The response to the book has been amazing. A woman sends Merle a private message on Facebook. “Do you know that we pray for you?” she asks. “My son was trying to climb out of a deep valley of drug abuse. Your book was the first book he read when he was scaling that mountain. He called me every night to tell me what was happening in the book. You don’t know what your book meant to him. You don’t know what a hero you are to him.”
Another woman, an avid reader whose cancer has returned, tells her family that she wants to “meet” Michael ParkerMichael Parker is the central character in “A Ghostly Shade of Pale” and its sequel, “A Rented World.” The woman’s family calls Merle. He goes to the hospital to pray with her; she leaves this world with both books in her bed.
A soldier posts a picture of his preparation for deployment overseas. The picture features all of what he calls his “essentials” for the front lineshis equipment, his helmet, his camouflage uniform...and Merle’s two books.
Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Adrian Rogers’ old 30,000 member church, sends word that both “Ghostly Shade” and “Rented World” are favorites in their library. A small church tells him that their waiting list to read his books are so long that it will take a year for all the members to read them.
Even though he is surprised by all the attention his books have received, Merle takes it all in stridethese are the gifts that keep him writing and on the road. His books are his ministry, his “little corner of the Great Commission,” he says.
Merle and his wife Judy travel the country to speak and sign books. A number of schools (including middle schools, high schools and colleges) are using his books. He has spoken to 1500 students in two months of travels, offering them tips on writing, harrowing tales of yesteryear, but more importantly, his Christian faith.
He has sung songs with Morgan Freeman, met with movie producers, and signed books for the cast of “Criminal Minds” in Hollywood, but it’s those treasured moments with students and private talks with his heroes of the faithlike Christian apologist, Ravi Zachariasthat are the memories he relives over and over again.
Some felt it would be hard to follow his first book, “A Ghostly Shade of Pale” (Barnes and Noble’s all-time bestselling novel in North Mississippi), but “A Rented World” has garnered impressive reviews from critics and readers alike. His central character, Michael Parker, continues his journey to what some might call “divine destiny,” where God shows him who and what never mattered and Who always will.
“Criminal Minds” writer Jim Clemente was asked about Merle’s faith and how important it is to him.
“Merle believes that it saved him many times,” Clemente replied, “and I tend to believe that he is right. Others who faced what he has would be six feet under.” Clemente said he gets many requests to read manuscripts and most do not hold up, but he contacted Merle and told him, “Come to Hollywood. I want to represent you.” The two men have become close friends, and Clemente is pitching Temple’s books for a TV series. “Merle is a great author and a better man,” Clemente said.
Clemente loved “A Ghostly Shade of Pale” and endorsed “A Rented World”; it’s easy to see why. It is a candid baring of the soul of a writer, with powerful imagery that unleashes a river of tears and tugs and rips at the full range of emotions. Readers can feel his pain and shudder at the danger and evil that surrounds his hero. Merle’s descriptive writing and command of the English language draws the reader into his world and takes them with him to the edge of the precipice and to many a point of no return. As one reader wrote, “I didn’t just read this bookI felt like I lived it.”
“A Rented World” will break your heart. It will make you angry at those who live within what he labels the “unholy trinity of crime, politics, and business”men he says who have decided to “rule in hell on earth, rather than to serve eternally in heaven.” The book grabs you by the throat with high-definition emotions that bleed from every tear-stained page. He wants you to know that there is danger and darkness in the world, often disguised as light, and it waits to seduce you and to steal your soul. “Vanity, vanity,” the pages preach, “All is vanity.” He is a man on a mission.
Literary gems are sprinkled throughout “A Rented World,” which is spellbinding and haunting. The ending will squeeze tears from even the hardest of hearts but it also invites you to meet the “Hound of Heaven” Who is always pursuing the flawed hero in the novel. The North Mississippi Daily Journal describes the hero’s journey to the bottom as “face down, no direction but upno way out but the Cross.”
Temple spends long hours in signings, wanting to engage every reader. He strives to reach his audiences, in venues both large and small, with his use of words to uplift and edify and his message of hope and redemption.
That love and respect is often returned. After an emotional speech to a group in tiny, Eutaw, Alabama, the attendees went on Facebook to say, “Eutaw, Alabama loves Merle Temple. The hand of God is on him.”
Truly it is. Truly.
It was my honor to sit with Merle, Judy and a few close friends poolside on an unusually cool, breezy May night, surrounded by moonlight and the sounds of nature. Whether he’s putting pen to page, speaking to a crowd or sharing with friends, Merle entices and enchants us with his God-given gift for storytelling; but more than that, his ability to bare his heart and soul in such a tender, genuine way leaves no one unaffected.
He captivated us late into the evening with tales of his and Judy’s travels and book signings, but as our time together drew to a close, I asked him a question that left Merle at a loss for words. Just as Michael Parker had been falsely accused and wrongly imprisoned, so had he. I wanted to know if, through the injustice of it all, the mental and physical abuse he’d been forced to endure, were there moments of light in the dark abyss of prison that crystallized in his heart that God had not forsaken him? He teared up and asked me if he could go home, think about it and get back to me.
The next morning, I got this email from Merle: “Lisa, I gave your question much thought last night. So many memories, so many tears. When I entered my first prison, the Lord showed me that I should start a Christian movie ministry. Against all odds and in spite of those who said it wouldn’t be allowed, we began the ministry at my first institution in Edgefield, SC and took it to two more facilities in Tennessee and Alabama. Thousands of men were exposed to the Gospel of Christ via those movies. Those 200 or so movies are still there, and the work continues, long after I left the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
“At Edgefield, the new ministry became the highlight of the week for men who had little to do. There was standing room only in the chapel each week, and there in the dark, I would hear big, tough men began to weep as their hearts were softened to the approach of the Holy Spirit.
“One man kept resisting my invitations. He said he was about to lose custody of his children and was surrounded by troubles. He said there seemed to be no way out, and he needed to think. He was very angry and stressed. He finally gave in one day after I invited him to see ‘The Perfect Stranger,’ a movie that had been released just before I entered prison. He said, ‘I’ll come if you’ll just shut up and get off my back.’
“That night we had another packed house in the chapel, and men were softly crying at the tenderness of the story of the woman who confronts her doubts and finds what she had always been seeking in the man who invited her to dinner. He answered all of her questions at that dinner and all of the questions of the men watching the movie that night in prison.
"I walked up the hill to the dorm, and sat alone in my room as I prayed. ‘Thank you, Lord, for another good night, but Lord, why am I still here? Why am I still here?’
“At that moment, with my head bowed, I heard someone clearing their throat. I looked up to see the man I had hounded to attend the movie. He was standing at my door, but he was not scowling as before. He was smiling from ear-to-ear, and there was the Light all around his face.
“‘Oh, Merle,’ he said. ‘That movie, that movie! I thought there was no way out of my troubles, but tonight, in the dark, listening to the words of Jesus, I knew just what He wanted me to do. Thank you, Merle. Thank you, Merle, for staying after me.’
“When he left, I just looked up to Heaven and said, ‘Thank you, Lord.’ I knew He had sent me the answer to my prayer, to why I was still there. It was one of many answers to prayers that He sent through desperate people in those 2,000 nights in prison.
“Bless you Lisa for asking that question. Merle”
And THAT is just another example of Merle Temple baring his heart and soul for God’s glory and His Great Commission.