Running to the Fire

Cover of Running to the FireAvailable from Sightline Books, University of Iowa Press, 2015

In the streets of Addis Ababa in 1977, shop-front posters illustrate Uncle Sam being strangled by an Ethiopian revolutionary, parliamentary leaders are executed, student protestors are gunned down, and Christian mission converts are targeted as imperialistic sympathizers. Into this world arrives sixteen-year-old Tim Bascom, whose missionary parents have brought their family from a small town in Kansas straight into Colonel Mengistu’s Marxist “Red Terror.”  Here they plan to work alongside a tiny remnant of western missionaries who trust that God will somehow keep them safe. Throughout, the teenaged Bascom struggles with his faith and his role as a white American missionary’s child.

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Advance Praise for Running to the Fire

“In this fascinating, nuanced memoir rife with contrasts and longing, Bascom employs dual voices—one to capture the intensity and uncertainty of his youth in revolutionary 1970s Ethiopia, another to explore his adult ambivalence toward Christian missionaries (like his beloved parents), Evangelical Protestantism, Marxism in Ethiopia, and westerners in Africa.”—Faith Adiele, author, The Nigerian-Nordic Girl’s Guide to Lady Problems

“This is a lyrical chronicle, filled with nostalgia, longing, dignity and soulfulness.  A good book brings the things far close to our heart. Running to the Fire does exactly that and much more.”—Da Chen, NYT bestselling memoirist and awarding winning novelist

“This is a soaring, lyrical story of places and friendships lost and regained and lost again, of a teenager grasping for rock in a landslide world. It haunts and echoes and begs to be read and re-read.”—Faith Eidse, Editor of Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global

“Tim Bascom has beautifully captured the excitement and confusion of traveling with parents who believe they can make a difference in the world.  How do human beings humbly cross cultural and geographic borders? How do we stand with those being persecuted by their own government or clan? Tim is not afraid to ask big questions—and offer a few answers . . . .”—Jane Kurtz, author of over thirty children’s books and co-founder of Ethiopia Reads


An excerpt from Running to the Fire

. . . While we jolted down the pocked streets, seeing the last bit of sun slip away behind the western mountains, I stared fiercely through the rear window of the bus, feeling cut-off.  I tried not to give attention to Mari or her now-confirmed boyfriend, who had swung blithely into the seat I vacated.  Instead, I glared at the scenes that unfolded behind the bus.  Two men greeted each other with a traditional embrace, cheek to cheek; then they adjusted the shammas on their shoulders.  A haughty woman stared straight ahead in a blue dented cab, her light-brown forehead glistening where her hair had been pulled back in a woven coiffure.  A military jeep pulled onto the road behind us, taking the space where the taxi used to be.

It was early February, and we had just heard that seven leaders from the shadowy Derg—the “Committee of Equals”—had been executed, condemned as counter-revolutionaries in the state newspaper.  Mengistu was making it clear, once again, that he was the supreme commander and no-one should think of challenging him.  Rumor had it that he had even brought his personal bodyguards into the main committee meeting, right there at the Palace of Menelik, then pointed out the seven perceived enemies and followed them into the basement to help with the execution.

The city had gone on high alert, stationing more soldiers on the streets than ever.  Here was another patrolling jeep, which should have made me extra cautious; however, I was too upset by Mari’s rejection to really think.  I stared at the soldier who was standing in the rear of the vehicle clamping the handles of the swiveling machine gun.  He was not much older than me.  I noticed the dirt on the lenses of his goggles and the bulging red cloth he had tied over his hair.  I decided he looked foolish with his bug-like eyes and the barrel of his gun poking forward like the proboscis of an insect.

I kept staring at him with no thought for how my gaze might be interpreted—until the driver of the jeep suddenly pointed at me and shouted over his shoulder.  Then the gun barrel came up, aimed at my chest, and with a snarl the gunner began to jerk as if riding a jackhammer.

I fell to the floor, heart hammering.  When I peered down at my torso, I expected a row of bloody holes, so I was confused to find myself intact.  Was I hallucinating?

Still terrified, I dared to peek back through the little window at the bottom of the rear door, and I saw the goggled gunner slapping at the helmet of the driver, grinning wildly.  His teeth were bright white.  He swung the gun toward me again and vibrated, roaring at his own joke.

This time, since my adrenaline had worn off, I nearly fainted.  The strange thing is that still no one had noticed what was happening, being further to the front and faced forward.  When I climbed back onto the rear seat of the bus, I felt more alone than ever, hunched over with my undisclosed terror.

I was still in that state when we arrived at the mission headquarters.  As I got off the bus with dusk settling over the city, it seemed as if I had come unmoored from my body, like a helium balloon rising over my head. . .

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