!
Robin Johns Grant
Author of Summer's Winter and Jordan's Shadow
Figures on the growing numbers of refugees entering Europe are often cold and anonymous. Stories of people help us to relate. In The Long Highway Home Elizabeth Musser helps us to relate with people like Hamid and Alaleh. Musser has a wonderful way of connecting our souls with their lives. She allows us to put ourselves in their place and go through their life issues – the traumatic and the joyful ones. There are two aspects in this well-written novel that impressed me most. First of all, it is the hope that shines through the pages — hope that is based on Jesus Christ. Secondly, it is impressive to see how media, in this case radio, can become a powerful tool to broadcast this hope to people in need. This is an excellent, worthwhile read.
International Director – Europe
Trans World Radio (TWR)
Elizabeth Musser doesn’t shy away from tough issues, but faces them head-on with intelligence and grace. As such, she has created a story that truly engaged my imagination. I felt as though I was not simply reading about but experiencing the lives of the characters—their fears, their joys, their triumphs. The Long Highway Home is truly a great book by a wonderfully talented author. I’m ready for Elizabeth’s next book!
Award-winning novelist and children’s book author
Stories written from the heart are always my favorites, and Elizabeth Musser has, once again, given us her heart on pages of beautifully woven words. And, she begins her tale in Atlanta, so you know it has to be wonderful. But this is more than lovely. This is heart-gripping. This is the kind of book you'll think about long after you've put it down and, even more, this is one you'll hope everyone you know will read so you can discuss it time and again.
Eva Marie Everson
Author of Five Brides, God Bless Us, Every One, The One True Love of Alice-Ann
Musser expertly depicts the tragedy, peril, and utter despair that many refugees face. Despite delving into these difficult themes, the engaging narrative manages to present a unique vision of hope. It develops its refugee characters in an intimately human way, and readers are sure to find themselves drawn deeply into the lives of these characters. A heart-warming story, this is a must read for anyone who desires to better understand the struggles that refugees encounter on a daily basis.
Lucas da Silva
Refugee Ministry Coordinator
Trans World Radio (TWR)
Outside Vienna, Austria, December 1989
The old van with its peeling red finish sat behind what we lovingly called ‘The Barracks’, waiting to be filled with contraband. I followed Jeremy out to the car, both of our arms piled high with the hardback books. Jeremy set his in the dirt and unlocked ‘Dusty’, our affectionate name for the van.
He climbed in the back and began lifting up the covers to the seats that lined each side of the back of the van. I stood shivering in the predawn chill of this December morn. The sky across Vienna was beginning to change her clothes from dark gray to soft pastels of violet and pink and blue. I was thinking of Amir, huddled in that faceless room in the Refugee Housing Center in Traiskirchen.
"Jill, I have found him and it is all because of you.”
"No, he did it. He always does it on his own.” I was whispering, my heart in my throat.
“I’m afraid. They’re sending me away. I have only just discovered him and now they are sending me away.”
“He is everywhere for those who seek him,” I whispered, and realized that we were grasping hands, tears spilling down both of our faces.
Amir nodded, “I believe you. But…”
“It’s true, you must trust.”
“I trust. I know I will find him there, too. But Jill, dear Jill. How will I find you again?”
“…And there are rumors of unrest again in Romania. Jill! You’re a million miles away.”
I brushed a stray tear from my cheek and turned to Jeremy. “Sorry. Lost in thought. Here are the rest of the books.”
I handed them up to Jeremy, reading their Romanian titles to myself. After five years, I was finally beginning to master the language.
One by one, he lifted the precious cargo and deposited it into small compartments that were concealed under the padded seats of the van. Bible studies, Bibles, biographies—these were our ‘B’ transfers, as we called them.
Once the books were loaded, Jeremy slammed the back door to the van shut. “Are you ready?”
I shrugged and thought again of Amir. Climbing on the train today. Refugee. Sent away to another part of Austria to await asylum.
“He’s gonna be fine, Jill,” Jeremy said, reading my thoughts. “He’s got the book, he’s found the friend.”
This was our life, always speaking in coded language, always using a name that was not our own, always whispering, always doing what was not to be done. For five years now I had worn the tag of Bible smuggler. Dozens of trips across the border in an old rusty van. Only recently, I had also gained another title, friend to refugees—those who had fled their countries, mostly of Eastern Europe, to escape the brutality and to build a life in Western Europe. Bible smuggler, friend to refugees, woman in love…
I climbed in the passenger seat, pulled the door shut and drew my jacket around me. Jeremy put the van into first gear, and we puttered out of the Barracks. I could feel the eyes of Kelly and Brenda and Lisa and Fred on me—our colleagues—they too with fake names and hidden identities. Could feel their opened eyes watching as we pulled out and feel their unspoken prayers. Father, protect them; blind the eyes of the guards; let them pass safely through; take them to the contact without incident.
Yes, Lord, I agreed as Jeremy shifted into second gear and we bumped out into the streets south of Vienna, headed in the direction of Romania, with the sun rising before us.
We were to meet the contact in an alley behind the church near downtown Timisoara. The headlights on the van were turned off, all pitch dark. We’d been waiting for fifteen minutes, the seconds ticking like a bomb in my mind, with me wondering, as always, if this time someone else would show up with a gun and throw us in a dank prison for the rest of our lives.
How do you do what you do? My friends back in the States had asked. I always quipped the little adage I had seen painted on a plaque at a Christian book store: ‘Courage is fear that has said its prayers.’ I was praying hard, but I did not feel courageous on this night.
Twenty minutes passed, then thirty. We were shivering, blankets drawn around us, the engine cut, our breath making little puffs of gray when we spoke. “Should we leave? He’s never been this late.”
Jeremy didn’t look my way but peered through the windshield. Then he cursed under his breath. I had never heard him curse before in the five years I’d known him. I squinted and saw the reason. Two men, two armed men in uniforms, were approaching the van.
Dear Lord, this is it.
“Come with us,” the first said in Romanian, producing a badge. “Now.” Gruff, steely blue eyes.
We slid out of the van. We had been trained for this. I would say nothing, I wouldn’t. Even if they tortured me. Anyway, we didn’t have any of the real names. Just a contact, a fake name like ours.
“Faster,” the taller guard grumbled, pushing us forward.
I began to tremble.
The guard took my arm, firmly, coming beside me, “It’s okay. Calm down. Follow us.” We twisted through a back passageway and through a basement door.
Suddenly we were inside the church building and the pastor was before us, thin, shaken, but smiling. “Praise God, you are safe,” he whispered in English.
“What’s happening?” Jeremy asked, his eyes going from the guards to the pastor and then to me.
“Out there. A miracle. A miracle!” the pastor said. “But it will cost lives. Perhaps mine, perhaps yours. A miracle.”
Now he was whispering excitedly. “Three days ago the authorities came and fired me and said I was to be exiled to a small village several hundred miles away. And when they—Ceausescu’s Securitate—came to get me, it happened. Happened so fast we couldn’t contact you. The congregation surrounded the church and refused to let the Securitate in to arrest and evict me. The congregation has stayed here for three days now and the authorities are furious!” His eyes were shining with delight, no hint of fear. “They’ve threatened to open fire, but it won’t happen.”
“Ceausescu is in Iran. His army won’t budge without his command, and they can’t reach him.” A huge smile broke out on the pastor’s face.
I stood looking out the window at the crowd surrounding the church, the faithful congregation. This thin aging man was pastor to one of the largest churches in Romania. “There are nearly three thousand of our brothers and sisters out there,” he whispered, wonder in his voice.
I continued watching from the window. From somewhere in the crowd, a flicker of light appeared. A man had lit a candle and now he passed the flame to another, who received it with his own candle. One by one, then multiplying, hundreds of candles were lit. Slowly the large crowd began to disperse. “They’re headed to the main public square!” the pastor rejoiced. “Come! Join us in the revolution!”
The guards had disappeared. It had happened before—men appearing out of nowhere to rescue us and then vanishing as quickly. We called them ‘angels of the night’, and indeed they were. Our Eastern European brothers and sisters regularly recounted stories of being protected by angels.
Now Jeremy and I stepped out behind the pastor and my jaw dropped. Hundreds, thousands of people, each with a lit candle, were marching slowly, deliberately up the road, and as they did, hundreds of others poured out of their apartments from the side streets along the way. Later we would learn that over 10,000 candle-bearing citizens had joined this march for freedom.
The energy in the silent crowd warmed me, set me on fire as if I had been lit like one of the candles shining around me. Revolution! The pastor had pronounced the words. Again and again throughout this year of 1989 we had seen it on our TV screens, heard it through the radio. Several in ‘The Barracks’ had taken part in the liberation of other countries. I had not. Now, I stood in the center of the main town square in Timisoara, Romania and watched as someone threw a brick through a bookstore window. Immediately many in the crowd rushed in and emerged with volumes in their hands, holding them high and proclaiming “Freedom!” in Romanian.
“The works of Lenin and Marx and Ceausescu,” Jeremy whispered, and even as he spoke, the books were thrown into the center of the square along with the lit candles and a huge bonfire erupted. The pastor lifted his arms in victory and proclaimed in his native tongue, “This is the first time that the writings of Marx have provided light for our people.” A cheer rang out. The pastor climbed the steps of the beautiful old Opera House that dominated this part of the town square. From the balcony, he led this massive crowd, what I would later call The Congregation of Change, in the Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name…
As we watched the horror of communism ripped open, as I repeated the prayer, my heart bursting with emotion, I whispered again, “And for Amir. Safe passage for Amir, wherever you take him, Lord. Amen.”
~from The Long Highway Home, by Elizabeth Musser, c2016. Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
THE LONG HIGHWAY HOME
Musser (The Swan House), who has worked with Christian missions in Europe for over 25 years, infuses her real-life experience with refugees into this fictional Christian narrative that combines adventure and romance. Bobbie Blake has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer at age 39 and has less than a year left in her life to make things right. Her niece, Tracie, is suffering from a broken heart and a fractured relationship with God. When the two embark on a trip from Georgia to the Oasis, a mission community in Austria where Bobbie used to work, they both have to face their past in order to create a new future. Hamid is a refugee from Iran who was forced to flee, leaving his daughter and pregnant wife behind, when he was found with a copy of the New Testament. As he makes his harrowing journey, he begins to discover Jesus and develops a new faith. Meanwhile, his wife and daughter face their own nightmare. Filled with a strong supporting cast, this story interweaves many lives connected by mission and circumstance. While set in 2005, Musser’s tale is compelling and relevant due to the current political situation and conversation about refugees, offering a window into the hardships that refugees face. (Mar.)
Publishers Weekly, March 2017
THE LONG HIGHWAY HOME
Musser's newest novel takes readers through the Middle East and Europe as she explores the hardships faced by refugees fleeing from religious persecution. Musser is able to appropriately express the danger and hardship faced by these families, while keeping the novel readable and enjoyable. She does a phenomenal job of bringing humanity to a very serious issue that is not well understood by those in the West, while incorporating romance, faith, family and friendship into the storyline. Beautiful scenery, important issues, real characters, and a bit of suspense make The Long Highway Home a must read.
Bobbie Blake has been running from her past for 12 long years. When she is diagnosed with inoperable cancer, she decides to take her niece with her on a trip through Europe where she once worked with refugees fleeing persecution. However, there is still much hurt that Bobbie has hidden inside, and when she comes face to face with her past, it all comes tumbling out. At the same time, a young father named Hamid, is fleeing persecution in Iran and is trying desperately to get his family to safety. When the world of Bobbie and Hamid collide, it will change everyone's lives forever. (MACGREGOR, Jan., 408 pp., $15.99)
RT Rating: ****1/2 TOP PICK!
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