illustrition of people by a wall

A Home In Between

Where is that home of mine, O Lord?” Krestos Shamra, a 15th-century Ethiopian saint, asked this of Jesus when he made reference to her home in one of her visions. Krestos Shamra was born into a wealthy family and, after committing murder, she repented and devoted herself to the monastic life. She spent years praying at the famous Lake Tana in the northwestern region of Ethiopia, and reported numerous celestial visions in which she spoke with Jesus about philosophical and theological questions. It was in one such vision that, after telling her about the numerous people that would be saved through her ministry, Jesus mentioned the home about which Krestos Shamra inquired. Jesus replied: “Your home shall be with my mother. I name you Batra Maryam [‘Staff of Mary’] and I adorn you with abundant grace and majesty.” Like many Ethiopian ascetics, Krestos Shamra left her home and traveled across the country preaching the gospel. Her hagiography even records her travels from earth to heaven to hell and back again.

Krestos Shamra’s inquiry into her home makes sense given the multiple in-between spaces she occupied. It was in between heaven and earth, wealth and poverty, city and monastery, that she found her home. Krestos Shamra was assured by angels that she would also provide a home for others: “You will become the mother of a monastery named Guangut. Daughters of kings and governors will come to you and will bow down at the footsteps of your feet. Many women without number—from far and near—will come to you and will dwell with you.”1 Krestos Shamra’s story took her all over Ethiopia and involved all levels of society, and even the celestial realm. One of the earliest biographies of a sub-Saharan African woman, a Black woman, the story of Krestos Shamra is astounding. This is a story of an Ethiopian leader in ministry who found her home while traversing multiple geographical locations, social hierarchies, theological traditions, and vocations. Krestos Shamra lost her sense of home, lived in many in-between spaces, and then found a home that existed in the in-between space.

The in-between can be a complicated space. The world as we experienced it before the pandemic is not likely to appear again. And what the world will be like after the pandemic is still unknown. Those of us in the United States are in the midst of a tense political transition, and as a nation we remain in between being characterized by justice and inclusion on the one hand and white supremacy and religious nationalism on the other. Likewise, the ways in which the church and theological academia will function in the future are uncertain, requiring our current modes of operation to constantly adapt.

For me, the most significant struggle in this time is not having a sense of normal—of home. I think we all, like Krestos Shamra, may be asking a similar question of the Lord: “Where is that home of mine, O Lord?” In the midst of uncertainty, I am encouraged that, like he did for Krestos Shamra, the Lord often provides a sense of calling, belonging, and home to his people, even as we traverse in between spaces.

While it can be disorienting to be placed in the space in between, it can also be a helpful reminder to love that which is the Lord’s rather than the world (1 John 2:15–17). I was born into a significant degree of in-betweenness, the child of a Black father and White mother in St. Louis, Missouri, the most segregated city in the US. There is a clear line cutting across the city, dividing Black and White. I grew up about a mile north of that line on the Black side, but attended school just south of the line on the White side. Every day, traveling just two miles, I toggled between two vastly different worlds. I was able to get into one of the best schools in the city and I avoided attending my local school, where all my neighborhood friends attended. While we had a strong camaraderie, my privileged education always created a degree of difference between my community and me.

Similarly, my upbringing in the hood and my vocation as a scholar of early Christianity often results in a feeling of being pulled in opposite directions. The guild of theological academia has consistently ignored and failed to serve the hood. Scholars are constantly pressured to teach, write, and administer in ways that are disconnected from the hood. I am especially grateful for my culturally disorienting childhood for giving me the ability to continue living in the in-between space of the hood and academia. A central aspect of my navigation of this in-betweenness is doing academics in a manner that prioritizes the hood. For example, the question of God’s existence—central in much of academic theological literature—is not as pertinent in the hood of the 21st century as, for example, the question of whether Christianity is a White man’s religion. While one could find the topic of the existence of God present in thousands of theological texts and course syllabi, one would be hard-pressed to find material regarding the role of race in the development of early Christian doctrine. Similarly, theological academia has produced little to answer the question of whether Black people are descended from biblical Hebrews, an active question in the hood today.

Centering the questions of the margins in academic research is one of the most effective ways to disinvest academic institutions in the maintenance of affluent intellectualism and reignite its usefulness for the well-being of the community. In a very real sense, engaging in patristic scholarship to answer questions about Christianity’s origins that are emerging from the hood is a continuation of my childhood practice of driving between the hood and the school in the rich, White neighborhood.

My favorite hood institution is the Hood Church. The Hood Church is the cornerstone of the community. When there is a need for a light bill to be paid, representation in the courtroom, or help filling out a job application, the Hood Church is the number one go-to. The Hood Church is one of the clearest expressions of the biblical gospel in the modern world; it is a place where the values of theological orthodoxy, biblical righteousness, and social justice are preached and lived holistically.

As I traverse the in-between, from the hood to theological academia, that theology of the margins, of the hood, is something that I have not seen reflected. When I first left the hood and entered the academy, I studied in White, evangelical institutions that articulated a commitment to a high view of Scripture but consistently demonstrated a low regard for social justice. I was constantly called a “liberal” for emphasizing biblical values of racial and economic justice. I, too, thought I was liberal—until I went to liberal schools. When I was at liberal schools, I was considered an archaic, uncritical remnant of a bygone theological worldview due to my commitment to the universal lordship of Jesus, the necessity of faith in him, and the Bible as his perfect Word.

I love the way the Hood Church defies the theological binary of liberal-conservative that has fragmented White theological academia. The Hood Church’s commitment to the authority of the Word of God and the universality of the gospel is equal to her commitment to justice and solidarity with the marginalized. However, this holistic, gospelist haymanot (“theology”) has largely been kept out of theological academia. Bouncing between conservative evangelical and liberal mainline spaces, I have continued to find myself in between the dominating theological ideologies that characterize academic institutions. Like Krestos Shamra, the Lord has called me to create a home for others who find themselves in this theological in-betweenness in the Meachum School of Haymanot, as well as its Society for Gospel Haymanot and the Haymanot Journal.

In addition to providing Black sacred space with the Meachum School of Haymanot, I have welcomed the invitation to teach at an institution like Fuller Theological Seminary, a historically White, evangelical institution that is taking serious steps toward reflecting the kingdom of Jesus and his evangel. Simultaneously working at a predominately White institution and at a Black institution is another level of in-betweenness for me. The work of diversity, inclusion, and justice has two indispensable, practical strategies: (1) predominately White institutions giving power to women and men of color, and (2) believers of all colors supporting institutions of color. Some of us may be called to one of these and some, like myself, may be called to both. Many people of color who work in predominately White spaces burn out, in part due to a lack of strong connections and support in institutions of color. In order to thrive in our work of inclusion, it is necessary to find safe spaces that can sustain us and with which we can build partnerships with dominant institutions. Again, it is in the back and forth between predominately White institutions and Black academic institutions that the Lord has made a home for me. Being a bridge-builder means making a home in the in-between.

As I mentioned above, I was born and raised in St. Louis. My family history goes back in St. Louis as far as we can trace it, and this community is a core aspect of my culture and identity. I have also been walking in fellowship with a multiethnic, economically diverse group of believers who are pursuing the beloved community vision we see in the New Testament (Acts 2:42–47; 4:32–37). When the Lord initially called me to teach at Fuller Texas, it made a lot of sense. The “in-betweenness” of Fuller’s commitment to the lordship of Jesus and the authority of Scripture, as well as the seminary’s dedication to pursuing biblical justice, women’s empowerment, and racial inclusion made it clear that Fuller’s was a vision that I could get behind.

The only cause for hesitation was the prospect of being removed from my hood in St. Louis. It wasn’t clear how the Lord was going to bring his call to serve my hood and his call to serve Fuller to fruition at the same time. However, as he always does, the Lord has made a way. Since joining the faculty at Fuller, my family and I have been “bi-locational,” living in both St. Louis and Houston. The literal, geographic in-betweenness has been a blessing to our family in many unexpected ways. While my wife and children share the same sense of communal connection to St. Louis, we have been blessed by the community of Houston. The greater degree of resources for homeschoolers of color as well as a significant representation of my wife’s Hispanic culture are some of the blessings that Houston has brought us. The ability to network with pastors and leaders in two major cities has also been a blessing in connecting with the realities and contexts of Fuller students. A poignant image of our in-betweenness is my family in our van on our monthly trip between St. Louis and Houston: doing homeschool work, grading papers, having phone meetings, eating dinner, watching a movie on the van TV, and playing spades—all in Spanglish.

An integral characteristic of what it means to be the church is to live as a people who testify to the kingdom of God in between his pouring out of his Spirit and our full redemption at his glorious return (Rom 8:23). Christians are in-between people: in between the Resurrection and the trumpet sound, in between the world and the kingdom, in between the peoples and the People. Yet we long for stability and safety. This is rooted in our yearning for the return of our Savior and the full realization of our sense of belonging and home that will come as a result (Phil 1:23; 2 Tim 4:8; 1 John 3:2).

I am just about done with this pandemic. I’m tired of wearing masks, of having to dodge people in public, and of not being able to worship together in God’s house. But alongside my lament and longing for the end of the pandemic, I am also encouraged to remember all the times the Lord has met me and created a sense of belonging and home for me in the in-between.

Written By

Vince L. Bantu joined the Fuller faculty as assistant professor of church history and Black church studies in 2019. Dr. Bantu teaches primarily on Fuller’s Houston campus, where he also serves as a liaison to the William E. Pannell Center for Black Church Studies. He holds an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a ThM from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a PhD in Semitic and Egyptian Languages from the Catholic University of America. He specializes in the history of African Christianity, and his research interests include racial reconciliation, non-Western Christianity, apologetics, community development, interfaith dialogue, and theological education in underresourced communities. He is the author of Gospel Haymanot: A Constructive Theology and Critical Reflection on African and Diasporic Christianity and A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global Identity.

Where is that home of mine, O Lord?” Krestos Shamra, a 15th-century Ethiopian saint, asked this of Jesus when he made reference to her home in one of her visions. Krestos Shamra was born into a wealthy family and, after committing murder, she repented and devoted herself to the monastic life. She spent years praying at the famous Lake Tana in the northwestern region of Ethiopia, and reported numerous celestial visions in which she spoke with Jesus about philosophical and theological questions. It was in one such vision that, after telling her about the numerous people that would be saved through her ministry, Jesus mentioned the home about which Krestos Shamra inquired. Jesus replied: “Your home shall be with my mother. I name you Batra Maryam [‘Staff of Mary’] and I adorn you with abundant grace and majesty.” Like many Ethiopian ascetics, Krestos Shamra left her home and traveled across the country preaching the gospel. Her hagiography even records her travels from earth to heaven to hell and back again.

Krestos Shamra’s inquiry into her home makes sense given the multiple in-between spaces she occupied. It was in between heaven and earth, wealth and poverty, city and monastery, that she found her home. Krestos Shamra was assured by angels that she would also provide a home for others: “You will become the mother of a monastery named Guangut. Daughters of kings and governors will come to you and will bow down at the footsteps of your feet. Many women without number—from far and near—will come to you and will dwell with you.”1 Krestos Shamra’s story took her all over Ethiopia and involved all levels of society, and even the celestial realm. One of the earliest biographies of a sub-Saharan African woman, a Black woman, the story of Krestos Shamra is astounding. This is a story of an Ethiopian leader in ministry who found her home while traversing multiple geographical locations, social hierarchies, theological traditions, and vocations. Krestos Shamra lost her sense of home, lived in many in-between spaces, and then found a home that existed in the in-between space.

The in-between can be a complicated space. The world as we experienced it before the pandemic is not likely to appear again. And what the world will be like after the pandemic is still unknown. Those of us in the United States are in the midst of a tense political transition, and as a nation we remain in between being characterized by justice and inclusion on the one hand and white supremacy and religious nationalism on the other. Likewise, the ways in which the church and theological academia will function in the future are uncertain, requiring our current modes of operation to constantly adapt.

For me, the most significant struggle in this time is not having a sense of normal—of home. I think we all, like Krestos Shamra, may be asking a similar question of the Lord: “Where is that home of mine, O Lord?” In the midst of uncertainty, I am encouraged that, like he did for Krestos Shamra, the Lord often provides a sense of calling, belonging, and home to his people, even as we traverse in between spaces.

While it can be disorienting to be placed in the space in between, it can also be a helpful reminder to love that which is the Lord’s rather than the world (1 John 2:15–17). I was born into a significant degree of in-betweenness, the child of a Black father and White mother in St. Louis, Missouri, the most segregated city in the US. There is a clear line cutting across the city, dividing Black and White. I grew up about a mile north of that line on the Black side, but attended school just south of the line on the White side. Every day, traveling just two miles, I toggled between two vastly different worlds. I was able to get into one of the best schools in the city and I avoided attending my local school, where all my neighborhood friends attended. While we had a strong camaraderie, my privileged education always created a degree of difference between my community and me.

Similarly, my upbringing in the hood and my vocation as a scholar of early Christianity often results in a feeling of being pulled in opposite directions. The guild of theological academia has consistently ignored and failed to serve the hood. Scholars are constantly pressured to teach, write, and administer in ways that are disconnected from the hood. I am especially grateful for my culturally disorienting childhood for giving me the ability to continue living in the in-between space of the hood and academia. A central aspect of my navigation of this in-betweenness is doing academics in a manner that prioritizes the hood. For example, the question of God’s existence—central in much of academic theological literature—is not as pertinent in the hood of the 21st century as, for example, the question of whether Christianity is a White man’s religion. While one could find the topic of the existence of God present in thousands of theological texts and course syllabi, one would be hard-pressed to find material regarding the role of race in the development of early Christian doctrine. Similarly, theological academia has produced little to answer the question of whether Black people are descended from biblical Hebrews, an active question in the hood today.

Centering the questions of the margins in academic research is one of the most effective ways to disinvest academic institutions in the maintenance of affluent intellectualism and reignite its usefulness for the well-being of the community. In a very real sense, engaging in patristic scholarship to answer questions about Christianity’s origins that are emerging from the hood is a continuation of my childhood practice of driving between the hood and the school in the rich, White neighborhood.

My favorite hood institution is the Hood Church. The Hood Church is the cornerstone of the community. When there is a need for a light bill to be paid, representation in the courtroom, or help filling out a job application, the Hood Church is the number one go-to. The Hood Church is one of the clearest expressions of the biblical gospel in the modern world; it is a place where the values of theological orthodoxy, biblical righteousness, and social justice are preached and lived holistically.

As I traverse the in-between, from the hood to theological academia, that theology of the margins, of the hood, is something that I have not seen reflected. When I first left the hood and entered the academy, I studied in White, evangelical institutions that articulated a commitment to a high view of Scripture but consistently demonstrated a low regard for social justice. I was constantly called a “liberal” for emphasizing biblical values of racial and economic justice. I, too, thought I was liberal—until I went to liberal schools. When I was at liberal schools, I was considered an archaic, uncritical remnant of a bygone theological worldview due to my commitment to the universal lordship of Jesus, the necessity of faith in him, and the Bible as his perfect Word.

I love the way the Hood Church defies the theological binary of liberal-conservative that has fragmented White theological academia. The Hood Church’s commitment to the authority of the Word of God and the universality of the gospel is equal to her commitment to justice and solidarity with the marginalized. However, this holistic, gospelist haymanot (“theology”) has largely been kept out of theological academia. Bouncing between conservative evangelical and liberal mainline spaces, I have continued to find myself in between the dominating theological ideologies that characterize academic institutions. Like Krestos Shamra, the Lord has called me to create a home for others who find themselves in this theological in-betweenness in the Meachum School of Haymanot, as well as its Society for Gospel Haymanot and the Haymanot Journal.

In addition to providing Black sacred space with the Meachum School of Haymanot, I have welcomed the invitation to teach at an institution like Fuller Theological Seminary, a historically White, evangelical institution that is taking serious steps toward reflecting the kingdom of Jesus and his evangel. Simultaneously working at a predominately White institution and at a Black institution is another level of in-betweenness for me. The work of diversity, inclusion, and justice has two indispensable, practical strategies: (1) predominately White institutions giving power to women and men of color, and (2) believers of all colors supporting institutions of color. Some of us may be called to one of these and some, like myself, may be called to both. Many people of color who work in predominately White spaces burn out, in part due to a lack of strong connections and support in institutions of color. In order to thrive in our work of inclusion, it is necessary to find safe spaces that can sustain us and with which we can build partnerships with dominant institutions. Again, it is in the back and forth between predominately White institutions and Black academic institutions that the Lord has made a home for me. Being a bridge-builder means making a home in the in-between.

As I mentioned above, I was born and raised in St. Louis. My family history goes back in St. Louis as far as we can trace it, and this community is a core aspect of my culture and identity. I have also been walking in fellowship with a multiethnic, economically diverse group of believers who are pursuing the beloved community vision we see in the New Testament (Acts 2:42–47; 4:32–37). When the Lord initially called me to teach at Fuller Texas, it made a lot of sense. The “in-betweenness” of Fuller’s commitment to the lordship of Jesus and the authority of Scripture, as well as the seminary’s dedication to pursuing biblical justice, women’s empowerment, and racial inclusion made it clear that Fuller’s was a vision that I could get behind.

The only cause for hesitation was the prospect of being removed from my hood in St. Louis. It wasn’t clear how the Lord was going to bring his call to serve my hood and his call to serve Fuller to fruition at the same time. However, as he always does, the Lord has made a way. Since joining the faculty at Fuller, my family and I have been “bi-locational,” living in both St. Louis and Houston. The literal, geographic in-betweenness has been a blessing to our family in many unexpected ways. While my wife and children share the same sense of communal connection to St. Louis, we have been blessed by the community of Houston. The greater degree of resources for homeschoolers of color as well as a significant representation of my wife’s Hispanic culture are some of the blessings that Houston has brought us. The ability to network with pastors and leaders in two major cities has also been a blessing in connecting with the realities and contexts of Fuller students. A poignant image of our in-betweenness is my family in our van on our monthly trip between St. Louis and Houston: doing homeschool work, grading papers, having phone meetings, eating dinner, watching a movie on the van TV, and playing spades—all in Spanglish.

An integral characteristic of what it means to be the church is to live as a people who testify to the kingdom of God in between his pouring out of his Spirit and our full redemption at his glorious return (Rom 8:23). Christians are in-between people: in between the Resurrection and the trumpet sound, in between the world and the kingdom, in between the peoples and the People. Yet we long for stability and safety. This is rooted in our yearning for the return of our Savior and the full realization of our sense of belonging and home that will come as a result (Phil 1:23; 2 Tim 4:8; 1 John 3:2).

I am just about done with this pandemic. I’m tired of wearing masks, of having to dodge people in public, and of not being able to worship together in God’s house. But alongside my lament and longing for the end of the pandemic, I am also encouraged to remember all the times the Lord has met me and created a sense of belonging and home for me in the in-between.

Vince Bantu

Vince L. Bantu joined the Fuller faculty as assistant professor of church history and Black church studies in 2019. Dr. Bantu teaches primarily on Fuller’s Houston campus, where he also serves as a liaison to the William E. Pannell Center for Black Church Studies. He holds an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a ThM from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a PhD in Semitic and Egyptian Languages from the Catholic University of America. He specializes in the history of African Christianity, and his research interests include racial reconciliation, non-Western Christianity, apologetics, community development, interfaith dialogue, and theological education in underresourced communities. He is the author of Gospel Haymanot: A Constructive Theology and Critical Reflection on African and Diasporic Christianity and A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global Identity.

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