Listening to the voices of those not always heard through the exposition of the timeless Word of God is the heart behind editor Kristie Anyabwile‘s book His Testimonies, My Heritage.
The book brings together a historic collaboration of women of color expositing the Word of God while sharing their personal experiences and how the Bible shapes their stories, past and future.
Contributors include spoken word artists Jackie Hill Perry and Quina Aragon, authors and speakers Trillia Newbell, Elicia Horton, Danielle Anderson, K.A. Ellis and others.
Each chapter explores themes ranging from personal hurt, pain and fear to rejoicing and hope paired with expositional devotional teachings through Psalm 119.
Taking the Psalm stanza by stanza, the authors tell their stories through the lens of God’s story seen in the words of David.
Anyabwile said the motivation for the book’s examination of Psalm 119 was the passage’s focus on the actual Word of God.
“It’s [Psalm 119] so multi-faceted,” she said. “It offers blessing for people who walk according to the Word, it comforts those who suffer, it’s our refuge in times of trial, it gives us cause to praise God for the nature of His Word, and it just speaks to every person in any circumstance so it’s needed now because the Word of God is always needed.”
Voice for the unheard
Contributor Elicia Horton emphasized the need for a book that specifically highlights the voices of women of color.
Conference speaking slots and awards given for writing and publishing do not leave a large space for women of color – a fact that makes His Testimonies, My Heritage a vitally important work, Horton said.
“We’re all expositing Psalm 119, we’re all highlighting the Word of God and its authority and its power,” Horton said, “but we are also actually being able to share our narrative, what it means to us, why as women of color we’re coming from this vantage point and being able to share with so many people that would never hear from a woman of color had they not picked up this book.”
Quina Aragon echoed Horton’s sentiment regarding the presence of women of color in publishing contracts and at conferences.
“There tends to be that disparity, so for there to be a book that highlights women that a lot of people don’t know about, allows for them – the writers themselves – and the audience to really receive from the people that are maybe outside the typical authors they listen to,” Aragon said.
Contributor Danielle Anderson said the book gave the authors an opportunity to share their stories freely, for their own benefit and that of others.
It’s hard to grow in ethnic unity, Anderson said, without actually listening to those with a differing voice.
“The voices that can often dominate spaces in our culture, are those of white males,” Anderson said. “But how beautiful to give ear to the truths of those often marginalized, women of color.”
When one portion of the body of Christ is suffering, the whole body suffers, Anyabwile said, adding that many women of color suffer as their voice is not heard and as they see no one in communication channels that they can relate to who are identifying similar experiences.
Horton agreed, saying “We’ve had to fight for not only ourselves but for people like us to be seen and to be heard. We’ve been in these spaces where we’ve been overlooked and looked down upon. To feel that even within the evangelical world has been very hard.”
But this book is part of the steps to open doors and march onward in the work God has laid out, Horton said.
“This type of project can be a part of the small steps that God will continue to use to open ears, open hearts, open eyes and help people to understand others from different upbringings and backgrounds,” Horton said. “We have a unique story – we all have a story – because it’s part of God’s bigger story, and we can continue to work together to bring about His good on this side of eternity.”
Diversity of perspectives
Anyabwile noted that many times Christians may not even realize the diverse individuals who are available to be heard.
Majority culture can risk becoming so accustomed to a singular perspective being ingrained into society that many times it goes unnoticed, causing the same anecdotes and perspectives to be constantly put forth, creating a narrow viewpoint, she explained.
“The book is needed now just to broaden our perspective and to give us an opportunity to learn from people who are not like us,” Anyabwile said. “The church needs to see that there are women of diverse backgrounds sitting right next to us in the pews every week and that we need to be seeking them out and learning from them.”
Aragon said the global body of Christ always benefits from a diversity of voices, but historically many voices have come from one cultural perspective and background.
“We tend to miss out on a lot of wider diverse, range of voices within the body of Christ,” Aragon said. “At any time when there’s an opportunity for us to listen to someone with a different background, a different heritage, a different culture, coming to the same Word of God that we love and helping us by giving illustrations that come from their background, there’s such a benefit to see beauty of diversity that God has given His multicultural bride, the church.”
Understanding others enables believers to understand the vastness of God and how He providentially works in individuals lives, Anyabwile added.
“We’re always learning from people who are not like us in some way – and that is an enriching experience.” Anyabwile said.
Horton said neglecting to look at life from many perspectives is operating in ignorance.
“Opening that window allows people to see outside of themselves and that these things do exist, that they are real and we need to keep talking about this,” Horton said. “We need to seek to understand, we need to continue to diversify our dinner tables, our inner circles, people that can speak into our lives.”
Anyabwile said that emphasis on ethnic diversity is often subconsciously rejected, allowing individuals to avoid thinking outside one comfortable narrative.
“When it comes to the issue of ethnicity, there’s this kind of visceral negative response to it like no we shouldn’t highlight ethnicity at all because we’re all one in Christ,” Anyabwile said.
But, Horton said, seeing the broader perspective gives a greater image of what heaven will look like.
The Bible highlights people being from every nation and tongue, giving honor to God, Anyabwile added.
“Yes, we’re all one in Christ, but no we’re not one ethnicity,” Anyabwile said. “Ethnicity will be distinct if we believe the praise song in Revelation.”
Message for all
The message of the book is one that is relevant to all people for all times simply because it is surrounding and focused on the Word of God, Aragon emphasized.
“All of these stories of God’s Word and the scriptures that filled the pages of the Bible can minister to us present day,” Horton added. “Understand the rich heritage that we’ve been given through God’s Word and that [scripture] is life and is everything that we need and more. If we don’t have a high view of scripture then we don’t know God.”
Anyabwile explained that her overarching goal with the book was to look into the word of God and be encouraged and built up by it, growing in the love of Christ and understanding the heights of God’s love in ways that may not be personal to each reader, but still important to take in and take hold of.
“It’s not just about seeing life from someone else’s perspective, but it’s seeing how God uses His Word to speak into the uniqueness of a particular human experience,” Anyabwile said. “It’s a window into seeing how God is active, how God is purposeful, how God is specific in how He speaks into the unique aspects of our human experience.”
In her own contributions, Anyabwile said she hoped to put some of her most vulnerable fears on the table to show how God’s Word has helped to dispel them.
“I wanted to show how God’s Word had brought me comfort in the midst of grief and fear,” Anyabwile said, referencing her chapter titled “Raising Black Boys with Hope.”
Aragon noted that with her devotional chapter she hoped to help people realize that faithfulness to God is not just obedience.
“Faithfulness to Jesus is obeying His Word but also repenting when we fail to do that,” Aragon said. “You can love God’s Word and still find yourself straying in various ways at times, but the good news is that you have a Good Shepherd who is willing to seek you out.”
Horton, who wrote the initial chapter of the book from which the title was coined, said she hoped to show that children of God, ultimately, have a rich spiritual heritage that is infinite.
“If nobody recognizes you, God sees you,” Horton said. “He knows you, and He’s willing to give you this free gift of salvation if you embrace Him by faith through grace alone. Now you have a story that you can pass down to generations and generations that is eternal.”
Anderson noted that with her chapter, titled “The Declaration of Independence and Me,” she desired to encourage others to esteem the beauty and purity of the scriptures, as well as share her perspective – lamenting some aspects of the founding of America.
“I felt I was being taught that, since I was a believer, I had to view American history through a particular lens – one of triumph,” Anderson said. “I hope my lament will help us all see the vast gap between mere humans and their words, and the perfect words of the holy God we serve.”
Continuing the change
Horton noted that moving forward, after the publication of this book, she hopes to continue to see opportunities for those of differing backgrounds to be heard.
“It’s important for us to keep these conversations going,” Horton said, “because we can’t recreate history. History happens, but we can definitely redeem it and can definitely use all that has happened, especially within the birth of America, that we’ve often overlooked, that we have often not considered – to broaden our perspective as well as potentially change our hearts to be more loving and compassion filled.
“It just takes one person making that one change,” she continued. “Imagine how rippling an effect that could have on so many other people.”
The response from those reading the book has been immensely positive both from women of color, who longed for a work such as this, and from other leaders, teachers and individuals who have been blessed by learning from women of color, Anyabwile said.
“The Lord is doing His work,” she said. “Women of color have expressed in tears how they’ve longed for a book like this that connected with their own fears and struggles and situations as a woman of color.”
Aragon also said that the wide variety of people who have reached out to her with encouragement has been affirming.
“It’s encouraging even seeing men that don’t come from these cultures appreciate the work,” Aragon said.
Anderson added that “many women of color have been holding their breath, waiting for a project like this, and I think there are others who weren’t even aware of how desperately they needed to hear these unique stories.”
Anyabwile said she hopes the attitude of learning continues.
“The Lord has done exceedingly, abundantly above anything I’ve asked or prayed or imagined in regard to this book,” Anyabwile said. “I’m very thankful and excited about how the church will continue to be blessed as they continue to learn in various ways from diversity of the body of Christ.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – In observance of Black History Month, Baptist Press has run several stories related to racial reconciliation within the SBC. Several contributors to the book featured in this article are Southern Baptist. Contributors include African-American, Hispanic, Caribbean, and Asian women. Tess Schoonhoven is a Baptist Press staff writer.)