Wednesday, December 21, 2016

OTHER VOICES: Tony Blenman's memoir reviewed by Elma Schemenauer

Tony Blenman has heard conflicting voices all his life. As a child in Barbados, he sometimes received positive guidance from adults. Sometimes he didn't since his family was troubled by alcoholism, infidelity, and physical and sexual abuse.


Tony often felt caught between positive and negative voices, from family members as well as friends. However, he seemed to have a God-given tendency to choose good over bad. For example, he says, "I tended to tell truth even if I was going to get in trouble for it."


A great-aunt's Christian beliefs influenced Tony, and by the time he was a teenager, he was travelling with a friend ministering the Gospel. A few years later he decided to attend Northwest Bible College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. A couple of his friends also decided to attend this college. Tony's friends received their visas. He didn't.


Disappointment depressed him to the point where he stopped attending church and reading his Bible. Thankfully, he finally listened to more positive voices and returned to his Christian faith. Not long afterwards, his visa came through and he received permission to go to Canada.


Having learned that Canada was cold, Tony tried to prepare himself by cranking down the air conditioning in the laboratory where he worked. However, when he arrived in Edmonton in 1969, he discovered that even extreme air conditioning couldn't match that city's cold weather.


The young newcomer also suffered from coldness of a different kind, racism. He tells of being invited for an interview regarding a position in a church. When he arrived, the board members were surprised at the colour of his skin. They had expected him to be German based on his last name. The board went ahead with the interview anyway, but didn't seem to take it seriously and didn't hire him.


Despite the extensive Biblical and theological education Tony acquired, he was never able to obtain more than a temporary ministry in a church. He also wasn't given the opportunity to fulfill his dream of becoming a Bible College teacher.


Evidently part of the problem was his skin colour and the fact that he was in an inter-racial marriage, having married a white Canadian he had met in Edmonton. Another part was the fact that his wife had had a child by another man before marrying Tony.


He was disheartened at not being able to work in Christian ministry. However, he eventually found another way to help people. He began working in a treatment facility for children and youth with behavioural problems. Regarding one client he counseled, he says, "I recognized the voice he was listening to in his very young life. I drew from experience and told him...not to listen anymore to an inner voice of defeatism."


Later Tony studied social work and began counseling men and women who had parenting and spousal issues. He ended up spending twenty years as a clinical social worker with his own business, encouraging people to listen to constructive voices.


I enjoyed the vivid details about Barbados in Tony's book. I could picture the yams, molasses, and fields of sugar cane, and hear the church bells ringing.


Tony remembers many details of his life at age five. This resonates with me since I also remember a lot from when I was that age. In fact, my early life in a very different place, the Saskatchewan prairie, helped inspire my 1940s-era Mennonite novel Consider the Sunflowers.


Since I'm originally a prairie chicken, I was interested in Tony's impression of that part of Canada. He says he "didn't know the actual meaning of a prairie" till he travelled from Edmonton to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ontario. As he crossed Alberta and Saskatchewan, he finally "understood what a prairie province was all about." Flat as far as the eye could see.


I like that. In fact, I like this whole book. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in memoir, the West Indies, Christian faith, immigrant experiences in Canada and the United States, and overcoming obstacles in life.


The book is available online from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Chapters Indigo. Published: March 30, 2016 Publisher: FriesenPress  Language: English, ISBN - 10:1460285506  ISBN - 13:9781460285503



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