Writer’s Digest Raves About Troubled Mission
Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5
Plot and Story Appeal: 5
Character Appeal and Development: 5
Voice and Writing Style: 5
The author weaves a complex and engaging story. We understand and accept what drove him to Peru, and we’re prepared to accept the many entanglements and dangers he faces. Realism is plentiful here, so important to a fast-moving, complex plot. Author begins by enticing us with admissions of his failures, so we’re primed for an adventure in the vehicle of this book. Dialogue is rich and engaging, with characters differentiated in speech pattern, an important talent the author possesses, creating depth and acceptance as we go. Settings are fully-realized, allowing the reader to experience the scenes well. Author is well-versed in the political and criminal tensions in Peru, which creates the tensions without seeming effort. Well done. (…) John and Bella’s relationship does hit the fast-forward button, but author is wise to hit the brakes, creating a realistic relationship moment that allows us to keep engaged with it. Chapter transitions are strong, with the right balance of enticement into the next section, without overly-done leading questions. Well done. Author creates a nice pace, and guides us through his story of redemption well. A lesson exists here that obstacles can be overcome; often, in ways that cannot be predicted. – Judge, 24th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.
About The Spiritual Adventure Memoir
TROUBLED MISSION is the inspirational memoir of John Wagner’s personal and spiritual transformation and of the culture and political reality of Peru during the height of its terrorism and counter-terrorism. John, a successful lawyer in the US, discovers the reality of life in a Peru rife with poverty, violence, oppression, and corruption. He also discovers Bella, a wonderful Peruvian teacher, but later learns of secrets and betrayals she has been keeping from him. After much reflection, and after receiving a death threat in the international mail (accompanied by a live machine gun bullet) from a member of the notorious terrorist group Sendero Luminoso (“The Shining Path”), John decides to “give up everything” of his comfortable life in the US and to work in Peru on a human rights mission.
A frequent adventure and spiritual traveler, John’s life changed dramatically during a study tour on the history and political reality of Peru, including studying Sendero Luminoso, a violent terrorist group. Born a Catholic but disillusioned with any organized religion, he sees the “new” Catholicism of a focus on the poor as a way to reconcile his desire to help with his cynicism toward religion. A progressive Catholic who had been away from the Church for years (and generally critical of it), John seeks a personal transformation to strip his life of consumerism and materialism. He decides to join a Catholic religious order as a “lay” and to his amazement is accepted.
During his training program, he discovers “liberation theology” and even commences biblical studies at a school of theology, learning many new spiritual concepts. He has a wonderful friendship with a nun candidate who then asks him to “teach me about sex” before she has to take her vows! He would be all to happy to oblige but would this be something she would forever feel guilty about? At the class retreat before graduation, John is described as “the only guy who would come to this beautiful place and read Nazi concentration camp poetry.” Guilty. The vivid, shockingly powerful, poems of Holocaust survivor Paul Celan make an indelible impression on John and stay with him throughout his mission. Then he is off to language school in Bolivia where, through a series of misadventures, he finds himself in the world’s epicenter of coca-growing, and home of futile governmental attempts to get farmers to grow less remunerative crops.
John arrives in Peru at the worst time in the country’s history. He lives, Zelig-like, through ever increasing daily violence–street violence, “structural violence” (malnutrition, poverty, disease), terrorist violence from Sendero Luminoso and another fearsome terrorist group, and the increasing “counter-terrorism” violence from the government security forces. He writes in detail of what it was like to live through these horrific times and he movingly describes the brutal bombing and then the funeral (attended by thousands) of a beloved community leader who had been honored around the world. John captures not only the reality of life in Peru, and life within a religious community in that Peru, but also the real-life “politics” that underlie almost every action decision confronting a lay missioner. Becoming ever more involved in the country’s politics puts John at risk of his career and his life.
John is assigned to a rural human rights agency in what some might consider the backwater of the Peruvian altiplano where, unbeknownst to him, the director, a Catholic nonlawyer nun, does not want him there, is threatened by having this US lawyer on her turf, and freezes him out of the agency’s work. The timid bureaucrats of John’s progtram do nothing to help him and he must find ways to create his own work, within a strange city in a strange country.
At that very moment, the President of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, basically declares himself a dictator, imposing an auto golpe (self-coup d’état): ripping up the rule of law, closing the Suupreme Court, closing the Congress and arresting and brutalizing Congressional leaders, closing the schools, censoring the media, arresting union activists and leaders of workers groups. Fujimori later reorganizes government with his hand-picked cronies or followers eager to do his bidding, including getting tough with human rights organizations. It seems impossible that any day can be worse than the day before but that’s what happens, little by little. John writes in detail of the deterioration of the country and of the capital city, Lima. Yet he finds warmth and happiness in moments with Bella and with her brother Renán and their family.
After the auto golpe, the government begins to threaten non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and suddenly comes directly after the lawyer, Victor, for John’s own human rights agency on trumped up charges of “aiding and abetting terrorism”–for doing lawful human rights work!
Even though initially he wasn’t wanted, now John’s practical and legal skills come in to play to aid Victor and to aid his human rights agency. He works day and night to help achieve a landmark victory, stopping the Fujimori government in its tracks from attempting to chill human rights work.
Shortly before he returns to the US, John must deal with terrorist violence first hand. Victor calls on him to investigate a terrorist attack in a small pueblita. Once again, his agency director attempts to freeze him out. John must decide whether he is willing to sacrifice his placement with the agency to investigate the attack and to help care for the victims. “This is what I came here for,” he courageously decides, knowing it will be the end of any future with his agency. Then he must convince hostile Peruvian Army officials to let his aid group enter the battle area and investigate and render assistance. John writes movingly of preparing the shredded, gouged-out bodies of innocent civilians killed by terrorist bombs and bullets.
In some ways the story of more failures than successes, TROUBLED MISSION is inspirational and redemptive. John is no hero but he can’t just give up and let terrorist killers have their way. Yet he has to fight the “good guys” just as much as the “bad guys.” Opposed to physical violence, he nevertheless finds he must fight, and fight tenaciously, for what he believes in. He must fight for a developing love with Bella, despite the numerous real-life problems that arise, threatening their relationship. He must fight for a new spirituality, having the courage to follow the beliefs that seem right to him, even when they conflict with Church doctrines. And he must fight to do human rights work, where his own director wants to get rid of him, where his own religious order refuses to help him (the director of his mission program tells him the problem of being frozen out of meaningful work “is your problem, it’s not my problem”), and where high level Army officers try to shoo him away from his investigations. In those fights, success and failure take on different meanings and John discovers the redemptive power of love and of living in “this moment,” even in the strangest circumstances.
John Wagner, now retired from the practice of law and a full time author, was a successful lawyer, social worker, offbeat radio programmer, and a civil rights and antiwar activist. When he decided to go to Peru, he was not an idealistic young college graduate but was a cynical, middle-aged, divorced-with-no-kids, lawyer with a successful practice and all the trappings of a successful life. He was happy with his life, including litigating a case before the US Supreme Court. Yet he discovered a new reality within the Peruvian history and culture, he discovered love with a wondrous and inspiring teacher, he discovered the possible of a new spirituality involving a dramatic personal transformation, and he discovered his deeply felt need to put everything on the line to work for justice. He literally gave up everything to work for human rights in Peru.
He now lives with his wife in Sacramento, California, near their children and grandchildren.
Publisher: Kelly House
Release Date: October 1, 2015
ISBN 978-0-9962485-0-1 Hardback
ISBN 978-0-9962485-1-8 Paperback
ISBN 978-0-9962485-3-2 Ebook