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Letter To The Editor – June 11, 2009

Jeff’s God Provides Reader With Action And Adventure

Dear Betty,

I have just finished reading Hershel Howell’s latest book, Jeff’s God, and am completely swept. I knew very little of this fine work other than it was in the making. I read Hershel’s first book, Lim, in far less time and seldom was without a smile on my face. Lim’s pace moved at a pretty good clip and the story line was mostly lighthearted and entertaining.

In stark contrast, Jeff’s God is inspirational and introspective. The first chapter is pivotal as we meet Jeff, an emerging young man born to two Christian parents who help him orchestrate a profound relationship with the Lord through prayer and, most importantly, how to pray and what to ask for, expecting God’s intervening answer. There is an abundance of fabulous lines in those first 10 pages.

His mother, Virginia, and dad, Lynn, seem to be of simple stock, although both are educated. They have moved to Mississippi from Arkansas. Lynn and Jeff work at a sawmill during the warm months. During the winter, Jeff attends school and traps with Lynn, who is known far and wide for his skills. One of my favorite lines is, “Jeff, if you want to be the best trapper in the country, and (sic) there ain’t no need doin’ nothin’ if you don’t have the desire to be the best.” Lynn goes on to say, ??It’s about the same with everything you do. You get out what you put in. Ain’t nothin’ easy, son.”

Sundays find them in church. Virginia has a particular fondness for the 23rd Psalm. Ergo the line, “Telling you the Lord was with you leading you on the right path and protecting you even in the shadow of death.” How prophetic, especially in light of what’s to come. Speaking of, “A prophet” is someone that speaks to the Lord and can hear the Lord’s reply.” Finishing this thought she tells Jeff, “It’s like most people don’t know how to talk to the Lord. They try to make it difficult like they feel they have to be in church or down on their knees or in a secluded place where no one could see them. Then when they prayed, they never spoke their mind or heart telling the Lord like it was, their problems, their sins, or needs, or even the reason they’re praying.” This is reminiscent of a point made by Dr. Robert Pratt of Reform Theological Seminary in a lecture this past January. In short, he said we limit the power of prayer simply because we don’t ask for all we need or want. It was like he was saying, “Hey, it’s Christmas—go for broke.” (Dr. Pratt was one of the 90-member committee who assembled the New Living Translation Bible).

So as the saga begins, we have a pretty good idea of the make-up of our main character. It’s 1860, Jeff is 16 years old as war becomes imminent. Tests of his faith begin immediately.

Action packed, the situations are riveting—tragedy, romance, bunches of close calls, and the significance of the grave of a man at Law’s Hill who died in 1845. His name ?—Mose Henderson, the name obviously borrowed from a Vallian many of us have known for years. The remaining 34 chapters speak for themselves. The text is brilliantly written and vivid to the point that the reader is pulled into the plot. I felt as though I was there—beside Jeff—feeling his emotions, thinking his thoughts, suffering his pain, rejoicing in his successes and the ones he loved and those who loved him. The title, Jeff’s God, first appears in chapter 21 and appears 13 more times in two subsequent chapters. When the reader gets to this point, it will be abundantly clear that there could have been no other title. If you don’t read this book, it’s your own fault and you have missed a true experience. For this I can only say, “Thank you, Hershel.”

  /s/Bobby Suratt

As a footnote, allow me to share some lagniappe you can look forward to:

Words – Your vocabulary will be expanded to include such words as: dour, gibbons moon, shoat, hardtack, roan horse, croker sack, laid-by and travois—and, of course, carpetbagger and scalawag. You may want to have a dictionary handy if you aren’t familiarly with these terms.

Activities and Processes – Salt was a mainstay staple of that time, even more so than today. In addition to it’s seasoning qualities, salt was essential in curing food and preserving hides. There were no corner grocery stores and trading posts were, more often than not, out of stock. So where did this much needed commodity come from? The process is explained in two places, and prior to trapping season, traps are boiled and rusted.

And what about gunpowder? Three ingredients: sulfur, charcoal, and one more. Medicinally given to young boys. In Jeff’s day you looked in caves. Read and you’ll know. It’s in chapter 20.

Why? You’ll learn, so have fun!

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