“It doesn’t take a lot of love to turn around a person’s life.” (p181)
‘As many as the stars’ A story of change for the children of China’ by Robert Glover
Reviewed by Ian Geary
‘As many as the stars’ was not only a book on my reading list for last year’s Unreached Internship it was a leaving present to my wife and myself from our Connect Group when we left London for Greece. The back leaf of the aforementioned book by Robert Glover has a quote from David Devenish, Newfrontiers Together which states:
‘An amazing and exciting story…I’m convinced this book will be a source of inspiration to all who read it.’
This book is so good I have read it twice! It is highly readable, enjoyable and contains some nuggets of wisdom. It is actually difficult to do it justice.
The book is about a man and his family’s call to model and develop a family-based alternative to institutional care of orphans. This is a gripping read and details how a faithful response to a prophetic vision takes place through adventure, challenges and opportunities all bound up in a call to develop a charity that pioneers this model in atheistic China.
“….God calls out to adventure. If comfort was all he wanted for us, he would leave us sitting right at home.” (p77)
The book details Robert Glover’s early life and call to China. Growing up in Norfolk and not really knowing his Father as a young man he toys with professional football and joins the Royal Navy, working in the hazardous world of submarines.
On leaving the Royal Navy he begins work in social care and through meeting his wife Liz and a miraculous healing he meets Christ. He and his wife move to Guernsey and raise a family while gradually a call to work in China becomes a reality as doors began to open. This was fostered by the support of the UK Government and corporate supporters like Sir Richard Branson and sees Robert become friends with Jackie Pullinger.
The family move to Shanghai and later to Beijing where they oversee the growth of ‘Care for Children’ the charity he founds to take the work forward. This vehicle seeks to see the family placement model develop in and spread through China.
There are amazing stories that show how China works, an earthquake and great heroism amidst it and the progress and setbacks that any major project would encounter.
We see an amazing story of how a destitute ‘man’ is helped by Robert Glover and is cleaned up at the office, much to some people’s annoyance. In fact, the ‘man’ is a beautiful woman who had come to Shanghai and fallen on hard times. This is an amazing example of the gospel in action.
Robert Glover reflects:
“When I think of that beautiful young woman, for me, that is the gospel story. God finds us languishing in the filthy rags of our self-righteousness, dirty and wretched in our sin and shame. We have no honour. We have lost face. We cannot go home. Yet God welcomes us in, wretched as we are. He cleanses us, washes us clean of our filth and uncovers the hidden beauty inside us. He clothes us, raises us up, gives us gifts and pays the price for us to be restored to our true family. He calls us home. Shame turns to honour. Mourning turns to joy. Despair turns to hope. We have the privilege of loving others because he first loves us.” (p114-115).
I found this book inspirational for the following reasons:
- Obedient Faith – Robert Glover’s vision of placing children in loving families rather than institutional care, in a foreign nation, required great, humble faith. His achievement in God appears powered by faith from start to end. Also, and in relation we are reminded that we need to be absolutely dependent on God in prayer.
“….after we arrived in China, our prayer life became all-consuming. We were inducted into a life of total prayer – where prayer became as basic and essential as breathing – which we would have never discovered had we stayed in England. We had to live like this, since we knew we needed God in every part of our daily lives. Prayer for getting money, for travelling about the city, for provision for housing, for our basic utilities to be working, for the health of every single one of us from the dodgy food or the poor sanitation around the city – every moment of every day carried risk, and we wanted God to be with us in all of it.” (p108).
2. Gospel centred social concern – The book speaks of social concern rooted in the gospel, motivated by the love of the living God, which serves to act as a prophetic witness to Jesus and the purposes of his Church. Social concern is important, yet on its own can become arid humanitarianism devoid of the gospel. Robert Glover’s concern is rooted in the love of God and belief in the transformational power of the gospel
3. Prophetic – the book title drawing on God’s promise to Abraham is related also to a prophetic word given to Robert Glover that he would be ‘father to as many children as there are stars in the sky’ (p33). Christian mission needs to be birthed and informed by the prophetic dimension and the book is able to tell the story of this dream unfolding in a human and compelling way. Why? We need the prophetic in our missional work, it is vital and not just a nice to have Ephesians 2v20 reminds us that the Church is built on the ‘foundation of the prophet and apostles.’
4. Humanity – This is a compelling story: we learn of Robert Glover’s childhood and its challenges, his first encounter with a Chinese friend, his life in the Navy, a passion for Norwich City and last but by no means least the pivotal role of his wife Liz. This is almost like a parallel story in the book. Her contribution, journey and love for the children is woven into the story. We can forget this. Christ was fully human and fully Divine.
5. Contextual Mission – The story shows Robert Glover’s love for China – although the vision has moved to other nations, he had a special heart for China and even felt India for him was not the right place to commence comparable work – and the grace, favour and ability to operate in an atheistic Communist system and still remain distinctive.
We all have a specific call, and this means a call to do something and not to do other things that appear worthy and right i.e., The Swiss Theologian Karl Barth challenged Nazi Germany but controversially to some did not take exactly the same stance with post War Communism. In John 5v19 Jesus said he only did what he ‘…sees his Father doing’.
Reflecting on Family Life
This is an enjoyable, well written and yes inspirational book. Family life is God’s Kingdom whether we believe in family values or families valued God has placed us in families and that is where we should learn of God’s love. Those who foster or raise and serve orphans are about a Kingdom task.
This book gets to the heart of why placing children in loving families is the very stuff of the Kingdom.
I thank God for my parents, I try to be a good parent and feel my shortcomings. If we could only get a glimpse of the Father heart of God and model family life that is a powerful state and an alternative to the disordering of this world.
Family life is not just nice and aspirational it is key to the politics of the Kingdom. I mean the alternative community that the Kingdom is and is meant to be. When I helped a homeless outreach in Manchester in the 1990s, I was struck by how many rough sleepers had seemingly intractable family problems yet could not contact their family even if they lived close by. These are complex issues but if we could see family life restored, many perhaps not all political and social issues could be seen in a different light.
Thankfully, God is about bringing his beautiful order in this broken world and ‘As Many as the stars’ testifies to one mans faithfulness to a vision that brings this restoration through families. It also shows how mission can played out with a specific passion and call meeting a specific need. It is a diverse not uniform phenomenon and God will use our strengths and passions for his purposes.
This story would not have happened without miraculous favour, the support of key people in the China state machinery and Robert Glover’s commitment, faithfulness and skill. God is sovereign and can use ordinary people willing to do his will.
It is a book I hope to keep coming back to, a joy to read but packed with practical insights for those seeking to follow God’s will wherever he will take you.
“God sets the lonely in families…” Psalm 68v6a
Ian Geary – February 2023