Thursday, January 9, 2020

Has the small-town minister left his top secret life behind?

Part 1 of an Interview with Andrew Huff,
Author of A Cross to Kill

How much do you really know about the people around you? Is there someone in your life holding onto a deep, dark secret? Maybe there is someone sitting a few pews away in church that lived a life you never would have expected. Maybe your pastor is doing a little side work for the CIA. The members of Rural Grove Baptist Church would have never expected that from their new pastor, John Cross . . . if that is his real name.

In Andrew Huff’s A Cross to Kill (Kregel Publications), John Cross is a small-town pastor, bent on leading his flock to follow God’s calling. He’s not the sort of man one would expect to have a checkered past. But the truth is that the man behind the pulpit preaching to his sheep was once a wolf—an assassin for the CIA. When John decided to follow Christ, he put that work behind him, determined to pay penance for all the lives he took. However, putting away his old life isn’t as easy as he would have liked.

(Click here to access the A Cross to Kill press release and Andrew Huff’s author bio.)


Q: A Cross to Kill is your first book release. Tell us about your journey to become an author.

Storytelling is something that’s been a part of my life since an early age, though I wasn’t convinced I could actually be an author until much later in life. I would write stories every day using toys, sometimes turning those stories into drawings and, on occasion, writing ideas down. I spent my high school years telling stories through video, even helping develop narrative projects with my home church. Yet I still wasn’t motivated to sit down and attempt to write something longer than a five-minute screenplay. That changed right around the time I finished college.

I was an avid reader growing up, and after finishing my undergraduate degree, I started consuming full-length mystery and suspense novels. The problem I ran into was that many of the authors I enjoyed did not hold to the same worldview or values that I did. And whenever I found a thriller that did, I was often left wanting. So, I decided if I couldn’t find the type of book I wanted to read, then I should try to write it. It took many years of learning the craft and discovering the right story before I was able to sit down and not only start but successfully finish a full length, action-packed suspense story that I was ready to share with readers.

Q: Introduce us to your new series, and specifically A Cross to Kill. What inspired the story?

I love letting real-life events inspire fiction, and my new series is no exception. When I first started developing the story line, there were a handful of high-profile executions of journalists at the hands of terrorists overseas. What made these executions unique to this era was the fact that videos of the killings were spread across the internet. As these tragic events were taking place, I found myself wishing someone had intervened. Thus, the rescue attempt at the beginning of A Cross to Kill was born.

The other aspect of real life that inspired the story was my own experience in ministry and the reality of how unique that calling is in the life of a person. I not only spent time in local church ministry myself, but my father was also a rural church pastor during my early elementary years. I loved the idea of capturing the fish-out-of-water experience of someone who did a very different job now finding himself learning what it means to spiritually care for a group of people. I also have to admit, I’m greatly inspired by the thrills of action franchises such as Mission: Impossible, Jason Bourne, and James Bond. I want my series to take the Bible and the Church seriously while offering the same kind of jaw-dropping action those novels and films excel at.

Q: The main character, John Cross, is a small-town pastor with a top secret past that the members of his church would find hard to believe. What are some of things John left behind in his former life?

John didn’t just leave behind a past filled with poor choices and immoral behavior. Almost immediately, we get a sense that he performed actions in his role with the CIA and on behalf of his country that he is unable to forgive himself for. At a key moment in the story, we discover that John’s marksmanship was put to use by his superiors in unpleasant ways. You’ll have to read the book for all the details, but what I can say is John can’t help but evaluate his actions through a rigid view of Scripture, and as a result he’s struggling to believe God could truly forgive him.

What I find interesting is the theological question surrounding his previous life that he’s finding himself at odds with. Is the taking of a human life ever justifiable? There’s much to unpack with that question, but when we first meet John, he’s not yet taken the deep plunge into his theological training and therefore has very black-and-white opinions on complicated issues. This creates a conflict within him as he struggles to cope with the memories of his time with the CIA and strives to live under the forgiveness of God in Christ.

Q: What events led up to John finding and following Christ?

John’s conversion has already happened when A Cross to Kill begins, but later in the book we get to hear his version of it. It’s a rather unconventional story, but that’s what I like about it. The fact that his conversion happens while he’s on assignment is such a great picture of the two competing forces in his life, that of his ingrained training and his newfound commitment to Christianity.

The short version is that after performing operations of a lethal nature with the CIA for so long, John lost his sense of humanity. While tracking a target in Spain, he ends up in a cathedral during a Catholic service. Unable to understand the liturgy, he still found himself drawn to the religious symbols. Compelled to know more about the man hanging from the cross, he forgot about his target, found an English Bible at a local shop, and devoted himself to knowing more. While everyone’s story is different, John’s story is one of God reaching down with an irresistible draw to set aside an undeserving man for His great purpose.

Q: What are some of the faith struggles that John faces along the way that readers can identify with?

I know there are faith struggles John faces that readers can identify with because they are ones I struggle with even to this day! For one, John can’t seem to shake loose from past habits and hang-ups. Sometimes those habits can be used for good, but more often than not John finds himself fighting to walk in faith and love and not let his flesh take control when things go awry. Much of the Christian life is about this same battle. I am at constant odds with the desires of my flesh, and at times I have sympathized with the ancient monks who punished themselves to try to defeat their own impulses (a practice called flagellation, and one which John has adapted in his own way).

Another faith struggle that I know many readers can identify with is the difficulty of accepting God’s forgiveness for not only the sins we’ve committed in the past but the sins we will commit in the future. John struggles to believe God could forgive him for what he did while in the employ of the CIA, and that affects his ability to pass forgiveness on to others. This is something I myself have also found difficult. It’s not hard to believe God might forgive a single mistake here and there, but after failing again and again and again, it’s easy to expect a limit to God’s forgiveness. That’s when we can become trapped in the erroneous belief that faith is not enough and that we must work to retain God’s favor.


Learn more Andrew Huff and the Shepherd Suspense novels at www.andrewhuffbooks.com. He can also be found on Facebook (@huffwrites), Twitter (@andrewjohnhuff) and Instagram (@andyhuff).




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