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Homage to a Broken Man

The Life of J. Heinrich Arnold – A true story of faith, forgiveness, sacrifice, and community

Peter Mommsen

358 Pages

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Foreword by Eugene H. Peterson

Those who knew J. Heinrich Arnold later in life wondered at the way people were drawn to this strange man with a thick accent and easy smile. They sensed that here was someone who ­understood, someone they could trust. What made him different?

Eager to answer this question, Peter Mommsen set out to uncover his grand­father’s past. This is what he found: A boy who faced down Nazis and hunger, growing up on potatoes and radical ideas. The son of a famous intellectual, determined to drop out of school and take to the road. A young lover fleeing his homeland. A new father losing his first child. An unlikely pioneer in the heart of South America.

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There, in the jungles of Paraguay, the religious community his parents had founded was twisted by legalism and power-hungry leaders into a cold and lifeless caricature. Arnold was betrayed by those he trusted most, separated from his wife and children, and exiled to a leper colony.

Often his life hung on a knife’s edge. But he knew he couldn’t die yet, because he hadn’t fulfilled his calling, or the promise he had made as a child…

J. Heinrich Arnold was a broken man. Yet those who knew him said they never met another like him. Some spoke of his humility and compassion; others of his frankness and earthy humor. In his presence, complete strangers poured out their darkest secrets and left transformed. Others wanted him dead.

Writer Henri Nouwen called him a “prophetic voice” and wrote of how his words “touched me as a double-edged sword, calling me to choose between truth and lies, selflessness and selfishness.… Here was no pious, sentimental guide; every word came from experience.”

Who was this extraordinary yet simple man? In this gripping and richly spiritual book, Peter Mommsen tells the dramatic true story of the grandfather he hardly knew. Read it, and you will never look at your own life the same way again.

Martin Sheen, actor
I finished reading the book and was filled with wonder at the life of such a man. What powerful inspiration!

Ari Goldman, Columbia University, author, Being Jewish
What goes through the hearts and minds of great men? In this wise and sensitive volume, Peter Mommsen brings the life of J. Heinrich Arnold into clear and penetrating focus. It is a book full of vital lessons about leadership, patience, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
A challenging, deeply moving, and honest book.

Shira Dicker, founder and president, Shira Dicker Media International
One of the most moving books I have read – and one of the most instructive. For all those concerned with living a life of meaning and integrity, it ought to be required reading.

Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University, author, Hannah’s Child
What an extraordinary life! In many ways it’s a sad and sorrowful life – but one lived in the light of the gospel. A truly moving story.

Donald Kraybill, author, The Upside-Down Kingdom
With candor and honesty, Mommsen shares the joy and pathos, suffering and love, deceit and forgiveness of a Christian community. It is a breathtaking story, and reads like a novel. I couldn’t put it down.

Daniel Berrigan, poet and author
What a tragic, beautiful life, and recounted with such candor and delicacy. I am delighted, and heartened, and moved to tears.

Jean Vanier, founder, L’Arche communities
I was deeply moved by Arnold’s life, by the sufferings of the community, and by the resurrection. I will certainly recommend it to many.

Hardcover, 6 x 9

This book is also available in 한국어


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This is another of those spiritual biographies that epitomizes what Paul had in mind of the Corinthians, as living epistles that continue in testimony to Jesus. As Arnold's grandson, Mommsen brings a unique perspective to appreciate this unusual man, this highly gifted pastor…. This is a story of a life packed with so much wisdom about how God works in real human lives -- broken lives -- to transform the world. Anyone who desires to see how much difference Jesus makes in the world should read this book. It rings with the authenticity for which our world hungers.