Christian fiction stories get a bad rap because they are often so predictable. The plots generally follow a familiar theme. B meets A, they fall in love and live happily ever after. Being Christians, they live righteously, never fight, and when they have issues (they rarely ever do), the hand of God is always on hand to miraculously deliver them from all evil.
To her credit, Nigerian author Seye Oke provides a welcome exception to the rule with her new book, A Time to Heal, published in June 2011 by Westbow Press. Set in Nigeria, during the country’s civil war of the 1960s, the book is about the struggle of a young cross-cultural couple to save their marriage in the face of ethnic tensions. The story revolves around Chidi, an engineer who hails from the east of the country and Tori, a southerner. The Christian couple are recently married, this after a year of wrangling with Tori’s parents who objected to their daughter marrying from another part of the world.
As ethnic tensions build up across the country, Tori and Chidi find themselves caught in the middle, increasingly confronted with the difficulties presented by their cross cultural relationship. In one incident, while on a bus trip home from school, Tori engages with another passenger about her situation.
“Yes, I’m married to a very loving man, but what does it matter? We have the same nationality.”
“I couldn’t agree more, but I must say you are brave and your family too. I never thought any of our southern girls would be able to go through the cross-cultural marriage dilemma,” Ladi smiled in a complimentary manner.
“Well, neither did I, until I met Chidi.”
“I see. So with all the political tension around, if you had to take sides, now that you have a cross-cultural marriage, where would you stand?” Tori stared at him, unable to answer. She had never really given her political stand any thought up until this point. Not that it should matter. After all, she was supposed to be on Chidi’s side, but could she ever turn her back on her own people?
As fate would have it, the ethnic tensions escalate into a full-blown civil war between the different groups that threatens to tear the country apart. At work, Chidi comes under pressure from his colleagues to join the fight to defend his people. Eventually, Chidi is forced to choose between staying behind with his wife and joining his own people to defend his heritage. Abandoning his wife, Chidi joins the war.
On the battlefront, Chidi encounters new challenges. His personal faith wavers after he is wounded in battle and watches a close friend go up in flames. And when the war ends, Chidi, now a shadow of his old self, is too ashamed to return to his wife.
Back home, Tori, now living on her own, discovers that she is pregnant. She bravely tries to cope with support from her brother and friends. Through a chance reencounter at a local Christian fellowship, she meets Ladi, the man with whom she had earlier shared a seat on a bus trip home from school. The two warm up to each other.
When, ultimately, Chidi gathers the courage and decides to return home to find his wife, the stage is set for a climax, in which Tori must choose between her new life and remaining true to her marriage vows.
Oke’s A Time to Heal manages to convey a story that is both compelling and realistic – one that readers can relate to, whatever their religious disposition. The book is a brave and successful attempt at extending Christian fiction beyond its safe and often predictable confines.