A daughter of evangelical missionaries reflects on the complexities of faith.
Hustad (How to be Useful: A Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work, 2008) was born in Minneapolis, where her family had relatives and roots. But her parents felt a religious calling, and soon, young Megan and her sister, Amy, were transported to the Caribbean island of Bonaire, where her father took a post with Trans World Radio, broadcasting God’s word over shortwave. Bonaire, flat and salt-rich, “offered excellent conductivity for radio signals,” heard as far north as Canada and south to the Amazon. After a few years on the buggy, soggy island, the family returned to Minnesota, awaiting a new assignment: this time, to Holland. When Megan protested that she didn’t want to live in a foreign country, her mother replied, “That’s too bad….Because you live in one now.” Alienated from 1980s American culture, Hustad’s parents felt out of place in Holland, as well, where the supervisor of TWR was intent on making Christian views relevant in “the marketplace of ideas.” Maybe phone-in programs would help; maybe market research: “[B]ad programming,” he insisted, “placed a strain upon the sovereignty of God.” When her father’s conflict with the supervisor proved unresolvable, the family was offered another post in Sri Lanka. Instead, they returned to Minnesota. Amy, 18, had long before rejected her family’s life of near poverty and cultural isolation. Megan, 12, still went weekly to the church youth group “because I was not prepared not to. I was initially expected to be better at God but everyone quickly realized that I was not.” Escaping to New York City as soon as she could, Megan met people “who associated religious belief with rank stupidity” and even pathology, leading her to reconsider her own complicated connections to faith.
Some tediously detailed sections and an impressionistic structure weaken the overall impact of Hustad’s memoir.