In this memoir of “a recovering missionary’s daughter,” author Apricot Irving relates the story of her family’s years in Haiti, beginning in 1982 when she was six years old. Her father, a missionary agronomist, preached “the gospel of trees” as he worked feverishly, often to the detriment of his relationship with his wife and children, to convince Haitian farmers and villagers of the necessity of reforestation.
Irving’s goal in writing her fascinating narrative was empathy for her parents and all the missionaries who, according to her, tried to be “saviors.” They often worked under duress, in the midst of political turmoil, and they were hindered by failed expectations and a fractured understanding of what was best for Haiti and its people.
Based on her parents’ and her own journals, missionary newsletters, letters written to family members in North America, and—years later—interviews with many of the missionaries whom she knew during that period, Irving helps readers understand the complexities, frustrations, and glories of the missionaries’ experiences.
At times wounded and cynical herself, Irving eventually lands on a note of hope: “When I first began to write about Haiti, before my sons were born, I did not yet imagine that those first resentful drafts would become a meditation on love, in all its complexity. Or that what I had to learn from that troubling, joyful, infuriating missionary compound would become an inheritance that I would one day want to pass on to my own children.”
The Gospel of Treesoffers much to ponder for all those who have been missionaries and their children. As well, it is a significant book for anyone interested in cross-cultural experiences or contemplating becoming a missionary. (Simon & Schuster)