Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope by the Van Ryn Family and the Cerak Family in collaboration with Mark Tabb
I had forgotten about the tragic accident that struck Taylor University in April of 2006 until happening upon an interview with the Van Ryn and Cerak families on Dateline NBC. This story is incredible and almost unbelievable. The authorities identified the bodies based upon the location of a purse. This shoddy work led to them claiming that the surviving student was Laura Van Ryn. Instead, the survivor was Whitney Cerak. It took five weeks for the truth to come out. When you hear the entire story it breaks your heart for both families.
Grand Rapids is a conservative, Protestant city. There are times that the self-righteousness of some gives Christianity a bad name. Watching Dateline gave me the opposite feeling. It made me glad that there are people of faith like these families. I was especially awed by Lisa Van Ryn, Laura’s sister, who comes face to face with the knowledge that her sister is dead and that another young woman was in her place. Her poise and composure at that time, so as not to alarm the women she was certain was not her sister, was heroic to me. I knew after this show that I had to read the book.
I don’t often read Christian books and memoirs, other than random lives of saints. The last such book I remember reading was back in junior high. The book was entitled Joni and told the story of Joni Eareckson, a young woman who becomes a quadriplegic as the result of a diving accident. She grew up in a devout family, but it was her coming to grips with her disability which led her to a faith of her own. I found Joni’s story inspiring, even if the expression of her faith did not match my own.
Mistaken Identity, which is told from various perspectives and through excerpts from a blog and Laura Van Ryn’s prayer journal, was a different experience. The opening emphasizes that the book was written to glorify God. The faith of both families was definitely at the forefront throughout the book. Most of this did not interfere with the story for me, but there were sections where I felt like I was in the middle of a hard sell. This is a shame because the story alone carries the message they wanted to deliver. For me, actions have always spoken louder than words. Lisa’s interview on Dateline, especially when she spoke of the moment when she realized that she had been caring for Whitney instead of her sister, exuded the strength and calm that her faith brings her. Some of that was lost for me in the book.
Mistaken Identity is not a bad book. It was just self-conscious. In their focused attempt to make God the focus, God was not allowed to reveal himself from within the story. I am glad that I read the book and I look up to Lisa Van Ryn. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things are heroes to me. I wish her well in her pursuit of physical therapy.
To buy this book, click here.