Book Review: Miracles Among the Rubble - Bringing Convoys of Humanitarian Aid, Hugs, and Hope to a War-torn Region, by Carol R. Gray
This is very different from many of the recent book reviews I've done. Most of the books I review tend towards gospel teachings or the scriptures. In this book, published by Greg Kofford Books, we get an entirely new experience. It is a semi-autobiographical look at some of Carol's experiences leading convoys of humanitarian aid to the devastated areas of Bosnia and Croatia, during the civil war with the Serbs.
The book is divided into 26 short chapters, each describing a trip to Bosnia, bringing truckloads of food, medical supplies, clean water, and other needed assistance to the region. The chapters share the heartbreak of war and the hope that is renewed by Carol and her crew of volunteers, as they travel from England, across Europe, and to the dangerous regions.
However, the book starts unexpectedly with an unrelated, but key, event in Carol's life. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 29. She was only to have weeks left to live. It helped her to focus on the most important things, such as family. Six years later, as a Relief Society president in England, she became focused on the Balkan war. The Spirit whispered to her to help, so she found a charity that would transport items to Bosnia that she could obtain, by rallying Latter-day Saint members from her region. As the day approached to hand the supplies over to the Charity organization, they rescinded their offer of transporting the donations.
Distraught over this news, she prayed as to what to do next. The Spirit gave her the inspiration to obtain some trucks and volunteers and drive the supplies to Bosnia herself. That first trip turned into over 40 trips over several years, often bringing a dozen or more large trucks of aid to areas close to the front lines of the war.
Her first trip was taken with her college age daughter, Samantha, who eagerly agreed to go with her mother. As some of the truck drivers were happy to drop off their supplies at the border, Carol sensed she needed to go further into the country, where the most destitute would be found, and ensuring the items got into the hands of the needy, rather being placed on the black market.
In the chapters, she describes various people she met, dangers in traveling due to hidden landmines, shelling and machine gun fire. On more than one occasion, she found herself driving over makeshift bridges, put together with tires, oil barrels and planks of wood. All of her chapters end with a spiritual message of a truth she and others learned on the trips.
For example, for one trip, she was asked to bring toiletries and cleaning supplies. It was for a new village that was quickly built for about 100 women and their children. Carol was surprised to find that the women and children had been freed from the Serbian rape camps. The women and children feared men, and so the men on the convoy initially stood apart, until the Bosnian women personally welcomed them into their village.
On another trip, a Bosnian friend of Carol had opened her home on the Dalmatian Coast to the injured. Carol's friend worked tirelessly, comforting the wounded soldiers and civilians who found their way to her house. Carol could not imagine how a beautiful place as this, could be so uprooted by violence. It showed her that people in dire situations can make a huge difference for others.
Even those driving in the convoys were often changed by the experience. Carol notes a man named Fred, who was an alcoholic and close to losing his family and work. He begged to drive with her. The experience changed him greatly, as he hugged and comforted children and others, who really needed a shoulder to cry on. After the trip, he had sworn off drinking and returned to his family and work.
Another gentleman, who was in the military and was very stern and strict, told her that he was not a hugger. However, over the two week trip, his heart softened. As they pulled into their first Bosnian village, he jumped from the truck and began hugging the people.
She also shares how triumph can come from tragedy. In one place, she heard a child screaming. As she went to check it out, she found that the child's leg was being amputated, the child having stepped on a landmine. The surgery was being performed without anesthesia, as there was none available. This shook Carol. She thought and dreamed about it all the way back to England. Once there, she prepared a convoy of medical equipment needed in Bosnia.
Each time a special item was required, the Lord provided it to her, often just in the nick of time. She describes the doors that opened for her, as she saw a new need appear. Her list of miracles in the book is quite impressive, even though they obviously do not begin to number all the miracles that occurred in the lives of the drivers, the medical personnel, and especially, the people of Bosnia.
Carol finally succumbed to cancer in 2010, and the book was lovingly finished by her daughter, Samantha.
After reading this book, I stopped to reflect on the service I have given. Was it enough? Was I willing to enter into dangerous places, in order to serve those most in need? Was I willing to give up some of my creature comforts and idle time to make a difference in the lives of others?
It brought me pause.
I highly recommend this book. It will make you uncomfortable, as it did for me. Yet, it will also enrich you, seeing that one person can make a big difference in bringing Christ-like love and service to others that perhaps live far away and are currently strangers. It doesn't require us to enter war-torn nations to experience such things as Carol writes in her book. It can be those affected by wildfires, hurricanes, floods, poverty, or hatred. But this book becomes a wonderful eye-opener to the possibilities of what each of us could do to bring down a little heaven on earth to those in true need.