Christian Living

Spiritual Life

A Journey of Souls: Interview with Author C. D. Baker

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Question: What exactly was the "Children's Crusade?"

Answer: In the spring and summer of 1212 two separate, yet related events occurred. In France a twelve-year-old shepherd boy named Stephan claimed he saw a vision of Jesus call him to lead an army of children to Palestine to liberate that Holy Land from Islam. In Germany, near Cologne, a ten-year-old boy named Nicholas claimed a similar vision.

In response to their calls, thousands of children began to gather in both regions to proclaim a crusade in which God would honor the innocence and purity of children. The Mediterranean Sea was expected to be opened like the Red Sea did for the Hebrews. The children of both lands were to win the hearts of their enemy by love and pure faith. The two simultaneous pilgrimages were together called the "Children's Crusade."

Through the summer, children began to migrate toward Marseilles, in France, and toward Genoa or Rome from Germany. Their columns were varied in size and there is much uncertainty as to their various routes. The chroniclers of the age refer to both the German and French contingents as having a main body as well as scattered groups of twenty to one hundred which followed. Estimates vary from 10,000 to 50,000 children in each of the two groups.

Despite their sincerity, both the French and German children suffered unspeakable hardship. Their misguided "faith" cost many French children their lives, and nearly all the Germans. Those who did not perish by the natural forces of starvation, disease or exposure were deceptively loaded into ships and sold in the slave markets of North Africa.

Question: Why did you choose to write about this subject?

Answer: In February of 1994 I found myself in the depth of a personal crisis that had totally undone my world. Largely caused by my own sin, I found myself searching for answers in who I was and more importantly, who God was. I realized that I no longer had all the answers to either question! Instead, I found myself lost.

I began to read a lot of books. Since I have always enjoyed history, I opened S.M. Houghton's book titled, Sketches from Church History. While paging through on a cold winter's night my eyes fell under a reference to the Children's Crusade. The event struck me as the most challenging example of the age-old question of God's place in human suffering. I could not imagine a more striking example. Here were tens of thousands of sincere, "innocent" children spurred on by a high regard for Christ. Yet, in spite of that, they suffered terribly.

I supposed I could understand why I was miserable, but where was God while they suffered? I was very interested in learning all I could about the event, and before I knew it I found myself compelled to tell their nearly forgotten story through the lives of characters I imagined.

Question: Besides the nature of the historical phenomenon, what else were you exploring?

Answer: It did not take long to recognize that my paradigm of life was badly skewed. I was quickly seeing that a deeper understanding of my own response to "suffering" was revealing false perspectives on God and the very nature of His Providential care. Questions began to rattle around my head like: what should we expect from God, and what do our responses to suffering tell us about ourselves?

A Journey of Souls is intended to raise more questions than answers. I hope it challenges the reader to examine his own heart. Its primary theme is the exploration of the redemptive power of suffering. My experience has taught me that most Christians respond to suffering in one of three ways: First, many of us rebel and fly to self-reliance believing we have the resources to overcome our struggles. This takes many forms, some of which seem rather spiritual. Second, many of us lean on a presumptive faith, that is, an expectation that blessing (as is normally understood) must follow obedience. Lastly, many of us attempt to control our suffering by boxing God and our selves into tidy intellectual explanations. These three primary responses are explored in some depth through the lives of three of my characters. Each of the characters is challenged to recognize the pride supporting each response.

There are a number of sub-themes that naturally followed. But one that I should mention is that of mystery. I have found little room for the "unknown" in my own faith. I was interested to challenge myself to dare step toward the assumptions that follow a faithful embrace of the mysteries of God.

Question: How long did it take you to research and write this book?

Answer: I spent a little more than four years on this. I did my preliminary research for about a year, then continued the research as I began the writing. There is precious little information available and what there is can be contradictory at times. Also, the themes I pursued were percolating in my own soul for quite some time--they still are! I think a project like this needs time to steep. The story became a journey of my own soul and the characters became very real. I spent some time in Europe traveling one of the possible routes and I found the time spent on-site to be invaluable.

Question: How did you begin?

Answer: With a map! Then I went to any library I could, found a very helpful out-of-print book on the crusade, bought numerous old, musty history books, and surfed the net for hours! In addition to the event, I needed to research the spirit of the times, the foods, clothing, political landscape, economy, and spiritual nature of the era. It was important for me to understand weaponry and tactics, means of transportation, music and entertainment, medical treatments, etc. I want the reader to trust me.

Question: Were the Crusades all bad?

Answer: It has become fashionable to interpret history in such a way as to denigrate much of Western civilization's heritage. Admittedly, the Crusades were a violent, bloody, dubious chapter in that heritage. We are quick to blast the whole of it as little more than greed, barbarism, racism, and exploitation in the name of Christ.

The problem is, that simply isn't the whole truth. The advance of Islam had dramatically shrunk the world of the "visible Church'. By the age of the Crusades, Islam had swept across the Middle East, North Africa, and deep into Spain. It had been checked in France some centuries before but was pressing on Christendom's eastern flank at Constantinople. Worse yet, the fierce and brutal Seljuk Turks were the wing of Islam that had taken control.

The Crusades began as an effort to defend Christian pilgrims who were being persecuted on their pilgrimages to Palestine, and to protect fellow Christians who were in danger of genocide in the east. I think we need to be careful in discarding the whole of this era on assumptions that are easy to make from our present vantage.

Question: What relevance does A Journey of Souls have for the Church today?

Answer: We need to always explore our understanding of Truth. My book raises questions that I think need to be raised. Questions such as: What can I expect from God when my life has come apart? What is the relationship to my suffering and my sin? Why am I not content with the mystery of God? How do I comfort others in their pain? What is true Faith? What is the role of Wisdom? How does God use suffering in the lives of His people? Can I blame God when things go badly?

I would not dare to presume to offer final answers to all of these. I have simply shared what I have learned and I have mostly learned that I know little for certain! I do know that God is there and He cares. Despite my sin, I believe God, in all His wondrous Grace, has given me a little bread to share. I hope others can make it into a larger loaf.

(c) Christian History Institute. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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