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My Hands Came Away Red
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My Hands Came Away Red

4.8 18
by Lisa McKay

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Cori signs up to take a mission trip to Indonesia during the summer after her senior year of high school. Inspired by happy visions of building churches and seeing beautiful beaches, she gladly escapes her complicated love life back home. 

Five weeks after their arrival, a sectarian and religious conflict that has been simmering for years flames to life


Cori signs up to take a mission trip to Indonesia during the summer after her senior year of high school. Inspired by happy visions of building churches and seeing beautiful beaches, she gladly escapes her complicated love life back home. 

Five weeks after their arrival, a sectarian and religious conflict that has been simmering for years flames to life with deadly results on the nearby island of Ambon.  Within days, the church building the team had constructed is in ashes, its pastor and fifty villagers are dead, and the six terrified teenagers are stranded in the mountainous jungle with only the pastor's teenage son to guide them to safety. Ultimately, Cori's emotional quest to rediscover hope proves as arduous as the physical journey home.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this fast-paced, thought-provoking debut novel, McKay, a psychologist who works with humanitarian relief, explores injustice, religious reconciliation, suffering and faith through the eyes of an 18-year-old girl whose mission trip goes tragically awry. For Cori and a team of Christian teens, building a church in Indonesia sounds like a fun project. After an overly long prologue, McKay describes how they journey to the island of Seram and bond with the Indonesian villagers. However, even as they put the finishing touches on the newly built church, Muslim and Christian tensions flare, culminating in a horrific tragedy witnessed by Cori and her friends. They flee through the mountainous jungle, hoping to escape the escalating hostilities. McKay's carefully chosen words, devoid of unnecessary sentiment, lend power to her story. The external hardships the characters face on their trek are secondary to the internal struggles they battle over how a loving God could let terrible things happen; and why their sacrificial choice to give up a summer to help others would cost them more than they ever dreamed. While written from a Christian perspective, McKay gives an evenhanded treatment to Muslims, showing that violence and hatred transcend religious boundaries. This is one of Christian fiction's best novels of the year. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

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Moody Publishers
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5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

my hands came away red


Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2007 Lisa McKay
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8024-8982-1

Chapter One

As I opened the car door in the parking lot of boot camp, a sodden cloud of hot sulfur slithered in. The noise followed soon behind it. The parking lot, the wide dirt track that led into the thick squat trees, the clearing I could glimpse in front of the largest tent I'd ever seen-they were all teeming with people. Sweaty, smiling people in khaki pants, T-shirts, and leather boots. Like mine.

"Yuck," said Tanya, wrinkling her nose.

"This area of Florida's mostly swamp," Dad said. "That's the smell."

Somehow, I didn't think that was all she was referring to. I was starting to wonder if this had been a very bad idea. By the time my family had all climbed back into the car after hugs and tears-Mum's-I was almost sure of it. Standing beside my new team leader, surrounded by a thousand strangers, I had never felt more alone.

"Now you're here, we're just waiting for Mark," Gary said, prompting me to pick up my backpack and follow him into the massive tent, silently resenting his cheerfulness.

"Cori, Brendan and Kyle." Gary dispensed with introductions in four whole words as we reached two guys lounging on the floor by a tent pole the size of a sequoia. He moved on to more important matters. "Where are Drew and Elissa?"

"Talking to friends, and bathroom," Kyle answered economically, pointing right, which gave me a clear view of the snake tattoo that wound down the inside of his forearm. It didn't quite fit with the short blond hair and blue eyes, although the dusty bandanna tied around his forehead did give him a certain rakish air.

"Y'all wait here until I get back with Mark." Looking harried, Gary disappeared into the crowd.

Brendan jumped to his feet and held out his hand. I think my mouth actually fell open.

"Six foot five," he preempted with a wry smile, "and pure muscle."

"Half muscle, half Oreo cookies," Kyle corrected, without getting up.

We'd progressed all the way through where we came from-San Diego for Kyle, Colorado for Brendan-and started in on hobbies when a living Barbie doll strolled in and sat down, fanning herself gracefully with a sheet of paper. She was small; her T-shirt was neatly tucked in; her long blonde braid hung straight clown her back. She was even sweating elegantly. I felt grubby just looking at her.

"I already know what Elissa's favorite hobby is," Kyle said with a wicked grin. "His name starts with C."

She blushed. "He's more than a hobby, Kyle! Colin's my boyfriend," she said to me, pulling out a picture and passing it over.

"The way you talk about him, I didn't think you had time for anything else," Kyle said.

"I do ballet," she said.

That explained the perfect posture.

"What about you?"

"Oh," Kyle said, sighing. "President of the student body, captain of the debate team, captain of the track team ..."

I thought he was serious until he started to laugh.

"Well, I will be, next year when I'm a senior. What about you, Cori?"

"Underwater basket weaving."

Kyle was the only one who laughed. Elissa just looked politely interested.

"Okay," I capitulated. "Horseback riding."

"Riding!" Brendan said. "We've got horses on our ranch. There's nothing like riding alone at sunset. God's so huge; it's awesome!"

"What's awesome?"

Another girl had arrived in an untidy tangle of arms, legs, and red hair. She crashed down, practically in my lap, and introduced herself as Drew.

"Cool!" she said when she heard my accent. "Another non-American to keep me company. I'm Canadian. Elissa, can I borrow your comb? My hair will not stay put. So, what's awesome?"

"Brendan asked Gary if we could have extra practice on the obstacle course every day because we're a backpack team, and Gary said yes. That's what's awesome. We're all real excited," Kyle said casually, looking to the rest of us for support.

Drew, both hands occupied scraping back her hair, looked appalled. "Brendan! Are you crazy?"

Elissa stared at the ground, and I stifled a smile. Elissa buckled first.

"Kyle's just teasing, Drew."

Drew went from mad to amused in two seconds. She laughed and threw Elissa's comb at Kyle. It bounced off him and landed in the dirt.

"Oops, sorry," she said as she retrieved it, wiped it off, and handed it back. "Hey, where are the bathrooms?"

Elissa pointed to several port-a-potties near the trees, each one pinpointed by a long line in front of the door.

"Where are the real bathrooms?" Drew asked.

"That's it," Elissa said, not without sympathy.

"Have mercy!" Drew muttered as she got up and left.

"I don't think she has much idea what she's in for," Elissa said thoughtfully.

I did my best to look as though I knew exactly what I was in for.

"She'll be fine," Brendan said. "She seems like a good sport."

Elissa didn't look convinced.

Five hours later I'd stopped wondering whether Drew was going to prove to be a good sport and started wondering whether I was. After Mark had finally arrived, Gary had us on our feet before we'd even finished introductions, although it turned out we had plenty of time for those as we stood in line after line collecting everything from drama costumes, mime makeup, and a portable puppet theatre to canteens and waterproof waist packs.

Mark turned out to be a small, wiry, pugnacious kid from New York. He looked thirteen, although he answered fifteen in response to Kyle's unsubtle query.

"We're going to spend the summer babysitting," I heard Kyle complain to Brendan as we stowed all our new possessions and hurried to line up at the start of the obstacle course.

"See you at the wall!" Gary yelled, as someone entirely too close to my ear blew a very loud whistle.

"Which way? What wall?" Drew looked as frazzled as I felt.

"I was on the England team last year," Elissa said, leading the way at a run. "Follow the arrows. Jacob's ladder is the first obstacle."

I'd always wondered what Jacob's ladder looked like. As a kid I'd pictured a wide sweep of steps like the ones leading up to the Sydney Opera House but made out of marble, with angels hovering over them, reverent and silent. According to boot camp, however, Jacob's ladder was a forty-foot-high rope cargo net that we had to climb up and over. After that disappointment, I shouldn't have been too shattered to learn that Mount Sinai was apparently made out of tires, that the main task of Egyptian slaves had been to transport bricks in a wheelbarrow and build mini-pyramids, and that the Slough of Despond wasn't just a figment of John Bunyan's imagination. It was a large moat blocking our path and filled with muddy water. It was also the last straw for Drew.

"Fun, huh, Drew?" Kyle said, pacing back and forth as Elissa explained that someone would have to jump for the two ropes dangling over the middle of the water.

Drew, sitting in the dirt beside me and struggling to catch her breath, snapped. "This is not fun!" she yelled. "Fun is going shopping. This is torture!" Then she burst into tears.

Silently, I agreed. Where were the sandy beaches? Where was the scent of cinnamon?

Kyle was quick to apologize, and Brendan stuck out a hand to help her up. She batted it away.

"Since you think it's so much fun," she said to Kyle, "you guys can get the ropes."

"No problem," Kyle said, backing up alongside Brendan for a running start. Brendan made it, but Kyle didn't. He snagged his rope just below a large knot, and his hands slipped. He was swinging forward with the force of his jump, and when he went to wrap his legs around the rope he fell. He hit the water with a dull smacking sound and disappeared.

He stood up, looking glazed in chocolate milk, to find all five of his teammates laughing.

"It's slippery," he said defensively, grabbing the end of the rope and swinging it across to us. "You try it."

"Cori, hold it for me," Elissa instructed. "I'll show you how it works best."

She took a run-up, launched herself at the rope, sailed across, and jumped. Brendan caught her on the other side and narrowly saved her from a dunking. Mark wasn't so lucky; he slipped on the bank and ended up wet to the waist, looking decidedly unhappy.

"I hate it here," Drew said.

I nodded slowly, but the expression on my face must have been more transparent than I'd intended, because she looked at me and suddenly, unexpectedly, giggled.

"You can do it," I said. "I'll hold it for you."

She might have made it, except that she forgot to jump off when she reached the other side. Soon she was hanging off the knot above the middle of the pit, barely keeping her feet clear of the water.

"Help! What do I do?" she screeched.

On the other side, Mark was helpless with laughter, and the other three were calling out advice.

"Swing your body to get some momentum," Elissa shouted.

Drew tried, but only succeeded in flopping back and forth, barely even twitching the rope. "I don't want to fall in that disgusting water!"

"It's not that bad," Kyle said. "Just drop off and wade out."

Brendan took a step forward. "I'll come get you."

"Wait," Kyle said reluctantly. "I'm already wet; I'll do it." He waded back into the pit and slogged over to Drew.

"Kyle's right there," I called. "Sit on his shoulders."

"But my boots will go in the water," she said, unwrapping one leg and trying to hook it over Kyle's shoulder.

"Choose." He grunted as he helped her swing the other leg over. "Your boots or you."

I could see what was coming. She was sitting on his shoulders with her arms wrapped around his head, trying to keep both feet out of the water by holding her legs out straight.

"Drew, put your feet down!" I yelled.

Kyle took one step and staggered. She clutched at his head, covering his eyes.

"Drew! Let go!" He swatted at her hands, took one more step, and fell over sideways.

It was like watching a tree fall in slow motion. Drew was screaming as she hit the water. On the other side of the pond, Mark folded gently to the dirt in a heaving, wheezing pile.

Drew only had one word to say when she came up.

Whistle man looked appalled. So did Elissa.

"Young lady," whistle man called, making a notation on his clipboard. "No swearing, please."

"You dropped me!" she accused Kyle, pushing long ropes of hair away from her face.

"I couldn't help it!" he said. "You had your hands over my eyes!"

"I swallowed some of that filthy water," Drew said as Brendan helped her up the bank. "I'll probably get malaria."

"Guys," I called, indicating the ropes, now hanging serenely over the middle of the muddy pit once again.

Kyle started to wade into the water for the third time.

"I'll come and get you," he said, sounding as though he were offering to swim the English Channel on my behalf.

"I can do it by myself," I said.

He retreated, his sudden grin a challenge. "Okay, then, do it."

Suddenly the ropes looked a long way away.

"Cor-i. Cor-i ..." Brendan started the chant while I backed up.

At least I made it to the rope when I jumped. But it was wet and slick and hard to get a firm grip. Before long I was hanging off a knot in the middle of the slough, up to my knees in water. I could feel it pouring, pleasantly cool, into my boots.

"Want me to rescue you?" Kyle cloaked his taunt in an offer.

"No." It was tempting, but I let go instead, shuddering as the water lapped at my chin and my boots settled into the sticky muck.

"C'mon," Elissa said as I waded out. "We're almost done. Jericho's wall is just around the corner."

"I thought the wall around Jericho fell down," I grumbled as we jogged into a large clearing and I saw the last obstacle, a ten-foot-high wooden wall we were supposed to scale.

Elissa laughed. "Only after days of marching and blowing trumpets. In the meantime, Brendan and Cori, you go over first. Kyle last."

With Kyle boosting from below, and Brendan and me lifting from the elevated platform on the other side, we hauled Drew, Elissa, and Mark up fairly easily. Kyle, however, was another story. Even with a running start, he barely managed to grab one of Brendan's hands. Brendan gave a tug, and I snagged Kyle's other hand. My shoulder felt like it was about to be rudely separated from its socket, and the top of the wall dug painfully into my ribs.

"Cori, no. I'm too heavy," Kyle said.

"Get up here, then."

He planted his feet on the wall, and with Brendan doing most of the work, we managed to heave him to the top. Then we collapsed on the platform, too wasted to think about climbing down the ladder and joining the others. The two guys high-fived each other over the top of my head. On the ground below us, Gary clicked a stopwatch.

"Thirty-seven minutes and twenty-four seconds," he said. "Not bad for your first try. By the end of boot camp you should knock more than ten minutes off that time."

Drew whimpered. "Can we change clothes now?" she asked.

"Oh, you'll dry out soon enough," Gary said. "We don't hike out to our campsite until after the evening rally. Now, let's hustle. You're late for puppetry class."

I closed my eyes and thought of home. Within two months I would remember how miserable I was on that first day and find it hard to believe I was once soft enough to get teary over an obstacle course.

It was very dark that night on the track out to our campsite. A thick, moist darkness, as if the swamp were breathing around us. It was either raining, or the invisible trees looming above us were crying. Large warm drops hit my shoulders and soaked into my hair. I couldn't see anything beyond the small pale circles cast by our flashlights, but I could hear the others ahead and behind me. Both groups were talking about home.

"... live with my aunt and uncle," I heard Kyle tell Brendan in front of me. "They're cool. Mostly."

"My folks are the best," Brendan said.

"I'm homesick already," Elissa said quietly. "I miss Colin."

"I miss my bed," Drew said.

Only Mark and I were silent. I was trying to decide whether or not I would eat a live worm if it meant I could go home, when we finally reached our campsite. The small log circle and three tents nestled among the bushes didn't manage to appear cozy, just bedraggled.

"Okay, team. Gather round," Gary said.

His wife, Diane, reached out to take his hand and mine as we made a circle.

As I bowed my head for the prayer, I felt a trickle of cold water creep down my back. Despite Gary's proclamation of collective gratitude, I didn't really feel very thankful for the day. In fact, I was dreading tomorrow.

Chapter Two

On day ten of boot camp I woke early, still exhausted but unable to drift off again, already anticipating the shrill whistle I knew would come at five thirty. The birds were offering their first tentative calls, and it was peaceful and cool in the darkness. I started to case on the same khaki pants and shirt I'd discarded the night before, moving quietly so I wouldn't wake Drew and Elissa. My clothes felt stiff and grainy, but at least they were dry.

I wondered what Scott was doing. Sleeping, probably, like most of the other sane people in this world who hadn't bartered away their entire summer on the strength of a whim. Well, maybe whim was a bit strong, but when I compared my "I thought it would be fun" to Kyle's "God told me to come," that's what it felt like.

"God really told you to come on this trip?" I'd asked him, wondering why I sounded so skeptical. If I didn't believe a person could hear from God, what was I doing traipsing off to Indonesia to build a church?

"Yeah," was all he'd said. But his tone implied, Why, didn't you get the same message?

Before boot camp I would have said that I was sure that God wanted me to do this. But ten days of blisters, aching muscles, heavy backpacks, no showers, and disgusting food had sent me scrambling hourly to remind myself exactly why. However I looked at it, my decision seemed to have been based on the following syllogism: 1) God wants us to do good things; 2) This is a good thing to do; 3) Therefore, God wants me to do this. If there had been any specific message for me about the trip, I was no longer sure I'd sat still long enough to listen for it.

It seemed I wasn't the only one who had relied on that particularly versatile equation. Drew had collapsed beside me in the drama tent the day before and looked up plaintively.


Excerpted from my hands came away red by LISA McKAY Copyright © 2007 by Lisa McKay. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

In this fast-paced, thought-provoking debut novel, McKay . . . explores injustice, religious reconciliation, suffering and faith . . . This is one of Christian fiction’s best novels of the year.
-Reprinted from Publishers Weekly, July 2007, Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

LISA MCKAY is a forensic psychologist and the Director of Training and Education Services for the Headington Institute, which provides psychological and spiritual support to humanitarian relief and development workers around the world. A registered psychologist in Australia, she holds a M.Psychol. in forensic psychology from the University of New South Wales, and a M.A. in International Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame.

Lisa is author of the novel My Hands Came Away Red, which was a 2008 Christy finalist. She has also authored Continuing Education modules for mental health professionals on understanding, assessing and treating acute stress, and writes a monthly series of stress management tips for humanitarian workers, Peace by Piece. She has had articles and essays published in several magazines, including InterAction Monday Developments, the Notre Dame Magazine, and Among Worlds.

Lisa currently resides in Los Angeles, California.

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My Hands Came Away Red 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written. Subject was touching while not making you depressed. Christian, yet not so religious where you can't relate to the characters. Or rather not like a lot of other Christian novels where you wonder what planet these people live on. Anyway great novel. You won't be disappointed. I'm definitely looking into other novels by Lisa McKay.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is my first book by Lisa McKay and I absolutely loved it! I couldn't put i down. Its become one of my favorite reads.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AWESOME and sad and horrible and everything. You won't forget this book after you finish reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutley love this book its so suspensful! I love the ending i knew they would be together ;D definitly a good read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was such a good one! Lisa Mckay is such a talented author. It was great to read because it was so exciting, yet everything that happened in it, really could have happened. And it was described in a way that makes you so interested! I didnt want to put it down! Some parts were sad, but it was really good because it opened my mind more. I would definatly reccomend it! I would even say its my favoirte book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this book is amazing! she is a gifted author with skills. i would recomend this to ANYONE i loved it. i could not put it down. if you havn't read this book read it. now. like right now. it...was...awesome!
Novel_Teen_Book_Reviews More than 1 year ago
By Gigi Hoffman

Eighteen-year-old Cori wanted to get away after her high school graduation. Things were complicated and confusing with her boyfriend, Scott, so she signed up to go on a ten-week missions trip to build a church on a small island in Indonesia.

After several weeks on the island, the church is completed, but an event leaves the group of teenagers away from their team leader and his wife for a few days. No biggie. However, during those couple days, a conflict that has been festering for years erupts between Muslim and Christian villages on a nearby island. The result? The new church gets burnt to the ground, the villagers are mercilessly slaughtered, and the teens are stranded in the forest with the pastor¿s seventeen-year-old son.

The group must hike through the forest, find a way off the island, and get to the airport on the same island where the political and religious violence is occurring. The team goes through many trials and difficulties, questioning all the things they thought they knew.

This has to be one of the best books I¿ve ever read (and I read a lot). Ms. McKay made the characters incredibly realistic. They questioned and doubted their personal beliefs; they didn¿t just accept things and be happy. It was deep, thought-provoking, and beautifully written. A must, must, must read for everyone!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
When a young missionary goes off to another culture, they often face challenges that they were ill prepared for. Challenges that can shake their faith . . . even the strongest of faith. Survival often depends on someone to reach out and rescue them. In her journey, Cori meets several people who reach out and help her to realize that they are not alone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love to read but can't say that I normally stop into the religious fiction section. However this book sounded interesting and I thought I'd put it in my list of books to be read. Once I picked it up I could not put it down, I loved the writing and the style and felt that I was there with Cori not only through her journey in Indonesia but also coming home and her journey with God. Will recommend this book to everyone because it was amazing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My Hands Came Away Red is an exceptional story, written by Lisa McKay, a wonderfully fresh voice in Christian fiction. I loved the realism with which the story was portrayed, as well as the emotion that drew me into this incredible drama. I also loved the growth that took place in each of the characters. This was not a predictable story, with a predictable ending, and I so appreciate that. Lisa McKay obviously drew from her professional/ministerial experiences to weave this heartwrenching tale. I look forward to more from this gifted writer.
Deborah_K More than 1 year ago
Word of mouth promotion really does work. That's why I picked up this book, because of all the good reviews I had heard about it. And I was not disappointed at all. This book is intense. The story will linger in your mind for days. It's not a story to enjoy lying on the beach. You need to be in the right frame of mind to read this book. I've always wanted to go on a missions trip. It is on my list of things to do before I die. So while reading this book, I did get a little of what could happen if I went to someplace like that part of Indonesia. The missionaries who live in remote areas like this are to be commended for the bravery they show trying to spread God's word. The teens in this book are wise beyond their years. I don't know if I could have been as strong as they were if I was put in the same situation. It was heartbreaking to read about the emotional turmoil they were going through just trying to get home. It was just incredible about everything they went through: from seeing killings, running from snakes and wild boars, trying to overcome malaria. It's like an extreme version of Survivor for Christian teens. Even though the characters in this book are teenagers, the subject matter is quite serious so at least older teens should be reading this. It was also sad to see how the two religions are at wars with each other. It's devastating to read about Christians acting in such a brutal way against others especially since we are taught to love everyone. Obviously those people are not the best representatives of Christianity.I agree with others that this was one of the best Christian fiction books published in 2007. Lisa McKay has made her mark in the publishing world. I encourage everyone to read to this book. I guarantee it will have a major impact on you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
McKay's novel 'my hands came away red' is highly imaginative and creative. Readers will definately connect to the down-to-earth characters in the story in some way. Inspirational and full of proof of the Spirit, this novel is a must-read. From the beginning, McKay had me immersed in this book. I read it for two and a half hours straight because I didn't want to put it down. From the beginning to end, McKay provides strong description, choice of words, and originality to describe her characters and their experiences. You will be sucked into this novel!!! I guarantee it! While some of the content of this book I wouldn't recommend to children under ten, I think this book is very simple to understand. If you are still unsure about reading this book, I'll give you one last reason. This book will lead you to Christ 'if you aren't already a believer'. I've become so close in my relationship with Christ since reading this book. The characters in this book interact and talk exactly like we do today, and endure some/most of the same scenerios we deal with. I highly recommend this book. The storyline lives up to its title: 'my hands came away red'.