Author Francine Rivers has many books to her credit, but her 1991 bestseller “Redeeming Love” stands out to many readers.
The book portrays God’s unconditional love by following a couple, Michael Hosea and a prostitute named Angel, through their journey of brokenness to healing. “Redeeming Love” has sold more than 3 million copies and has been translated in 30 languages. Recently, the book was adapted into a feature film.
But during the 30 years since the book was published, more light has been shed on the sex trafficking industry, and on its perpetrators and its victims.
When Rivers, co-screenwriter and executive producer of the movie, started writing “Redeeming Love” in the late 1980s, she knew little of sex trafficking. She grew up in a loving home and had no idea what a character like Angel, the daughter of a prostitute who herself was sold into prostitution as a child, would be thinking, feeling or acting like during her difficult childhood.
Rivers had read in a women’s magazine about a little girl who had disappeared. The story included three photos: the eight-year-old’s school picture, an image of her looking back over her shoulder fearfully (which was from a police-confiscated pornographic film) and the final, last seen shot of her when she was a few years older.
“Her eyes were dead,” Rivers recalled. “She had sort of a seductive smile on her face.”
“I posted [the first] two pictures on a bulletin board behind my desk. I kept thinking, ‘I’m writing for that little girl. That’s my Angel. That’s the main character in this story who I’m trying to reach.’”
Rivers assumed the magazine article account of sex trafficking was unusual, something common in the 1800s when “Redeeming Love” was set, but not now.
“It was really readers who educated me,” Rivers recalled. “I started getting letters from people that were in prostitution or were in prison or had drug problems or were from broken marriages — all kinds of stuff.”
She later discovered the book was a “first contact” for those who thought God hated them and were judging them.
“This was a way to kind of introduce the Lord … to say, ‘He loves you. No matter what you’ve experienced in your past or what you’re going through, God has a plan for you. He’s reaching out to you,’” Rivers explained.
Through the years, many filmmakers wanted to turn “Redeeming Love” into a movie, Rivers said, but each script was rejected because none understood the character of Michael. They wanted him to rescue Angel at the end, but he had to wait, trust and obey God, not knowing the outcome.
‘Waiting and trusting’
Just like Michael, Rivers has experienced times of waiting and trusting. Though raised in church, she didn’t develop a relationship with Jesus until adulthood. Her newfound passion for Him changed everything, including her writing.
“I had been writing in the general market for a number of years, steamy historical romances. When I became a Christian, I couldn’t write anymore,” Rivers said. “It’s like God just said, ‘Nope, you’re not doing this.’
“During that time, I was reading the Bible and falling in love with Jesus,” she continued. “I realized that God had been telling me for a year, ‘You made writing your idol. That’s where you ran to whenever you needed something. You were running to your writing for your identity and your self-confidence and all the rest of it. You say you want to be my child … You need to get to know your Father.’”
When Rivers’ home group studied the book of Hosea, Rivers said she was blown away, identifying with Gomer who turned to things other than God and was always running away.
“I felt God just saying, ‘This is the love story I want you to write. … You are learning the craft of writing, but here’s how I want you to use it.’”
In her three decades as an author, Rivers has certainly used her writing gift, with faith-based elements evident in each of her 30 or so books. “The Atonement Child,” for example, explores the generational impact of abortion and what a pro-life stance looks like. In “The Scarlet Thread,” she examines themes of ambition, adultery, divorce and reconciliation. Her series “A Lineage of Grace” includes fictionalized accounts of the lives of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. The “Sons of Encouragement” considers the lives of Aaron, Caleb, Jonathan, Amos and Silas.
Addressing why she likes writing about Bible characters, especially those whose family lines lead to Jesus, Rivers wrote on her blog: “The lineage of Jesus Christ is full of fascinating people in sometimes appalling circumstances — perhaps another way to show us that Jesus came to save all kinds of people — in truth, all people who open their hearts to Him.”
The movie version of “Redeeming Love” released in theaters Jan. 21 and on DVD/Blu-Ray March 8. Like the book, the film has a strong faith-based message and themes of perseverance, compassion and forgiveness. But also like the book, the film deals with difficult subjects like child and domestic abuse, prostitution and rape. The film’s depictions of such violent acts, along with several characters’ use of strong language, some partial nudity and scenes suggestive of sexual activity, were too much for many critics and viewers alike, especially in a faith-based film.
Sandie Angulo Chen, a reviewer for Common Sense Media, offered this evaluation of the film versus the book: “Ultimately, it’s easier to get invested in the Job-like nature of Angel’s many tribulations and Michael’s enduring love on the page.”
Rivers told The Alabama Baptist that she was “astonished” by those who have reviewed the book and/or movie without reading or watching. She acknowledged the harsh realities of sex trafficking are difficult to watch, but she said readers and viewers need to know “that these kind of things [sex trafficking] are happening around us all the time, and we can do something to stop it.”
Foundation to fight trafficking, help survivors
To that end, the Redeeming Love Sanctuary Foundation was founded by Holly Caruso in 2021. The foundation partners with existing nonprofit organizations that work to prevent trafficking and help survivors of sex trafficking and abuse.
The needs are great, she acknowledged, but so are those who want to stop the cycle of abuse, violence and trafficking that affects millions around the world.
“You feel so alone,” she said. “What can I as one person do to fight this? … Together we can make a difference — that’s the whole thing. Together we can make an impact.”
For more information on the Redeeming Love Sanctuary Foundation, visit redeeminglovesanctuary.org