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BROKEN is not a destiny.

When Jack and Lillian Tate become the first African-American family to move into rural Dalarna, Minnesota, they stir up the anger of the Freedom Association, a newly formed hate-group whose creed is “Dormant white spirit awaken in me”. But little, 23-member Dalarna Baptist Church, led by seminary student Luke Rawlings, rallies around the Tates, setting up a fierce struggle for the soul of their community.

When the Freedom Association attempts to burn down the church in retaliation, volunteer firefighter Emma Mohr meets Luke and his wife Amber, and is compelled to share with them dark secrets from her and Dalarna Baptist’s past. From the ashes, come hope and redemption, though not without one final assault from the hate-group whose wrath now falls on Luke and his family, and changes their lives forever.

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“Sparrow” is based on real events which took place when Bear Clifton served as a pastor in rural Minnesota in the 1990s. Three months into his ministry, an arsonist nearly burned down their church. Yet what seemed like a disaster became a powerfully redemptive opportunity for the church and its people.

“Beauty came from ashes, like the Bible says,” says Clifton. “That’s what this story is about.”

The novel wrestles directly with two of contemporary society’s most challenging issues – racial tension and sexual abuse recovery. But it examines them in a context where they are often overlooked – in a community of faith.

“As a lifelong pastor, I know the power of the church to bring real healing in these areas,” says Clifton. “But sadly, when its people lose their way, the opposite can occur. Sunday remains in many places the most segregated hour of the week. And there’s a lot of hurt lurking in the pews which many, like Emma, are afraid to share. I try to honestly wrestle with this enigma.”

The Dalarna of “Sparrow” is a captivating blend of Lake Woebegone, Mitford and Maycomb. The result is a heart-wrenching, heart-touching tribute to the ordinary people of middle America facing an extraordinary threat with raw courage and conviction.