Article by: Ivan Mesa
On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Mindy Belz—senior editor for World News Group and the author of They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run From ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East [interview]—about what’s on her nightstand, the books that have most shaped her as a journalist, and more.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
Like Dreamers by Yossi Klein Halevi
In This Arab Time by Fouad Ajami
A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star by missionary physician Jennifer Myhre. It’s the third in a series of wonderful books for children and young adults about Africa.
There’s always something by Annie Dillard (currently The Abundance) and a gardening book.
What are your favorite fiction books?
My work doesn’t allow much time for fiction, but stories are the stuff of life, and three favorites stand out, works I never tire of rereading: To Kill a Mockingbird, Middlemarch, and The Power and the Glory. Each is utterly anchored in a time and place, and yet utterly timeless. One reader said she found Graham Greene’s whiskey priest so real she prayed for him at Mass. That’s how I feel about Jem and Scout Finch and Dorothea Brooke, too (though others in Middlemarch need our prayers more).
What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?
Witness by Whittaker Chambers because Chambers was a journalist who had a powerful conversion experience that changed the complexion of the Cold War and the formation of Richard Nixon.
The Winston Churchill biographies by William Manchester because Churchill’s life covered the most tumultuous era of the 20th century. There are parallels to the times we live in now, except we have no Churchill.
Jon Meacham’s biography of George H. W. Bush, Destiny and Power. Bush 41 gets less than his due, and I found his life and conduct in office principled in a way that’s suddenly strangely quaint. It was a refreshing read during our awful 2016 election season.
What are the essential books on the persecuted church?
It’s a sad commentary on our times that there are so many good chronicles of persecution. I read many while researching my own book on Christians in Iraq and Syria, and I found Robert Louis Wilken’s The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity especially helpful. British historian Tom Holland’s In the Shadow of the Sword reads like a thriller and captures the particular assault of Islam on Christianity. Nik Ripken’s The Insanity of God is unlike anything I’ve read for capturing God’s hard purposes in persecution.
What one book has most shaped you as a journalist and why?
The obvious answer here is the Bible, and it’s true. The Bible is attention-grabbing, provocative, suspenseful, and informative—all things journalism should be. Plus it contains all the literary and journalistic forms: history, poetry, biography, the tick-tock, and census-taking. For the writing craft, I’ve been taught by the books of William Zinsser and Jack Hart.
Back when, I learned a lot reading From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman, Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden, Upon This Rock by Sam Freedman, and Rising in the West by Dan Morgan. Each author’s careful attention to craft and to the world around him, plus a respect for religion and belief, drew me in.
What are three books you’d recommend to help believers be more globally minded?
We should care about a lost and hurting world (because God made it) and about those people he has called and will call into his church. Three books that continue to shape my thinking on missions, battling evil, and poverty (in order) are Let the Nations Be Glad! by John Piper, Emancipating the World by Darrow Miller, and When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
The renewing, healing power of Jesus in a falling, decaying world is a miracle every day. He answers all that ails us and gives us both compassion and courage to move toward the hardest things and the most hurting places and people.
Also in the On My Shelf series: Steve Timmis • David Mathis • Michael Lindsay • Nathan Finn • Jennifer Marshall • Todd Billings • Greg Thornbury • Greg Forster • Jen Pollock Michel • Sam Storms • Barton Swaim • John Stonestreet • George Marsden • Andrew Wilson • Sally Lloyd-Jones • Darryl Williamson • D. A. Horton • Carl Ellis • Owen Strachan • Thomas Kidd • David Murray • Jarvis Williams • Gracy Olmstead • Matthew Hall • Drew Dyck • Louis Markos • Ray Ortlund • Brett McCracken • Mez McConnell • Erik Raymond • Sandra McCracken • Tim Challies • Sammy Rhodes • Karen Ellis • Alastair Roberts • Scott Sauls • Karen Swallow Prior • Jackie Hill Perry • Bruce Ashford • Jonathan Leeman • Megan Hill • Marvin Olasky • David Wells • John Frame • Rod Dreher • James K. A. Smith • Randy Alcorn • Tom Schreiner • Trillia Newbell • Jen Wilkin • Joe Carter • Timothy George • Tim Keller • Bryan Chapell • Lauren Chandler • Mike Cosper • Russell Moore • Jared Wilson • Kathy Keller • J. D. Greear • Kevin DeYoung • Kathleen Nielson • Thabiti Anyabwile • Elyse Fitzpatrick • Collin Hansen • Fred Sanders • Rosaria Butterfield • Nancy Guthrie • Matt Chandler
Ivan Mesa is an editor for The Gospel Coalition. He and his wife, Sarah, live in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.