Belonging to Heaven is one of those exceptional books which touched my heart and I wished the story would continue because it was so full of genuine humanity. True to her gift for writing authentic historical fiction, Gale Sears wrote a powerful historical novel about love, friendship and faith in God. I’ve read several of her books and really liked The Silence of God, but I thought Belonging to Heaven was a poignant story that Sears wrote with beautiful simplicity.
Sears first introduces us to George Q. Cannon, a young 23 year old missionary, called to the California gold fields and then transferred to what became his personal paradise, the Hawaiian Islands. Not long after Cannon arrives in Hawaii, he feels compelled to begin teaching the native Hawaiians. Despite struggling to learn the Hawaiian language and backlash from foreign Protestant ministers, Cannon tirelessly works to gain the confidence and respect of the native people.
Sears' story follows Cannon through his missionary service and then continues with the story of Jonathan Hawaii Napela, one of Cannon first converts and influential Hawaiian church leader. Cannon and Napela work together to translate the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian, and when Cannon returns to Salt Lake City, Napela shepherds the native flocks through years of turmoil and change. Eventually, Napela travels to the Hawaiian leper colony to care for his beautiful wife Kitty.
Napela and a young Catholic priest, Father Damien de Veuster, become close friends as they care for the lepers, serve God and eventually both contract the disease. I actually cried when Napela died, and I was grateful to Sears for sharing his story in such a loving way. I don’t usually reread book, but I can definitely see myself reading this book again.
Belonging to Heaven by Gale Sears. Published 2013 Deseret Book. 438 pages.