When Apricot Irving was six years old, her parents moved their family from the California desert to a missionary compound in Haiti. The Gospel of Trees is her honest, ruminative account of the years she spent in a place she describes as a “splendid, complicated, troubling, maddening, beautiful country.”
Through diary entries – hers and those of her parents – family newsletters, audio recordings and her own memories, Irving recounts the pressures and the joys of her missionary childhood and her subsequent return visit to Haiti (including those after the massive 2010 earthquake). She includes short, helpful chapters detailing Haiti’s troubled history as the target of colonial conquests and a popular mission field for foreign Christians and aid workers.
Irving’s father is an ambitious agronomist with an often-volatile temper and a passion for preaching the gospel. Her mother also has an adventurous spirit and a strong faith – she is less sure, however, that they needed to uproot their family to another country to serve God.
As white missionary kids, Irving and her siblings are outsiders forced to confront the privilege of wealth and power in a place of pervasive poverty and systemic injustice. She encounters neighbours and friends who inspire and change her. She also comes to understand that even those with noble intentions can cause great harm when they diminish the dignity and strength of the people they are seeking to help in Jesus’ name.
“It felt suddenly absurd that as missionaries we had come to teach Haitians about God. God was already here,” she writes. “Maybe our only job was to bear witness to the beauty – and the sorrow. Without denying either one.”
With clear-eyed insight and empathy, Irving pays tribute to the country that compelled her to explore the tensions of the “savior complex” through the fascinating lens of her family’s personal journey. (Originally published in Christian Courier)