Between the Lines: Testing Faith Over 6,000 Miles

Jan 12, 2015

Jane and Ellen Knuth and their new book
Credit Jane Knuth

When Jane Knuth let go of her daughter Ellen, she let go about 6,000 miles. Ellen, a recent college graduate and eager to get a grip on the adventure of life, was on her way to the far side of the world to a remote part of Japan to teach eighth grade children English.

It wasn’t so much that Jane was afraid of the long distance. She feared more that her daughter might hit a bump or two in her life path, perhaps even a crisis, and not have a sanctuary of God nearby to shelter her. After all, she knew only about one percent of Japanese are Christian and for Jane Knuth, the Christian faith she had worked hard to instill in her daughter was of the utmost priority - to her. Maybe not quite as much for her daughter. The nearest Christian church was two hours away from Ellen’s new home in Japan but Ellen wasn’t worried. Her concerns focused more on her new job and life in another country.

Love Will Steer Me True: A Mother and Daughter’s Conversations on Life, Love, and God, is a collaborative book by Jane and Ellen. It is Jane Knuth’s third book (Thrift Stone Saints: Meeting Jesus 25 Cents at a Time and Thrift Store Graces: Finding God’s Gifts in the Midst of a Mess are collections of stories from Jane’s volunteer work in a Kalamazoo thrift store) and Ellen’s first. Chapters lean heavily to Ellen’s story, with Jane mostly writing in response to her daughter’s chapters.

Ellen Knuth with some of her Japanese students
Credit Ellen Knuth

The two keep in touch often by calling each other over the Internet using Skype. “I’ll call you in your morning,” becomes their mantra. They trade stories about teaching because Jane is also an eight grade teacher - in Kalamazoo. That job came to her unexpectedly while her daughter was away teaching Japanese children, learning that while there are cultural differences, children worldwide are much the same in other respects.

Their shared story takes an unexpected turn in 2011 when a tsunami crashed against the shores of Japan, leaving a path of destruction. In the tsunami’s wake followed a nuclear disaster, and while Jane at home prays for her daughter’s protection, Ellen joined a group of volunteers and headed into the fray.

Love Will Steer Me True is less a conversation than a daughter’s story reflected by her mother’s heart. Both reach a higher level of respect for the other in the process. Both gain new facets to their individual journeys of faith. Both learn to let go, and in letting go, strengthening their bonds.

Ellen has since returned to the United States after spending five years teaching in Japan. She's now a manager for a study and intern abroad company based in Clinton Township, Michigan. Jane lives with her husband in Portage, Michigan, and continues to volunteer at the thrift store as well as write a monthly column for The Good News, the newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Kalamazoo.

Listen to Between the Lines on WMUK every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.