Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Tom Davis' Answers to the Discussion Questions
1. What sorts of emotions did you experience while reading Priceless?
Many, many emotions, and they were all over the map. This is not the easiest type of book to read (or in my case, write). Don’t get me wrong, books like Priceless must be written and read. It’s not acceptable to say that issues like sex trafficking are too painful, so I should just avoid them. I can assure you it’s much more painful for the girls who are trafficked.
That said, the research was difficult. Quite often, I would have to put books down after reading a few pages. The brutality of this industry is worse than anything you can imagine. Most things I discovered couldn’t even be written in a Christian book.
Pain and heartache stand out as the emotions I felt most. Those emotions then turned into anger, hopefully a righteous anger, which motivated me to do something to make a difference. You can too by the way. (Visit www.SheIsPriceless.com for more details.) I’ve been to Russia almost fifty times and have heard so many stories about what happens to kids when they get out of orphanages. Of course Marina’s story is one of the worst, but it happens to thousands and thousands of children every year. This is an outrage and our voices need be heard on this issue.
As I write this, I’m one month away from taking a trip to Russia and Moldova to visit some of these beautiful girls who have been rescued. The same emotions apply when I sit down with girls like Marina with the addition of one feeling: hope. Hope didn’t exist in the lives of girls caught in this industry; but because someone cared and helped be a part of their freedom, hope has become a reality.
2. What surprised you most about the story? About the characters?
Some of these characters are kids I know, or once knew, so I try to put myself in their situations. What would I do if I were booted out of the only home I knew at fifteen to face a cruel world? How would I respond to a kind lady who offered me a job making more money than I could ever imagine? The answers to those questions drove the book. You and I would make many of the same decisions these characters did.
What surprised me most about the story? Sensing God’s broken heart for these scenes as they passed each page and understanding that redemption is found no matter how deep the pit. It seemed like I was always asking the question, “How does God feel about this?”
3. Stuart decides early on to help Katya with her mission. What was your initial reaction to this decision? Why would this have been an easy decision for Stuart? Why might it have been difficult? What is our responsibility when we encounter evil in the world?
Well, if you knew Katya in person, you’d help with her mission too. She’s quite compelling! Katya’s character is taken from a real person who happens to be the national director for Children’s HopeChest in Russia. In fact, if you go to the book’s Web site, www.SheIsPriceless.com, you’ll find a video interview with Katya.
Stuart is me, in a sense. In fact, he’s everyone who has a heart to rescue the oppressed and see the captive set free. I don’t know that he could have made any other decision. What was he going to do? Let those girls go back to be tortured and abused when he had the power to rescue them? No way. Not me, not Stuart. This is more than being a cavalier, John Wayne type of character in a story. It’s what the kingdom of God is all about. When we have the power to do good or overcome evil and refuse, we’ve missed the point of following Jesus.
There’s a quote that’s had a huge impact on me regarding this issue, as well as issues of apathy that creep up in the lives of Christians: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” —Edmund Burke To me, that says it all.
4. In what ways were the characters of Father Alexander and Sister Irina symbols in this story? What did they represent in the spiritual realm?
There’s a definite play on the idea of the sacred and the profane throughout the book. One reason is because it can be the sad reality of life. We all live in this tension, and we have to choose how to overcome evil with good. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are making those choices by what we do or don’t do. From a spiritual perspective, it is the cosmic battle between good and evil. I’m a firm believer in this as was C. S. Lewis, who said, “Every square inch of this cosmos is at every moment claimed by Satan and counter-claimed by God.”
There is a battle going on that we can’t see with our physical eyes. It’s a battle for the souls of men, the innocence of little girls who come out of orphanages, for millions of people to have adequate food and water and for God’s people to rise up and engage themselves in the world and their communities. Those evil forces are responsible for turning men into the animals they become. They are also the same evil forces that keep us apathetic toward others who suffer. I think this is clearly expressed in Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. In this allegory of spiritual realities, the Devil is briefing his demon nephew Wormwood on tempting people. The Devil tells him the objective is not to make people wicked but to make them indifferent. He says, “I the devil will always see to it that there are bad people. Your job, my dear Wormwood, is to provide me with people who do not care.”
5. Why (or how) is Sister Irina essentially “protected” against the evil of the bad men in this story?
Sister Irina is “untouchable.” This is playing on a physical and spiritual reality. Mr. M represents a very powerful man on earth who utilizes his power to see that nobody harms the Sister, lest serious repercussions come screaming down on their head. But this is also a spiritual reality. God takes care of His own. He provides serious heavenly protection to his sons and daughters who do the work of His kingdom on earth. Evil can scare us, tempt us, and lead us astray, but Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). This issue of sexual slavery is certainly a work of the Devil, and it can be destroyed. That’s why God sent His Son. But it takes the people of God understanding this truth, believing it, and implementing it.
6. Who or what was the nameless woman who kept appearing to Stuart, beginning with the conversation on the street after he meets with Sergei and Ivan? What is her purpose in the story?
This wraithlike figure represents evil itself. She’s in the background pulling the strings so to speak, influencing the hearts of people and causing calamity everywhere she goes. She showed up in the worst of scenes intentionally. It was my way of bringing this cosmic battle to life. Of course none of us know exactly how this works, but we do have some indications in Scripture of the reality of the battle. Daniel 10 and Ephesians 6 provide good examples.
Stuart is the force of light in these scenes. Whether he knows it or not, because of who Christ is in him, he has more power than the forces of evil. By stepping out for justice and through prayer and faith, Stuart can make a difference and defeat these powers of wickedness. This is why it’s so important in the book that he keeps moving, keeps invading the enemy’s territory. Stuart understands this truth: “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). This is our hope.
7. What is your reaction to the subterfuge Stuart had to participate in to free the girls? Is this a case of “the end justifies the means”? Explain.
No doubt. This is how it works in real life many times. The people who actually rescue girls from the sex industry are constantly going undercover. This is a corrupt, seedy business. You have to fight fire with fire so to speak. Some people would disagree with this, but a legitimate response is for them to get out on the front lines and stop talking about it. These issues put a burr in my saddle. The people who complain and criticize the most do so from the comfort of their living rooms. That’s just not right. “Apathy is the glove into which evil slips its hand.” —Bodie Thoene
8. What horrified you most about Marina’s plight? In what ways does her escape from the slave trade inspire you? In what way does her story inspire you to take action?
This is a difficult issue for me to swallow, period. When I think about the horror and injustice of it all, it’s overwhelming. This is certainly an area where I wish God would intervene and put an end to the sex trade once and for all. Some things we will never know this side of eternity. But we must fight evil in every place we find it. I feel like David in the Psalms when he says, “How long, O God, will the adversary revile, and the enemy spurn Your name forever? Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand? From within Your bosom, destroy them!” (Psalm 74:10–11).
Marina’s escape inspires me because when a girl like her is rescued, she is brought from death to life. It’s a true resurrection story. As far as the kingdom of God is concerned, this is extremely important business. It’s at the core of what Jesus said He came to do in Isaiah 61:1–2: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” This is our privilege as sons and daughters of the Most High God. We get to do this! There isn’t anything we could give our lives to that would matter more.
9. What roles does art play in the story?
In this story art represents the beauty inside of each and every child. Children have incredible talents and abilities. They are capable of doing amazing things like painting, writing, or becoming a great leader. It doesn’t matter if they are an orphan locked away in some rat hole of an orphanage or a little girl kidnapped and forced to be a sex slave. God created each child with purpose. He knew them before they were born, He knitted them in their mothers’ wombs, He loves and cares for them; they are His sons and daughters, just like you and I.
I think this is important to understand because many people look at orphans as the trash of society, cursed, or good for nothing except to be thieves or prostitutes. These are common views orphans face when they get out of an orphanage. This is a lie the enemy spreads in the minds of people, because it furthers his ability to subject them to cruelty and torture. The truth is that God loves them and has created them to be special. They just need help. This is why James says, “Pure and undefiled religion is caring for widows and orphans in their distress” (see James 1:27).
10. Why do you think Father Alexander related so closely with the icon and character of St. George the Dragonslayer? Based on what the novel reveals about St. George, how might Father Alexander have misread St. George’s story?
Father Alexander didn’t misread the story of St. George; he perverted it. This is what men and women do who follow darkness. They take something beautiful and pure, like the human body, and they twist and pervert it. He saw the story of St. George and was inspired by it like anyone should be. What could be more courageous than a hero on a horse rescuing a damsel in distress and killing the dragon who enslaves her? There’s something inside each one of us that longs to see that happen. We were created to be people who stand in the gap for the innocent who are suffering and rescue them.
I’m thoroughly convinced that if every person who followed Christ would intervene in situations of injustice and do something to change the life of one person, we would solve the biggest problems that plague our world. Children wouldn’t starve to death every day due to malnutrition, people wouldn’t die from drinking dirty water, there would be no orphans because they would all be adopted into Christian homes, and there would be no children in the sex-trade industry.
11. We don’t get to see Whitney’s reaction to Stuart’s dangerous adventure. How might she have responded to his decisions?
Stuart purposely kept the reality of the situation from Whitney. This wasn’t deception on his part; it was protection. If she knew what was really going on, the anxiety would have driven her crazy. Stuart is in a real dilemma at this juncture in his life. On one hand he wants to go home, live in a perfect world, and love on his wife and child. But he’s not in a perfect world. His eyes have been opened to something, and he can’t just sit around and pretend like these injustices don’t exist.
For me, Stuart is a combination of what we all want to be: courageous and filled with faith. He knows he can’t rescue these girls by himself. He needs God’s power and protection over his life to make anything happen. But his faith is fueled because he knows how important these children are to God. God longs for them to be rescued, and Stuart knows that God will help in this process—he’s not alone.
12. Vlad is portrayed as a man with a shady past, a past that is not that different from the men he ends up fighting against. What turned him away from the dark side? What does this tell us about God’s transformative power?
This is the story of redemption. “All of us like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). Vlad has done some things in his life that would make most of us cringe, but even in that state, God loves him and desires to see him repent and be set free. There is even hope for Father Alexander if he would ask for it.
I think this is what makes Vlad such a warm character. What makes him so likable is the fact that he’s been to the dark places, he’s seen the other side, and it didn’t satisfy him. He recognized the lie he was caught in and chose something different. He’s one of my favorites!