Book Review: Becoming All Things

Becoming All Things: How Small Changes Lead to Lasting Connections Across Cultures

By Michelle Ami Reyes

Becoming All Things: How Small Changes Lead To Lasting Connections Across Cultures by [Michelle Reyes, Thabiti Anyabwile]

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.”

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Where You Can Find Me Online

I am rarely blogging these days. But I am still creating contact and connecting with readers and would love to stay in touch.

During Covid, I made the switch to Substack. Now, the best way to stay in touch is via email or one of my two Substack newsletters. You can find my email here:


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Stories from the Horn is a bi-weekly newsletter which includes links (and sometimes commentary) on the most important or interesting news and articles from and about the Horn of Africa. It will also occasionally include some personal updates.

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By |June 10th, 2021|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

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Can Christians and Muslims work together?

Meet Rachel Pieh Jones, Rebecca Dali, Abdallah Rothman, Steve Gumaer, Stephen Backhouse, and Ian Barth.

In this live online event, Plough’s Ian Barth introduces Pillars in conversation with author Rachel Pieh Jones and others.

When Rachel Pieh Jones moved from Minnesota to rural Somalia with her husband and twin toddlers eighteen years ago, she was secure in a faith that defined who was right and who was wrong, who was saved and who needed saving. She had been taught that Islam was evil, full of lies and darkness, and that the world would be better without it. In Pillars, Jones recounts, often entertainingly, the personal encounters and growing friendships that gradually dismantle her unspoken fears and prejudices and deepen her appreciation for Islam. Unexpectedly, along the way she also gains a far richer understanding of her own Christian faith.

daliRebecca Dali is a strong advocate to victims of religious violence in the northern part of her country, Nigeria. She devotes her time and energy to help widows and orphans, victims of Boko Haram’s insurgency through her organisation, the Center for Caring, Empowerment and Peace Initiative, which she founded in 1989.

rothmanAbdallah Rothman is the Principal of Cambridge Muslim College and holds an MA in Psychology from Antioch University and a PhD in Psychology from Kingston University London. He is active in interfaith dialogue.

gumaerSteve Gumaer and his wife, Oddny, founded Partners Relief & Development in 1994 as an international aid organization that works in war zones. Steve is Partners’ president.

backhouseStephen Backhouse is a political theologian, church historian and expert on the life and thought of Søren Kierkegaard. He is the host of the Tent Theology Podcast.

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Are you Afraid of Muslims?

Pillars: How Muslims Led Me Closer to Jesus is launching tomorrow, April 6! I don’t have a copy yet so if you get yours, will you post a photo and tag me so I can see it out in the world? I should get my shipment this week, insha Allah.

And, will you leave a review on Amazon please? That really helps with visibility. Thanks and you’re amazing!

I wrote the book with several things in mind, one of which is that I hope to de-mystify Islam. I’m not teaching about Islam, per se, as I’m not a Muslim. But I write about things I’ve learned and how I’ve experienced it as an outsider. I hope this will inspire others to not be afraid but to see potential for growing in faith, building peace, and creating a beautiful community.

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Are you afraid of your toddler? Are you afraid of your dog?

Are you afraid of Muslims? Terrorists? I say “Muslims” and “terrorists” because media outlets, some politicians, and some religious leaders want us to believe the two words are synonymous.

Franklin Graham and other American Evangelicals seem to believe we should be afraid of Muslims and that we are at war with Muslims both in the US and abroad. We all know about the so-called Muslim ban former President Trump instituted. Graham also said, several years ago, that immigration needs to be closed to Muslims, that we are under attack. He isn’t alone in this kind of ignorant fear-mongering. Over 160,000 people liked his Facebook post.

In Jesus and John Wayne, Kristin Du Mez noted that evangelical Christians are the most likely Christian group to see Islam as a threat. Jordan Denari Duffner has a book coming out in May called Islamophobia: What Christians Should Know (and do) about Anti-Muslim Discrimination. One of the reasons she wrote the book is that this is all too real and serious.

In the United States in 2013, three people were killed by terrorists (who were Muslim), all three at the Boston Marathon. That same year, five people were shot by gun-wielding toddlers, and about 34 died of dog bites.

Why didn’t Graham insist we prohibit toddlers inside our borders? Why hasn’t anyone called for a moratorium on dog ownership?

I think I know, partly, why. Americans are comfortable with toddlers and dogs, many of us know a toddler or a dog. But how many American Christians know Muslims? I mean really know them not just point to them on the street.

I have visited churches in Minnesota and people say, “Aren’t you afraid to live there? Aren’t all those Muslims trying to kill you all the time?”

No. No, I am not afraid and no, they are not trying to kill me. My daughter’s teachers? The man who pumps my gas? The running coach? It would be laughable if these American Christians weren’t so earnest.

They say, “I’m afraid to go to Target because Muslims have taken over, working at all the cash registers.” How is it that a person of a different religion working at a cash register can strike fear into hearts? How have we become so divided that we will turn a stranger into an enemy?

I think right there is the problem. We have become so divided that Muslims are strangers rather than friends, neighbors, and coworkers. We isolate and segregate and so we don’t know each other on a human level. We fear the unknown. We fear the unfamiliar and we fear difference. We’re threatened by it and so we hunker down, build barriers, throw stones.

But Christian faith calls us to not be afraid and to live a life of love, which casts out fear. We are to welcome the stranger, care for the outcast, bless the foreigner or alien.

Carl Medearis wrote to Graham: If “Muslims” are your enemies, it’s clear what Jesus calls us to do with enemies.  And if these “Muslims” are your neighbors (and many of them are), it’s clear what Jesus asks us to do with neighbors.  Either way I think you’re stuck. You gotta love em.

And Marilyn Gardner wrote: To build relationships with people of other faiths is not compromising our faith. Rather, it’s living out a faith that is not threatened but firm.

I think as Christians get to know Muslims on an individual basis they will discover Muslims also grieve when people are shot, they also are horrified when marathoners are bombed, they reject violence.

Inflammatory words and religious-based immigration bans only increase fear and divisions. This is not the way of Jesus or the Kingdom.

Discussion Topics:

  • How can we help each other move from fear to faith?
  • How do we speak up about the fear-mongering about Islam? How do we prepare ourselves to speak truth and love in the face of fear?
  • How can you grow in building a cross-religious friendship?

For more:

Carl Medearis: An Open Letter to Franklin Graham

Marilyn Gardner: Dear Mr. Graham, Let Me Introduce You to Some Friends


For more about building relationships across religious boundaries, check out Pillars.

By |April 5th, 2021|Categories: Pillars, Writing|Tags: , |0 Comments

Book Launch Party!

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I am consistently stunned by the kindness and generosity of writers who are strangers.

I have goosebumps thinking of Barbara Brown Taylor reading my words.

I cried when I read Abdi’s foreword.

In a world of so much grief, anger, and division this is an event to celebrate hope and connection.

There is goodness. Sometimes we must fight to see it, but is there.

There is beauty. Some of my favorite images of Djibouti are the desert with a single flower. Or a bougainvillea bush tangled in barbed wire. Or the sunrise over a garbage dump. Beauty will insist on itself.

We would love to see you at this book launch party!

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