Breaking Down Walls With Love: A Conversation With Patricia Raybon | Wycliffe Bible Translators

Breaking Down Walls With Love: A Conversation With Patricia Raybon

  • June 8, 2020
  • By: Beth Matheson
Patricia Raybon, an award-winning author and journalist, writes top-rated books that help believers move big mountains. A writer at Our Daily Bread Ministries, she encourages people in God’s Word, seeking to inspire his people to love God and each other.

Patricia Raybon has an easy laugh and gentle tone that belie her strength. Born and raised in an era and area that enforced racial segregation, Patricia could have allowed an antagonistic society to define and limit her; instead, she has anchored herself to Scripture and used her gifts to enable healing.

Patricia is an inspirational author and journalist who helps people break down relational walls using biblical principles; from her home near the Rocky Mountains, she discusses healing from racial trauma, navigating her daughter’s conversion to another religion and the joy of being part of God’s work to heal the world.

Naming the Lies

“I was practically born on pew, taken to church by my parents every Sunday of my life until I left for college,” Patricia reminisced with a chuckle. “I was raised on the stories and truth of the gospel, on the conquering power of God, the lives of Old Testament heroes, the world-changing acts of the disciples. Nothing in life has blessed me more than the Bible — and meeting the Lord in it. It’s the single most influential, valuable, priceless resource in my entire life.”

Although cushioned in a cocoon of faith at home, Patricia experienced a harsher reality in her Denver, Colorado community: systemic racism. “For a child, legal discrimination against you and your family is like getting kicked every day in the face.” Every time you leave your house, “some people openly show their hate and disdain for you. They openly close doors to you. They openly believe alarming lies about you and, by extension, lies about who God is because he made you.” 

This tension would have been difficult for anyone, but for a child it was crushing: “I didn’t quite have the words for what was happening. I just knew that people were alarmed by me, by the sight of me, by darker skin.” After her parents moved her family to the suburbs, some kids shunned her. “On the school bus, when I sat down, they climbed over seats to avoid sitting next to me,” Patricia said. “One of my teachers wouldn’t call on me in class and, when she did acknowledge me, she would call me ‘Nobody.’”

Patricia described the impact this treatment had on her impressionable heart: “I didn’t have the words to explain, ‘Oh, there’s something wrong with this paradigm.’ So instead I thought, as most targeted children, ‘Oh, there’s something wrong with me.’ And I have spent most of my life trying to prove to myself that I’m not bad, ugly, stupid, lazy, dirty, a fearful criminal — all the anti-Black things some people claim about [people of color].”

Cutting through the lies is exhausting work, Patricia says, but it’s made her even more grateful for a childhood immersed in Scripture. While working as a newspaper reporter in Denver and later teaching news reporting to college students, Patricia said: “I prayed my way through every day. The Lord has taught me since birth that I was his child and I was loved by him. To know that saved my sanity and my life.” 

Seeing the Fractures

Though Patricia chose to root herself in the truth of Scripture, she also desired to see societal change regarding race, beginning with her own family.

As Patricia gradually reconstructed forgotten pieces of her family’s story, she began to see just how deeply racism had fractured their foundation. Everything — from her parents’ roots in the segregated South to redlining policies that divided Black neighborhoods from white ones — bore the cruel marks of discrimination. 

“Even in your own home, [there] were family members who ... were wounded by it and didn’t know how to love each other well or to love themselves,” she explained. “The terror and horror of Jim Crow segregation is that it poisoned everything it touched, every part of your life.”

And to this day, there is still a deep divide for Patricia in the way that people view the past. “One of the struggles in our country,” she explained, “is that people have competing narratives of our nation’s history. Some people see America one way, and others of us see it a completely different way depending on what we’ve experienced.”

“Indeed it’s heartbreaking,” she said, “that the nation in many ways is still divided.”

Sharing the Truth

In spite of the walls racial discord has constructed, even within the church, Patricia believes that God is working to break down those walls and change his people: “He’s helping people to sit down together at the table and listen to one another’s stories and keep showing up.”

When we come to the table, we have a responsibility to share and receive truth, even when it’s uncomfortable — something Patricia has learned in her career: “As a writer who loves the Lord and reads the Bible, I take to heart the Lord’s command to Joshua: ‘Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go,’ [Joshua 1:9b, NLT]. So in my writing, my marching orders are two things: show truth and courage.”

After the publication of her first book, “My First White Friend,” Patricia quickly realized she wasn’t just writing for her own understanding. “Writing is about giving your story away — to call forth the stories of other people and their lives,” she stated. “Our truthful, courageous writing gives people permission to tell their own truth.”

“I didn’t understand that my writing is a ministry,” Patricia admitted. “I thought it [was] about making an editor’s deadline. But in recent years the Lord has helped me see that it’s vital, uplifting work — as valuable to the work of the kingdom as ‘hands-on’ ministry.”

Bringing It Home

Writing for global ministries hasn’t excused Patricia from having to practice truth and courage in her own household. When Patricia’s daughter Alana was in college, Alana announced she was converting to another religion: “I felt like a failure as a Christian and as a mother,” Patricia said. “[Alana] and I locked ourselves in a power struggle, fighting across two faiths and we stayed there for years.”

Immense pain held Patricia captive until she finally began to name what she was actually feeling — a deep grief. “I’d thought grief was something that happened when somebody physically died. I didn’t know that when dreams die, the death of that dream can feel just as traumatizing as the other kind of grief and loss. I had a dream in my head of the kind of life I was building with my family and it didn’t come true.”

Letting go of her dreams for Alana also meant letting go of control in their relationship. As Patricia prayed, she felt the Lord telling her to love her daughter, enjoy what they do have in common and trust him with the rest. “The Lord has helped me engage with those parts of who she is and let me release the faith part to him,” Patricia said. Patricia and Alana even co-wrote a book called “Undivided” which takes an honest, emotionally raw look at their journey toward peace.

One other benefit? “Learning to give up control to God in all my relationships, and praying to God with hope,” just as Patricia and her husband, Dan, actively pray to God for Alana’s salvation. “The command to pray for all remains,” she said.  

church and cross

Obey and Serve

As Patricia uses her writing to draw people to the Lord — and to each other — she anchors herself in specific Bible verses as daily reminders that her role is to obey God and serve people. An award-winning author, Patricia confesses that envy for other authors’ successes led her to Galatians 6:4: “Pay careful attention to your own work, and then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else” (NLT). That freedom from comparison now empowers Patricia to follow through with 2 Timothy 4:5b: “Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you” (NLT).

Patricia is able to do this with joy, even in times of great anxiety and crisis, because she knows her work belongs to God. When she’s feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities, questions or current events, she often looks up to Colorado’s “big sky” — comforted by God’s creation, a reminder that her Creator is always in control and still at work in the world.

And one of the greatest things God is doing is sending his Word out to every corner of the earth. Patricia wants to make sure that those who are still waiting to hear the gospel know that they, too, have a place at the table through a relationship with Jesus. 

“All people deserve to have access to God’s Word — and to meet the Lord in it,” she passionately declared. “Everybody deserves that rampart, the strength of the Word, to guard their hearts and their minds and their souls and their strength and their bodies during ordinary times, but certainly during times like these.”

Patricia feels so passionate about Scripture that she regularly gives to Wycliffe Bible Translators: “I don’t always know how the Lord uses my humble gifts, big or small; I just know that he’s using [them] to open the Word to people for his glory — and to build peace in the world. It’s exciting to me, what Wycliffe is doing, and I feel privileged and amazed to be part of it.”

“That mountain-moving, healing, life-saving Word — everybody deserves to hear it now. I know without it, I’d be lost and without him, I’d be hopeless. The work of sharing the Lord with others and letting him break down our walls is vital, and God’s in it,” Patricia concluded with enthusiastic assurance. “We do our best and by his Spirit, he’s completing the work.”

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