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Sears, "Belonging to Heaven" (reviewed by Tristi Pinkston) Options · View
Posted: Friday, June 07, 2013 7:56:53 AM

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Title: Belonging to Heaven
Author: Gale Sears
Publisher: Deseret Book
Genre: Historical Fiction
Year Published: 2013
Number of Pages: 430
Binding: Hardback
ISBN10: n/a
ISBN13: 978-1-60907-159-2
Price: $24.99

Reviewed by Tristi Pinkston for the Association for Mormon Letters

Whenever we think of Hawaii, we tend to think of sun and sand and drinks with little umbrellas sticking out of the top. It’s certainly a popular tourist destination and many people have written it down on their bucket lists. But this beautiful island state is more than just a great place to relax—it has a rich, deep heritage, and some of that heritage is rooted in the Church.

Whitney-award-winning novelist Gale Sears tells us about this in her latest release, “Belonging to Heaven.” The book brings together two very disparate cultures and two very different people and shows us how the gospel can tie us together no matter our backgrounds or traditions.

As we read, we meet Jonathan Napela, a descendant of the Hawaiian royal line. Our other main character is Elder George Q. Cannon, a figure we know from Church history. These two men meet when Elder Cannon is called to serve a mission to the islands and teaches Jonathan the gospel. Their meeting is anything but accidental, and for Jonathan, it is anything but a surprise. Several weeks before Elder Cannon travels to his village, Jonathan has a dream that a stranger dressed in white clothing had come to deliver an important message to him. He feels that the dream is important and shares it with his wife and friends. When his wife sees Elder Cannon for the first time, she knows instinctively that here is the man from the dream, the man who has brought a life-changing message.

Jonathan invites Elder Cannon to come with him to visit the Congregational minister who has been working with the people up to that point. Cannon is immediately intimidated—the minister has likely attended years of divinity school to attain his current position, and Cannon is just a volunteer with nothing but a testimony and the scriptures. He also feels insufficient in his command of the Hawaiian language—the reverend is sure to be fluent, and Cannon hasn’t yet developed that skill. Nonetheless, he knows that winning over the hearts of the people has to begin by coming to some sort of amiable terms with their existing religious leader, so he goes to meet Revered Conde.

The reverend is not impressed with Elder Cannon, with the Book of Mormon, or with anything to do with the entire religion. He is most definitely not pleased when Jonathan announces his intention of hearing the missionaries out and testing their teachings for himself. Because of Jonathan’s royal blood, he holds a position of respect in the community, and if he chooses to join up with these Mormons, who knows how many Congregationalists would decide to follow him in his new pursuit?

What follows is the story of a man’s decision to follow his heart and the price he pays for it. Jonathan does gain a testimony of the Church, but looses his friends. The choice was difficult, but it certainly wouldn't be the last hard thing he was called upon to endure—his beloved wife is struck down by leprosy, and Jonathan’s true mettle is tested.

I enjoyed learning about how the Church was introduced to Hawaii and the courage it took to establish a religion in a land that didn’t seem, at first, to want it. I appreciated seeing Elder Cannon’s moments of insecurity as well as moments of confidence—all missionaries must go through similar moments of doubt and fear, only to be buoyed up by the Spirit and given the fortitude to carry on.

Gale Sears remains one of my favorite authors, and I feel this book is a beautiful addition to her already impressive body of work.
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