Tyndale House Publishers
In Journey to Riverbend, author Henry McLaughlin tells the story of Michael Archer, a cowboy in the old west whose past sins haunt him, even though he has accepted the forgiveness of Christ. While working in prison ministry, Michael befriended Ben Carstairs, a man who was eventually executed for a crime he didnít commit. Benís dying wish was to be reconciled with his father. Michael takes on the mission to travel to Riverbend to meet the intimidating Sam Carstairs and to deliver his sonís last words. Unfortunately, as soon as Michael arrives in Riverbend he finds out that Sam has left on a trip and will not return for several days. As he waits for Sam, Michael meets and falls in love with Rachel Stone, a reformed prostitute who also struggles with the remaining guilt of her past sins. Their shared faith and experiences lead them through a tumultuous beginning, and just as they start to build trust, Michael is called away as part of a posse to search for the recently kidnapped Sam Carstairs. As each of the main characters struggles with the idea of true forgiveness and the reality of overcoming the past, they forge together, each trying to convince the other that Christís love can overcome anything.
McLaughlin switches back and forth among the views of several characters, concentrating on each person as paths intersect and divide again throughout the novel. In each short chapter, he shares just enough information to keep the reader interested before moving back to the other characters. As he develops the romance between Michael and Rachel, he offers breaks in their emotional tension by switching the viewpoint to Sam, as he is held in captivity and tortured by an old enemy. Although McLaughlin offers too much explanation and back story in the first thirty pages of the novel, he does eventually reach his stride in developing the emotional progression of the characters. He doesnít shy away from the intense emotions experienced by former prostitutes and murderers who have become Christians. Allowing each character to deal with his or her shame, McLaughlin has no magical quick fixes, but truly delves into the conflicts the characters experience within themselves.
The concept of forgiveness pervades the entire novel, as each of the three main characters is trapped in self-doubt and an inability to accept forgiveness. Both Michael and Rachel convince themselves that they donít deserve the other person because of the sins in their pasts. Knowing they have been forgiven by Christ, they still cannot move past the issues and forgive themselves. However, they are more than willing to forgive each other. Itís an excellent example of what Jesus described in Luke 7:47, ďTherefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgivenófor she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.Ē McLaughlin clearly understands that those people who have lived lives steeped in sin and have then been forgiven by Christ are willing to forgive those who sin against them; just as both Rachel and Michael are willing to forgive one another for the multitude of sins in their respective pasts.
Beyond the issues of guilt and shame, McLaughlin also concentrates on how the men and women living in this old western community minister to one another in times of trouble. He presents men of integrity and compassion and a small town that works together to save one of their own. A couple of the Christian men in Riverbend give an excellent testimony to Christ when they are willing to sacrifice their own lives for a man they barely knew and who treated even his own family with hatred and cruelty. The values of bravery, community, and loyalty are demonstrated frequently and powerfully by the men in Michaelís posse as they search for the missing Sam and struggle together to return to their families.
Journey to Riverbend definitely targets an audience interested in both romance and western adventures. Though Michael and Rachel do find love through the novel, the primary focus is on the path they follow as they find the strength to accept forgiveness and to move on to the next phase in their lives. For Rachel, she must learn to love and trust men again, while Michael determines to control his penchant for violence even as he strives to protect those he loves. The emotional turmoil experienced by the characters in the book will no doubt connect with readers who have experienced great tragedies or internal struggles in their own relationships and sins. It can be incredibly difficult as Christians to accept that Christ has forgiven completely and to move past all guilt and shame. Henry McLaughlin clearly addresses that concern through his characters as he follows them through their struggles, offering hope to his readers who experience similar situations. Ė Nicole Miller, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
Michael Archer is nothing if not a man of his word. Though he was unable to save Ben Carstairs, Michael is determined to carry out Benís dying wish: to be reconciled with his father. Unfortunately, Sam Carstairs, one of the most ruthless businessmen on the frontier, has no use for his own son, much less a man of God seeking reconciliation. Soon after arriving in Riverbend, Michael meets and falls for the stunning Rachel Stone while waiting for Sam to return from a business trip. Beautiful yet guarded, Rachel seems to be running from a past as dark as Michaelís.
When word reaches town that Sam has been kidnapped on the stagecoach home, Michael offers to join the search party formed by the local sheriff. With a budding romance behind him and a dangerous rescue ahead of him, he sets out on the trail, determined to complete his journey no matter the cost.