By Michelle Ami Reyes
I am a white American Christian. I have lived in Muslim-dominant countries in the Horn of Africa since 2003. I tell you this before beginning my review of Becoming All Things because my position in the world impacted my reading of this book. I have struggled and grown, struggled and grown, in how to talk about and understand the racial dynamics of my life and I’ve been hungry for three things specifically. First, how do race and faith intersect and interact? Second, what are some practical things for me to engage in that will help me continue to learn and grow? And third, how do I help the people I shepherd grow in this area?
Becoming All Things addresses each of these three questions. Reyes writes with courageous compassion, refusing to shy away from difficult topics, refusing to let people remain stagnate. She writes with vulnerable hope. It is evident in these pages that Reyes has examined her own heart and perspectives and believes that the combination of vulnerability on her part and her push for Christians to do better will make a difference.
Reyes urges readers to explore our own cultural history. “Learning to value your cultural identity means delving into your family’s specific history” (18) and this is an excellent place to start. I confess that I grew up as a White suburban Minnesotan Baptist with the idea that my life was somehow “normal”, that I didn’t have culture. Life in the Horn of Africa quickly disabused me of this naivete. For readers not immersed in a place so different from their own, Reyes provides questions as a launching pad from which to begin learning your culture and history. She also asks us to explore how that culture impacts our faith.
Moving beyond looking inward, Reyes urges people to consider the other person’s position in the world, and their perspective. She writes, “The most honoring thing we can do for a person of another culture is to give them the dignity of defining themselves. This practice takes the power and ability to place value judgments on others out of our hands and challenges us to see someone the way they want to be seen, not according to how we want to label them.” (41) Again, to look at my own experience, bringing this attitude toward Somali and Muslim friends has made a profound difference in how we relate. We must be humble and curious as we allow others to define themselves. This will help us to ask better questions, to not operate out of harmful assumptions, and to get to know people as individuals, created in the image of God, each one unique.
Grounded in scripture and rich with practical steps, I highly recommend this book. In particular, I recommend it for groups: book clubs, Sunday Schools, neighborhood gatherings, families. I plan to use some of the material with our staff in Africa as we reckon with race in our context. Books like Becoming All Things are useful individually, but the concepts and lessons will become even more memorable and life-changing when read in concert with others on the same journey.
I encourage you to go find a copy of this excellent book and will conclude with Reyes’ words: “Justice is not a distraction from the gospel. It is a core message of the gospel. The life of Jesus declares this to be true, and if you want to prioritize the gospel in your life, then the pursuit of justice on behalf of others must be an essential component of your faith.”