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The Elephant in the Room
When Bob Kellemen offers seminars on his new book Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, he starts by addressing the proverbial “elephant in the room.” “Why did a white guy write a book about African American church life?”
As Kellemen explained, “First, I didn’t write it, I co-wrote it with Karole Edwards who is a wonderful African American friend and a graduate of the seminary where I teach. Second, we like to say that we didn’t co-author the book as much as we co-edited Beyond the Suffering. We wove together first-hand accounts of the amazing narratives concerning how African American Christians found courage and comfort in God and each other to move beyond the suffering of slavery to a place of healing hope.”
Kellemen continued, “But that still doesn’t address what prompted my interest in this fascinating topic. I grew up on 11th and Hovey in downtown Gary, IN. I’ve spent my whole life in a multi-cultural environment. Currently I teach at a school (Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD) with no majority culture. God has called me to a life-long, multi-cultural ministry.”
A Mutual PassionKellemen’s co-author, Edwards, shared her own passion for Beyond the Suffering. “For me the journey began as I delved deeper into historical African American stories and discovered a cavern of invaluable truth. As I was being changed by the story unfolding before me, I wondered how others might also be changed by seeing God’s story unfolding through our history.”
According to the publisher, Baker Books, “Beyond the Suffering is the African American story told by African Americans for the benefit of all Americans. The African American Church has always helped hurting and hardened people through personal and corporate ministry. Beyond the Suffering uncovers the great spiritual riches of this African American Christian tradition.”
Kellemen concurred. “Beyond the Suffering desires to inspire today’s generation as they hear the voices of past African American Christians speaking through its pages. By listening to its historical narrative, readers learn to speak to today’s world with relevance. Beyond the Suffering assists African American and non-African American lay people, pastors, and Christian counselors to become more spiritually aware and skillful by deriving modern implications from these recovered resources. And it equips all believers for more effective cross-cultural ministry.”
Pulling the Rope in Unison
Of the 100s of real-life vignettes recorded in the book, Kellemen shared one story (“Pulling the Rope in Unison”) illustrative of the practical nature of the entire book. “Venture Smith was born in Guinea about 1729. Kidnapped at age eight, Robertson Mumford purchased him a year later. After living with Mumford for thirteen years, Venture married Meg at age twenty-two. They remained together for over forty-seven years, through many trials and tribulations, until parted by death.”
“Venture’s narrative contains an explanation for their marital faithfulness. On the occasion of their marriage, Venture threw a rope over his cabin and asked his wife to go to the opposite side and pull on the rope hanging there while he remained and pulled on his end. After they both had tugged at it awhile in vain, he called her to his side of the cabin and by their united effort they drew the rope to themselves with ease. He then explained the object lesson to his young bride. ‘If we pull in life against each other we shall fail, but if we pull together we shall succeed.’” According to Kellemen, “premarital couples, newlyweds, and seasoned married spouses would all do well to heed Venture’s guiding wisdom.”
Dr. Tony Evans
Internationally-known African American pastor and author, Dr. Tony Evans, in his Foreword to Beyond the Suffering noted that “Most students of history focus on the pain of the African American experience in America. There was a lot of pain! And we should not minimize that pain. However, as the title suggests, Beyond the Suffering goes further. It shows us how the pain experienced by people from the African American culture can be redeemed to give life to people from any race or culture. The captivating true stories and first-hand narratives have a therapeutic and healing quality for the reader and those they serve. After you read Beyond the Suffering, you will have a deeper understanding of how God forged character in people through their suffering and be able to apply many valuable insights to your personal life and future ministry.”
So About That Elephant?
So, about that elephant in the room? Kellemen said, “Regardless of the color of our skin, we are all human beings with similar struggles and suffering, hopes and dreams. Beyond the Suffering listens to the voices of a people who ministered in the crucible of suffering. Everyone, from every race, can benefit from hearing these voices, from reading and applying these courageous stories.”
Beyond the Suffering is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobles, Wal Mart, and other bookstores and bookselling websites.