Frank Peretti is generally defined as an author of christian fiction, but in terms of a broader genre, most of what he writes is supernatural horror.
The prologue of the The Visitation is all supernatural horror. An unidentified person suffers through an agonizing crucifixion, and his cries to God go unanswered.
He cried out, but in the cauldron of his sun-boiled mind he heard only the voices of his accusers and the ringing, ringing, ringing of the hammer – sounds that would forever haunt his memory and echo through his nightmares.
“You’re a child of the devil,” they said. A child of the devil who needed to be contained.
A child of the devil?
He cried out once again, and this time, a voice, a mind, answered and a power coursed through him. Suddenly, he could bear the pain and make it fuel for his will. With burning will, he determined he would live.
And living, he knew what he would do.
The first chapter brings us back to reality, back to a soothing rural scene somewhere in Washington state and a young woman with real life troubles.
While on a walk, she sees someone. A young man who knows her name and offers a cryptic message: “Your answer is on his way. Be looking for him.”
In the next scene, an elderly parishioner of the local Catholic church is cleaning the sanctuary and sees the tears running down the face of a wooden crucifix. When he touches the damp wood, his arthritis is miraculously healed.
In the final set-up scene, we’re introduced to the congregation of the Antioch Pentecostal Mission. Some of the women gathered in the parking lot see Jesus in the clouds, holding a dove (but not everyone sees it. At least one person sees a rooster).
Then the book jumps to first person narrative, and I had forgotten that Peretti switches back and forth between first and third person in this book. The first person character is Travis Jordan, the former pastor of the Antioch Pentecostal Mission church. The new pastor, Kyle Sherman, is filling him in on the vision in the clouds.
And here’s another thing I had forgotten about this book. It’s a lot of inside baseball. Two pastors discuss various personalities within the congregation with the kind of brutal honesty that’s seldom seen in christian fiction.
“Dee is a follower with followers. Meg Fordyce has a little prayer and praise meeting at her house once a week, and Dee gets over there pretty often. Just put it together from there.”
I could see a lightbulb coming on, but Kyle apparently wasn’t comfortable with my drift. “I’m not sure I follow you.”
“Kyle, it’s simple. Meg told Dee about Sally seeing an angel. That means someone else is getting a special visitation from God that Dee isn’t getting. You don’t get something from God without Dee getting it too. She won’t allow it.”
Their meeting ends when Travis’ sister Rene arrives. This is where the reader learns that Rene has been cooking and doing laundry for Travis since the death of his wife ten months ago. She’s no longer happy with that arrangement. It’s time for Travis to pull himself together.
After Rene leaves, Travis glances out his window and sees a man, with long hair and a beard, dressed in a white robe. He runs outside, but the man is gone.
In Chapter 2, we get a little more insight into Travis’ life since his wife’s passing. He goes to a local tavern (a place he never would have gone while he was a pastor, because they serve alcohol) and talks with the locals while he eats.
They’re all talking about the strange occurrences that have been happening all over town, but Travis keeps his to himself. Peretti goes to great lengths here to show the division between Travis’ life within the Pentecostal Mission bubble and outside of it. Here, he’s eating with people who are not “church people.” They wouldn’t feel welcome in a Pentecostal Mission church. But Travis feels welcome among them, because he no longer sees himself as “church people” either.
There’s also a flashback to his first meeting with Kyle Sherman.
Imagine a tired old dog, lying in the road, suddenly finding itself wrapped around the axle of a speeding truck. That’s how I felt my first five minutes with Kyle Sherman.
Kyle is young, idealistic and on-fire-for-the-Lord. He reaches out to Travis with the best of intentions, ready to “take this city for Christ!”
Travis doesn’t respond well to this.
“Now you listen to me.” I said it slowly, and I know I sounded downright vicious. “Have you even asked this town if it wants to be taken for Christ?”
He goes on to pour out his frustrations. The fruitless attempts to evangelize and revive. The day-to-day grind of just trying to keep his church running and whole. Kyle is nonplussed by this. He chalks Travis’ tirade up to bitterness and continues on his way.
Coming up in Chapter 3: Things get real at the local minister’s meeting and stereotypes of mainline clergy are vigorously applied.