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Dec16WedJacob's Bell reminds us how important The Salvation Army is at Christmastime for thousands in need. December 16, 2020 by Ken Ramstead
Christmas 1944. The world is at war but the global conflict is the furthest thing from Jacob McCallum’s mind. Estranged from his family, penniless, friendless, Jacob’s been riding the rails and living on the streets for more than 20 years.
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It wasn’t always that way. There was a time when he was one of the richest and respected businessmen in Chicago, with family and friends who loved him. But all that changed 20 years ago on a stormy New Year’s Eve when his life shattered beyond repair. He’s been in a booze-induced haze ever since.
Saved by an Angel
Jacob’s Bell, a novel written by John Snyder, is the story of Jacob’s journey of redemption.
A near-death experience in Nevada has shaken him from his downward spiral, and he’s resolved to return to Chicago, find his children and make amends for the harm he has caused. But locating a longlost family is more difficult than Jacob anticipates.
Befriended by a Salvation Army pastor, appropriately named Howard Angel, Jacob struggles to transform his life and finally overcomes his demons, but not without a fair number of setbacks.
Failing to locate his family in Chicago, Pastor Angel helps Jacob travel to Baltimore to renew his search. There, he is helped by another Salvation Army officer, Pastor Bob Parsley, after Jacob is beaten up by some toughs. Reluctantly, he is persuaded by Pastor Bob to become a Salvation Army bell-ringer at Christmastime. To his surprise, he actually starts to enjoy it and his enthusiasm becomes infectious, and soon people from around the city are flocking to put money in his kettle.
While ringing his bell on a street corner, Jacob meets a young girl who, through a series of strange coincidences, leads him back to the family he’d thought he’d lost forever. But will Jacob be forgiven in time for Christmas?
A Chance to Help
After the unexpected success of his The Golden Ring, a novel about his grandmother, John Snyder saw how his writing could influence and affect people.
“I received letters, emails and cards from people all over the world, telling me how The Golden Ring had had a positive influence on their lives and on circumstances they were going through,” he says.
A seed was planted.
“I had this idea about Jacob’s Bell floating around in my head,” he smiles. “One of the things I really relate to at Christmas is the ringing of that Salvation Army bell. That sound means something to me. I’ve rung it myself and I’ve signed my family up to ring. It’s something that goes all the way back to my childhood. I remember that Army bell ringing on the street corner and I relate to it very much.”
John came up with the story of a Salvation Army bell-ringer who has lost his way in life.
“He was a successful man and lost everything,” John says, but it was the ringing of that bell that brought him back to a righteous life and to reconnecting with his family.
“I think that’s what the bell stands for,” he goes on to say. “I actually refer to it as the bell of our conscience. It rings with the season and it reminds us that there’s a lot that needs to be done, helping people who need help. It reminds us of all the things we should have done during the year and didn’t do, and this is our chance to help.”
Bells of Hope
John went back to years and years of his own experiences ringing the bell at the Salvation Army kettle, as well as the many pastors he had met over that time.
“I’m a struggling Christian, as we all are,” John says, “but these pastors have taught me that we have an obligation to be Christlike and do as He did. We need to help people and do the Lord’s work on earth. That’s my mission in life.”
John extensively researched Salvation Army history during the time period of the novel, as well as the Second World War in Europe, where some of the novel is set. John also consulted city archives for those places where Jacob’s Bell is set.
“I hope that people will support the great work of The Salvation Army and understand the significance of that ringing when they’re walking down the street during the holiday season,” John says, “and that it will compel them to not only drop money in the kettle but also to go out and do a couple of nice things for people who need that in their life.”