April 19, 2019

IM Book Review: In His Majesty’s Secret Service

A little over thirty years ago my younger brother, Patrick Bell, left on an adventure. He joined Greg, his best friend from high school, on a clandestine team smuggling bibles behind the Iron Curtain. For two years they crisscrossed Eastern Europe bringing Bibles, medicines, and food to Christians who faced persecution and even death because of their faith.

They took ten trips into Romania, where Christians were having a particularly difficult time under President Nicolae Ceaușescu. It was also very stressful for the smuggling teams. “When you hear gunfire outside your hotel and there are bullet holes in the window and blood on the carpet, you know you’re in the thick of things.” A network of informers meant that they could never be sure who they could trust.

In his downtime he started writing about what he was experiencing. He wrote in the genre of a historical fiction, with himself and Greg being portrayed as two of the main characters in the book.

His letters from their Austrian base kept us up-to-date on what he was doing. Some of his stories made it into the manuscript he was writing. Others for security reasons did not. He wrote to our family about some of the ethical issues that a Bible Smuggler faces: What do you do when asked at the border if you have Bibles? How do you hold church services when they have been banned? These very real dilemmas were addressed in his manuscript in the context of a story of high risk, betrayal, faith, prison escapes, near misses, revolution, death, and even a little romance. All was skilfully woven together in a way that put the manuscript into the “can’t put down” category.

In the late fall of 1989 we received a letter from Pat. “I’m not very hopeful for the situation in Romania”, he wrote, “there are soldiers with sub-machine guns on every corner.” Six weeks later, the revolution had been successful and Ceaușescu was arrested.. “When Ceaușescu was shown on TV, soldiers became so angry at him, they wanted to shoot the TV.” On Christmas day, 1989, Ceaușescu and his wife were led before a firing squad and executed. They had been tried before a secret tribunal and found guilty of multiple crimes against the country.

A few days later I was watching the CBS evening news. The Romanian border had just been opened with the West and CBS had a reporter on the spot interviewing the first visitors to make the trip across. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw my brother Pat, and Holly (his future wife), smiling at the cameras from inside their vehicle? “Why are you headed into Romania”, the reporter asked? “We heard there was great skiing in Romania!”, came the response. The Bibles were, as usual, still carefully concealed. I learned later that they were given a tank escort into Bucharest and he was offered a ride!

So what happened to the manuscript? In 1995, Pat and Holly moved to Japan to teach English in order to pay down school debts. The manuscript went into a box. For the twelve years they were in Japan, another year in Kenya, and nine more years in Canada, the manuscript sat in the box unseen. About a year ago Pat happened upon the box and opened it. There was the manuscript. The floppy disks on which it had been written were long gone. “We really should do something with this,” Holly said. With the help of a friend, Pat had the book scanned and converted back into readable text. Holly found a publishing contest to enter, and so Pat spent a few more weeks editing the book to get it ready to submit.

They won the contest!

It was released just days before Christmas, and the early reviews have been very positive.

Patrick Bell takes us on a stirring, memorable, and historic journey in the book In His Majesty’s secret Service. As a long-ago former Bible Courier myself, I can viscerally relate to the emotions of anxiousness, uncertainty, hope, and joy that cycle in every chapter. Patrick vividly describes the remarkable witness of believers behind the Curtain, the honor of those from the West who served the Church in the East, and the staggering suffering that despots like Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu unleashed on millions of his own countrymen. Reading the book is not only a riveting experience, it’s a first-hand exposure to one of the most momentous global events of the send half of the 20th century. – Craig Glass

While the book can be ordered from Amazon and other booksellers, I would encourage you to support the author and order the book directly from PatrickBooks.com

I leave you with the opening paragraphs of the Prologue:

PROLOGUE
September 3, l989
Romania

The distant pounding of an AK-47 assault rifle brought each person to a standstill. Petru’s eyes locked with those of their leader Emil. Emil shook his head slightly, warning him not to move or speak. The six men and four women listened, hesitated, then, when Emil gestured for them to continue, followed him through the dense brush in the dead of the night. A murky, cold canal stretched before them, barely visible. One hundred yards beyond, they would be challenged by the heavily-patrolled fence, its top lined with twisted coils of barbed wire. This was the Yugoslavian frontier, which signaled freedom and escape from Romania.

Petru, tall and bulky with an unruly tangle of brown, curly hair, brought up the rear; his huge hand gripped a length of cord, nearly invisible in the darkness. He strained to see, but could barely make out their guide as Emil moved on carefully and silently in front of them. He wouldn’t abandon them, would he? Petru felt a tug on the cord and kept close to the group, anxious not to be left behind.

A yellow moon rose at the edge of the forest, outlining Emil. The forest came alive with the movement and sound of small animals and insects. Frogs trilled their chorus between the reeds of the canal; crickets chirped their reply among the grass and leaves. Then as suddenly as they had begun, both the frogs and the crickets fell silent.

Petru froze. Beyond the tree line, a border guard near the edge of the canal strode towards Emil. “Stop,” Petru hissed at the others; they promptly drew back into the brush, crowding together out of sight of the guard. Petru tensed, ready to run.

The guard uttered a sharp, “Halt. Stand still.” Emil lifted both arms. The cord in Petru’s fingers went limp.

“You are under arrest,” the guard shouted. “Turn around and put your hands on your head.” A beam of light flashed across Emil’s body, settling on the side of his face.

“My bicycle broke down and I thought this was a short cut to the village,” Emil declared loudly. “I have my papers in my inside jacket pocket.”

The guard shoved the muzzle of his AK-47 into the small of Emil’s back. Without hesitation, Emil spun to his right, pinning the rifle barrel between his body and his right arm. With his left hand, he grabbed the knife strapped to the back of his neck. A quick slash with the blade stifled a cry from the guard. Petru watched as the two men toppled over and disappeared with a noisy splash into the dark waters of the canal…

A link to the rest of the prologue is available at PatrickBooks.com.

Looking for a little historical fiction adventure? I had the privilege of reading an early draft of Pat’s manuscript more than twenty five years ago. And I thoroughly enjoyed reading the final published copy of In His Majesty’s Secret Service over Christmas. I hope you will too.

P.S. Monday was Patrick’s birthday. A happy belated birthday to my super talented brother!

Comments

  1. Patriciamc says:

    How fantastic! I admire their bravery and dedication. I’ll ahve to check this out.

  2. Sounds very interesting. If I think I can place another book on top of my pile of “books waiting to be read,” I’ll order it!

  3. Ordered it!