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Authors: Francine Rivers

The Atonement Child

BOOK: The Atonement Child

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The Atonement Child

Copyright © 1997 by Francine Rivers. All rights reserved.

Discussion guide questions written by Peggy Lynch.

Cover illustration © 2011 by Robert Papp. All rights reserved.

Author photo by Elaina Burdo copyright © 2011. All rights reserved.

Designed by Jennifer Ghionzoli

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the
Holy Bible,
New Living Translation, first edition, copyright © 1996 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations on pages
, and
are taken from the Holy Bible,
New International Version
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations in the discussion questions are taken from the
Holy Bible
, New Living Translation, second edition, copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Atonement Child
is a work of fiction. Where real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locales appear, they are used fictitiously. All other elements of the novel are drawn from the author’s imagination.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Rivers, Francine, date.

The atonement child / Francine Rivers.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-0-8423-0041-4 (HC)

ISBN 978-0-8423-0052-0 (SC)


PS3568.I83165A95 1997

813.54—dc21 96-40212

Second repackage published in 2012 under ISBN 978-1-4143-7064-4.

To all those who live with the anguish of abortion, and to their families who suffer with them in secret and in silence.

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.

Matthew 11:28-30


Rick, thank you for your continued support through a long and highly emotion-charged year. Without your support and encouragement, and that of our children, I would have shelved this project long ago.

To the ladies who have shared their abortion experiences with me, I am especially grateful. As far as the east is from the west, so far has Jesus removed our transgressions from us. I love you all.

Donna Cornell, you are a wonder. You and the men and women who volunteer at PCC have such open hearts. The love of Jesus shines from you as you minister daily to those facing crisis pregnancies and those suffering from the anguish of past abortions and incest. It’s my prayer that your kind of ministry will spread across our nation to reach the millions of men and women who suffer in secret and in silence.

Diane Naber, thank you for sharing your excitement and wonder at the birthing process. My children are almost grown, and I’d forgotten the awesome wonder of giving birth. Those who have you as their coach are blessed indeed.

I also want to thank Lee Ezell for spending some precious time with me and sharing her experiences and thoughts. I highly recommend her book
The Missing Piece
. I also want to thank Lissa Halls Johnson for sharing the information she collected in writing her novel
No Other Choice
. May God bless both of you in your work.

Peggy, Leilani, Karen—nothing I can say will be thanks enough for your wise counsel and prayers. I could not have finished this novel without you. And, Rick Hahn, thank you for your counsel and patience. How many times have I called and asked you to clarify Scripture? Or, “Tell me where it is!”? You continue to be a man after God’s own heart and a blessing to our church family.

To all those at Tyndale House, thank you for your continued encouragement and support. May all we do continue to be our offering to the Lord.

Chapter 1

It was on a cold January night when the unthinkable, unpardonable happened.

The evening had gone as usual for Dynah Carey as she served food at the Stanton Manor House, a retirement home established for Middleton’s city employees. She enjoyed her work, often talking animatedly with the elderly patrons who came down from their small apartments for communal meals in the basement cafeteria. Sally Wentworth was a great cook and planned a varied menu. The only complaint Dynah had heard in five months on the job was how much food there was left over. Most of the people who lived at the manor had come through the Depression years and hated to see waste.

The rest of the diners had left for the evening, all but Mr. Packard, who was taking his time sipping his cup of decaf. “Your car still in the shop, Dynah?”

“Yes, sir. They’re still waiting for a part to come in.”

“Thought it was supposed to be fixed yesterday.”

“I guess there was some kind of delay,” she said with a shrug. She wasn’t worried about it.

“Is that young man of yours going to come pick you up tonight?” he said, watching Dynah fill the saltshakers.

She smiled at him as she moved on to the next table. “Not this evening, Mr. Packard. He’s teaching a Bible study.”

“Maybe Sally can take you home.”

“It’s not far to the bus stop.”

“A mile at least, and a pretty girl like you shouldn’t be out on her own after dark.”

“I’m always careful.”

“Careful isn’t always good enough these days. I’ve gotten so I hate reading the newspaper. Time was you could walk from one end of town to the other without worrying.” He shook his head sadly. “Now the town’s gotten so big you don’t know anybody anymore. People coming and going all the time. You never know who’s living next door. Could be Pollyanna or Son of Sam. Houses spreading all over tarnation, and no plan to the way it’s sprawling. I remember when I was a boy, we knew everybody. We left our doors unlocked. Never had to be afraid. I don’t know what the world’s coming to these days. Makes me glad I’m almost to the end of my life. When I was growing up, we used to sit outside on the front porch and talk. Neighbors would come by and have lemonade. Those were good times. Now nobody has time for anything. They don’t even build porches on houses anymore. Everybody’s inside watching television and not saying much of anything to anybody.”

Dynah stayed close, responding to the ache of loneliness she heard in his words and voice. He wasn’t whining. He was grieving. His wife had passed away four months before. The family had gathered around him long enough for the memorial service and then scattered across the States again. His two sons lived on the West Coast, too far away to make frequent visits. His daughter lived in Indiana but called him every Sunday. Sundays were good days for Mr. Packard.

Tonight was Wednesday.

“I miss Trooper,” he said quietly. He smiled wistfully. “I used to call Freda ‘Trooper.’”

Mr. Packard told Dynah how he had come up with the nickname just after World War II. He had fought in the Pacific two years before being blown off a transport. He landed in a field hospital, where he spent another three months before he was shipped stateside.

“While I was away, Freda had our son and managed a part-time job. When my father got sick with cancer, she quit and stepped into his shoes to help my mother run the family grocery store. My Freda was a home-front soldier.” His expression softened in memory, his eyes glistening with tears. “So I called her ‘Trooper,’ and it stuck.”

“We have to close down, Dynah!” Sally said from behind the counter. She said it loudly enough so that poor Mr. Packard would hear. Dynah looked at his face and wanted to weep.

Taking the hint, the old man got up. “Everybody’s in a hurry these days,” he said with a glance toward the kitchen. Then his eyes came to rest on her again. “Good night, Dynah. You be careful out there tonight.”

“I will, sir,” she said with a fond smile, touching his shoulder as he passed. “Try not to worry.”

Juan Garcia began putting chairs upside down on the tables. Gathering Mr. Packard’s spoon, cup, and saucer, Dynah watched the old man walk stiffly across the room. His arthritis was troubling him again.

“I didn’t mean to break up your little chat,” Sally said as Dynah put the things into the big industrial dishwasher and pulled the door down. “Some of these old people could talk until your hair turned gray.” She took her sweater from the hook on the wall. “They’ve got no place to go and nothing to do.”

“He misses his wife,” Dynah said and thought about following Mr. Packard’s suggestion and asking Sally for a ride.

“I know. I miss my husband. I miss my kids. You miss your handsome fiancé.” She dumped her shoulder bag onto the counter and shrugged into her sweater and parka. “And as Scarlett O’Hara always said, ‘Tomorrow is another day.’” Picking up her bag, she said a brisk good night and headed for the back door.

Sally seemed in such a hurry, Dynah didn’t want to impose upon her. Besides, it wasn’t that far to the bus stop, and there were plenty of streetlights along the way. Getting her backpack from the storage room, Dynah slipped off her rubber-soled white shoes and pulled on her snow boots. Zipping the shoes into the backpack, she said good night to Juan. Crossing the dining room, she went into the lobby that opened out onto the back parking lot. Sally had already turned the lights down for the night. There was only the soft glow of security lights and the bright lights behind Dynah where Juan was getting ready to wash and wax the floors.

Pulling on her parka, Dynah went to the back door.

The idea that she needed to be concerned hadn’t ever crossed her mind before. The manor wasn’t exactly a center of crime. The worst thing that had happened was someone’s spray-painting graffiti on the walls three months ago. The manager had painted over the bubble letters and numbers by the next afternoon, and the police increased the number of times they drove by each evening. The vandals hadn’t returned.

Pushing the door open, Dynah stepped outside. The air was crisp; the snow from last week’s fall was packed hard and dingy. Her breath puffed white in the stillness. She heard the lock click behind her and shivered slightly. She zipped her parka up to her neck and looked around. Maybe it was Mr. Packard’s warning that made her edgy. There was nothing else to bother her. It was an evening like any other, no darker, no colder.

There were shadows all around, but nothing unfamiliar or threatening as she walked down the wheelchair ramp. She took her usual path through the back parking lot to Maple Street. It was only a few blocks down to Main, another eight to Sycamore, and a few more to Sixteenth, where she caught the bus. It only took fifteen minutes to reach her stop at Henderson. From there it was seven blocks to the dorm.

Dynah glanced at her wristwatch. Nine thirty. Janet Wells, her roommate, would be in the library studying late tonight. Janet always left things till the last minute and then aced every exam. Dynah smiled to herself, wishing she were that fortunate. She had to study all term long to pull grades high enough to keep her scholarship.

Relaxing as she walked, Dynah enjoyed the clear night. She had always liked this street with its turn-of-the-century houses. She could imagine people sitting on their front porches in the summertime, sipping lemonade just the way Mr. Packard remembered. Like something out of a movie. It was a life far removed from the way she had grown up on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco—and yet similar as well.

Looking back, she realized how she had been protected by her parents and cloistered in homeschooling. In many ways, she had led an idyllic life with few bumps and twists in the road. Of course, there had been times when she had been curious to know what lay beyond the hedges her parents had planted around her. When she asked, they explained, and she complied. She loved and respected them too much to do otherwise.

Her mom and dad had been Christians forever. She couldn’t remember a time when they hadn’t been involved in the church or some community service project. Her mother sang in the choir and led Sunday morning Bible studies. Dynah had grown up surrounded by love, protected and guided every step of the way, right up to the doors of New Life College. And now it seemed her life would continue that way, with Ethan Goodson Turner at the reins.

Not that I am complaining, Lord. I am thankful, so thankful. You have blessed me with the parents I have and the man I’m going to marry. Everywhere I look, I see Your blessings. The world is a beautiful place, up to the very stars in the heavens.

Lord, would You please give poor old Mr. Packard a portion of the hope and joy I feel? He needs You. And Sally, Lord. She’s always fretting about something and always in a hurry. She has so little joy in her life. And Juan said tonight one of his children is sick, Father. Pedro, the little one. Juan can’t afford insurance and—

A car passed slowly.

Dynah noticed a Massachusetts plate before the vehicle sped up. The red taillights were like a pair of red eyes staring back at her as the station wagon went down the street, then squealed onto Sycamore. Frowning slightly, she watched it disappear.


Her thoughts wandered again as she walked more slowly past her favorite house. It was two doors from Sycamore, a big Victorian with a porch around the front. The lights were on behind the Nottingham lace curtains. The front door was heavy mahogany with small leaded panes of glass and stained glass at the top. The pattern was a sunburst of golds and yellows.

It would be nice to live on a shady street like this one, in a big house, complete with a trimmed lawn, a flower garden in the front, and a yard in the back with a swing and a sandbox for the children. She smiled at her dreaming. Ethan would probably be offered a church in a big city like Los Angeles or Chicago or New York. A man with his talents for preaching wouldn’t end up in a small college town in the Midwest.

She couldn’t believe a young man like Ethan would look twice at her, let alone fall in love and ask her to marry him. He said he knew the day he met her that God meant her to be his wife.

She wouldn’t have met him at all if her parents hadn’t insisted she visit New Life College. She had already decided on a college in California. When they mentioned NLC, she declined, convinced the cost and distance should eliminate it. They assured her they had planned for the first, and the second would be good for her. They wanted her to become more independent, and attending college in Illinois was a good way to accomplish that. Besides, her grades were good enough that she could receive scholarships.

Dynah smiled about it now. Her parents had never been subtle in what they wanted for her. Her mother had left pamphlets of a dozen Christian colleges scattered about the house to tweak her curiosity. Each had been opened to beautiful, idyllic places with stretches of lawn lined with manicured gardens. NLC had a quad with six majestic brick and white-columned buildings, two to the east, two to the west, one on the north, and a church to the south. But what appealed most to Dynah were the wonderful young, smiling faces of the students.

There had never been any question that she would end up at a Christian college. Where better to learn how to serve the Lord than in an environment centered on Christ? Yet, the Midwest had seemed so far from home she had dismissed it.

While completing her final year of work for her high school diploma, she sent out a dozen applications and received as many acceptance letters. She narrowed it down to four possibilities, dismissing all those outside the state. Her father suggested she and her mother take a trip to Southern California and see the three campuses that were there. After visiting one in San Jose, she contacted the others and made appointments with the dean of admissions to discuss programs and scholarships.

While she was gone, her father had contacted four colleges he thought “good enough” for his daughter. One was in Pennsylvania, one in Indiana, and two in Illinois. One sent a video. Two had students call and talk with her about the campus, activities, and curriculum. The last was New Life College. They sent a catalog and an invitation to come and take a firsthand look at what they had to offer.

She thought it preposterous and a terrible waste of her parents’ money, but her father insisted she go. “You have to learn to fly sometime.”

It was the first time she had gone anywhere without her parents or a church group. All the arrangements had been made by the college beforehand, so she had the safety net of knowing she wouldn’t be on her own long. A student would meet her at the airport and bring her to the campus, where she would spend two days with a personal guide.

Dynah smiled as she remembered her reaction when she first saw Ethan with a sign bearing her name. She thought he was the most gorgeous young man she had ever seen. Her mother had told her the college would probably send a nice young man to meet her and drive her to the college. She hadn’t expected someone who looked like he belonged in the movies. She was completely flustered and tongue-tied, but by the time they were halfway to the campus, he had put her so much at ease that she had shared her Ocean Avenue life with him. By the end of the trip, she knew Ethan didn’t just look good, he was good. He was on fire for the Lord, ambitious for godly service, and filled with ideas about ministry.

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