Found in Translation — “Altered Hearts” Series


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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family Thriving Family, a marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first in the “Altered Hearts” series.

Plot Summary

Eighteen-year-old Kim Hartlinger is a spoiled, self-centered belle from the South. In an effort to avoid a summer job, she agrees to go on a two-week missions trip to Mexico. She thinks she’ll be ministering to people in a mid-sized town with restaurants and at least some of the comforts of home. But in her carelessness about the details of the trip, Kim misses the emails about a change of venue. Only after arriving in Mexico with her designer clothes, hair accessories and overstuffed suitcase does she learn the team is going to the remote village of Santa Maria to do construction work after a disastrous storm in the area. They will sleep in sleeping bags on the ground and won’t have any electricity or plumbing. After missing her flight and holding up the group, Kim hasn’t endeared herself to the team or leaders. Her complaints about their new circumstances of the trip make her even less popular.

Despite a leader’s suggestion that she go home, Kim hesitantly decides to stay in Mexico. She breaks her arm at the beginning of the trip, so she is no longer able to help in the rebuilding effort. Like other team members, her Spanish isn’t adequate to communicate with the villagers. Kim begins to pray for God’s direction, asking how He wants to use her.

Kim makes friends with another girl on the team, Aleesha, who helps the other team members change their impression of Kim. Kim also befriends a young villager named Anjelita, who has a stump for one arm. The two work together using their good arms to clear debris left by the storm and to beautify the one building that remains standing.

When a teammate named Geoff makes subtle but repeated advances toward Kim, she feels the need to report his behavior. She talks to Ron, one of the team leaders. She learns Ron is Geoff’s uncle, and Geoff has come on the trip to fulfill a community service requirement after being involved in a DUI case. Geoff has been troubled and angry since he lost his father. Geoff vandalizes the garden Kim and Anjelita have planted. Kim prays for him and for continued patience to be his friend in spite of his actions. She even convinces Ron not to send him home for his behavior. Geoff begins to behave better as he accepts Kim’s forgiveness and kindness.

An angel visits Kim several times and tells her God wants her to read His Word to the villagers as they work. Even though she doesn’t know Spanish, she obeys and struggles to pronounce the words of Luke from the Spanish Bible she brought with her. As the villagers help her with her pronunciations, they become increasingly interested in the stories and messages of Luke. Kim later learns that one of her teammates knows Spanish. He didn’t help her because God told him not to. He said the villagers might not have taken such an interest if they hadn’t initially had to help Kim learn the words.

As Kim leaves for home, she leaves Anjelita’s mother a Spanish Bible, which Rosa promises to treasure and use to teach other villagers. Kim vows to return to Mexico at the next possible opportunity.

Christian Beliefs

Kim begins as a professing Christian. She attends church and youth activities and knows basic Christian beliefs. Her concern with worldly comforts far outweighs her desire for a relationship with God. When she first learns the missions trip will be more difficult than she thought, she wonders if God is punishing her for things such as being impolite to the woman at the airport ticket counter. Her prayers for God’s direction begin to change her. She has visits from an angel. She acknowledges her need for God’s help and recognizes she must follow His plan, not her own.

Other Belief Systems

Many of the Mexican people in and around Santa Maria are superstitious about what’s called the Passover Church. It is the one building in the village that was left unharmed by the disaster. Before his transformation, Geoff tells Kim he doesn’t need a Lord. He is the lord of his own life, and he’s doing just fine.

Authority Roles

Trip organizers Rob and Charlie demonstrate Christ-like leadership and forgiveness toward Kim and other team members. Rob takes Kim under his wing, even referring to her as his daughter. Kim’s parents have raised her in a Christian environment and have encouraged her to take this missions trip. She sees her mother as patient and tolerant of some of her father’s quirks and prejudices.

Profanity & Violence

Kim battles with her propensity for cursing. She does use profanity a few times, as do bus drivers in Mexico, though no curse words actually appear in the book. Kim says she never uses the Lord’s name in vain, mainly because she’s afraid of God zapping her like a mosquito.

Sexual Content

Kim’s teammate, Geoff, lost his father and has exhibited troubling and problematic behavior ever since. Though never saying anything overtly sexual to Kim, he makes innuendos about wanting her. When Rob tells Kim about Geoff’s past and his anger issues, she wonders if he’s dangerous to women. Rob says he doesn’t think Geoff is a potential rapist; his anger is mostly self-directed.

Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments

Alcohol: Kim tells Aleesha that people at her church don’t drink alcohol, at least not in front of other church members. She says Christians don’t need alcohol to have a good time. Aleesha doesn’t believe Kim when she says she’s never been drunk. Geoff goes off drinking with friends right after his baptism. The police stop them, and the under-age driver is charged with a DUI.

Prejudice: Geoff demonstrates a subtle prejudice toward the Mexican villagers and Aleesha, who is black.

Vandalism: Geoff and his friends deface tombstones, painting their parents’ names on them.

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