Brother Half Angel is "a bit of a mystery man", a Korean raised in Los Angeles to where his parents had migrated and where his mother was murdered by a group of Mafia, with his father dying soon afterwards. This made him determined to become "a fighter for justice". So he had returned to Korea and joined the military: the Naval Special Warfare Brigade, the Korean equivalent of the American SEALS.
He now heads a clandestine new military order, founded by the New Joy Gospel Church in South Korea, that is dedicated to fighting for the rights of persecuted Christians around the world. When we first meet him he is helping underground Bible-distributing Christians escape from North Korea by shooting their way out.
He "was fearless. He had a passion for justice. Yet he was also governed by aggression .... He didn't pull his punches. He didn't apologise. He insisted that, on any mission, everything be done his way." He is happy to provoke trouble. According to his superior, Bishop Lee of the New Joy Church, he is "a true servant of God", even if he "sometimes goes a bit far" and "enjoys a good fight."
His most notable characteristic, however, was the loss of his left hand and a portion of his forearm at some point in his "long and glorious military career .... It so happened that at the time he had a dramatic tattoo of an angel, spread down the length of his forearm. Now, as a result of the tragedy, this had become just half an angel, and the man had acquired his nickname." He "did not in any way try to hide the missing hand. Indeed, it even seemed to be a badge of honor for him .... He was, after all, a dynamic figure, a passionate man, dressed in jeans and t-shirt with a gold chain around his neck."
Martin Roth (1949 - ) was born in New Zealand, where his father was a Jewish refugee from Vienna and his mother a New Zealander from an Anglican family. He graduated in law from Auckland University. He travelled to Japan in 1976 for a short working holiday but stayed there for 17 years, during which time he became deeply involved in Zen Buddhism. He became a veteran journalist and foreign correspondent whose reports from Asia have appeared in leading publications around the world. He has been living in Australia since 1993 and it was there that he became "a devout worshipper in his local church." He described his journey to Christianity in Living Water to Light the Journey (1999). He is the author of numerous other books too, including the Brother Half Angel series, the first of which is reviewed below. He now lives in the suburbs of Melbourne with his Korean (second) wife and three sons.
Brother Half Angel (2011)
Brother Half Angel tells how Brother Half Angel, the leader of a secret new church military order dedicated to helping Christians under attack around the world, is (eventually) sent to Fulang in Shanxi province, North China, where an underground seminary, masquerading under the title of Bond Street School of English, is under siege from fanatical sword-wielding members of a local cult who still pay homage to the bloodthirsty extremists who, in the nineteenth century during the Boxer uprising, tried to expel all foreigners from China.
But while under attack from external forces, the seminary has its own internal divisions. The director, the cadaverous Uncle Ling, a hero of the underground Chinese church, holds secrets that he cannot reveal. Idealistic young American missionaries, Daniel and Jenny Westloke, are impressed by the way that "the students are on fire" with the Spirit. "It's no wonder Satan is trying to shut us down." But Daniel is worried about what has happened to all the money that their church has been contributing and Jenny thinks they ought to go back to America, supported by Uncle Ling who tells them, "With the money your church pays to send you here and support you, I could hire twenty Chinese to come here and teach. Do you think that we don't have good, sound Christian teachers in China? Do you think that only Americans know how to teach theology?" But it is the provocative behaviour of Brother Half Angel (who does not arrive until more than halfway through the book) that brings things to a violent climax in a dramatic and deadly showdown.
It makes quite an exciting story with plenty of action, set against an interesting background, and helped along by the use of short chapters. But the violent Brother Half Angel seems a strange "Christian" figure who will not appeal to everybody. The author hopes that the story will raise "serious questions on how far can Christians go to defend themselves? When should they turn the other cheek? What happens when a Christian kills in self-defense? And should those who live by the sword really expect to die by the sword?" But not every reader will take it seriously enough to think about such things. Brother Half Angel is too much of a one-dimensional fantasy figure.
The Coptic Marty of Cairo (2013)
The Coptic Martyr of Cairo is the fifth book in the series. Four Americans are in Egypt on an archaeological dig. They are led by Rafa Harel, a Professor of Spiritual Art, who is there not only to explore the art works but to to find out what is really happening to Christians now that "the so-called Arab Spring in the Middle East had turned into a winter for Christians." They soon discover a body. It is an old priest who has been murdered. The gruesome discovery sets in train a sequence of events that leads to a deadly Salafist (these are extreme Muslims) attack on the ancient St George Church where the Americans are working.
Once again the book gets off to an interesting start and the foreign background is convincingly described. And once again Brother Half Angel does not appear until almost two thirds of the way through the book. He seems to be used by the author as a sort of genie in the bottle to bob up as required, but he does not come to life in the same way as other characters such as Professor Rafa and old Father Paulos who proudly tells Rafa that, "It is from our martyrs that we have become strong ....There is no purer act of selflessness than the willingness to die, like Jesus ... This is the greatest gift that God can bestow on his people. It is an opening of the gate to our beautiful, eternal home. So we do not cling to life. We are in God's hand's." Rafa, for his part, "could not help thinking that the father's attitude was leading the Egyptian church on a downward spiral to extinction."
Faced with mounting attacks from aggressive young Muslims, Rafa keeps wondering whether or not it is his duty is to take his team back home, away from all this danger. "So go," Father Poulos tells him. "The Coptic church in Egypt has managed for two thousand years without the help of Americans." It is Rafa who then sends for the New Mercadians, the secret Korean military order led by Brother Half Angel who brings all three of them (!) to rescue a kidnapped Christian. Brother Half Angel, in the tradition of the original 13th century Mercadians, even offers himself as a ransom in place of the prisoner, but, for once things don't work out as hoped. "There are just three of you," Rafa pointed out. "Plus a couple of us who might be able to help a little. But you can't possibly fight off ten or twelve tough young men." How right he was! Especially as the police are not prepared to do anything to help. So it all ends in anti-climax. Readers may feel cheated for, if Brother Half Angel isn't invincible, what's his appeal? Even so, the description of a Christian community in crisis is still all too convincing, and holds the interest.
The author has his own website.
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