Testimonios: The power of faith stories shared in community

Jennifer A. Guerra Aldana Image Jennifer A. Guerra Aldana | Aug 26, 2021

It finally happened: I got a text inviting me to a gathering.

I felt a rush of both glee and panic course through my body. As a raging extrovert, I had deeply missed gatherings throughout the pandemic. For months, conversations had been facilitated through screens and snail mail. Most of those interactions began with some level of acknowledgement that it would be SO much better if we were in person. Part of me had gone dormant without in-person gatherings and I was so eager for that part of myself to see the light of day again.

On the other hand, I felt a rising sense of panic. I would have to make small talk again. I would have to step into conversations I had avoided, dynamics in friendships that had gone untapped. During the months of working from home and interacting with a small group of people, I had become accustomed to sharing life with those who, for the most part, thought like me, watched similar shows on Netflix, agreed with me, and saw the world as I saw it. I had enjoyed the echo chamber of perspective that had accompanied me. Here it was, an invitation out.

Maybe you can relate.

Congregations have masked up and started to gather in person, small groups have resumed, youth group outings have started to take place. Families have returned to worship in the same space again. You may also be feeling a combination of glee and panic. These are indeed unprecedented times. Good thing we follow a God who specializes in walking with us—from the chaos of creation to the chaos of 2020 and today. As we emerge to interact with others more regularly again, there is an important practice for us to engage in, perhaps especially now: Testimonios.

A testimonio is a story shared in community that holds truth about who God is, who we are as a people, and what we are called to do. Theologian Elizabeth Conde-Frazier describes testimonios as “public faith stories.”[1] In my experience growing up in the Latina immigrant church, testimonios were offered during worship services, over a meal, and during fellowship. There was always space for someone to share. Testimonios were always welcomed and encouraged. At every Sunday worship gathering, there was at least one testimonio. Every convivio[2] was laced with stories.

Testimonios offer us a window into someone's reality, allowing the rest of us to see the world from their perspective. They invited each of us to listen to what life was like for our neighbor. They were not always formally scheduled as part of the worship gathering on Sundays, sharing stories was simply a part of the gathering culture. A gathering without a diversity of stories would be incomplete.

As a teenager, it stood out to me that testimonios were often led by women. While the formal leadership and preaching spaces in the local church were often occupied by men, it was the women who often storied the people of God. The women would take the things I knew about God in my head and give them flesh, heart, spirit, and a texture I had never seen before.

Testimonios would often describe a truth I was not ready to hear—like stories of forgiveness and reconciliation.

They were challenging, raw, and sometimes uncomfortable. The testimonios I still carry with me are filled with stories of survival and resilience. The immigrant community I grew up with was often a recipient of oppressive systems, and they met said systems with wisdom and shrewdness. Navigating these systems also meant that many of us walked around with limited emotional capacity for our own family and friendships. The stories shared frequently exposed those pain points and made them known so that others in the community would know how to come alongside.

Testimonios challenged uniformity.

No matter what I picked up at school, every Sunday I would be reminded that to be Brown is to be beautiful, to be Brown is to be strong, to be bilingual is a strength, to be a woman is a gift, to be an immigrant means to understand how God moves; and so listening to these stories cemented who I am. Testimonios storied my experience so I would not feel like an outsider, and it gave me a sense of confidence. It was the one place I didn’t have to question if I could show up as myself. Every story was unique, and therefore made a way for the uniqueness of others to also be celebrated.

Testimonios pointed to Emanuel: God with us.

There isn’t a testimonio I can remember that ended without an acknowledgment that God was indeed present—even though it did not always feel that way. Even though that prayer request had not been answered, even though the struggle felt too hard to carry, there was always a communal affirmation that God was in it with us—not as a way to ignore the lived reality, but to change our interaction with it.

How we listen matters.

As we emerge from our Covid bubbles and begin to cautiously gather, we will need to be storied again. We will need testimonios. This kind of storytelling requires vulnerability and empathy. So, as you think about your ministry this fall, where can you infuse spaces in your congregation with invitations to share stories? Not the ones that gloss over what life is really like, but the ones that invite others to share in their human condition. How often is the microphone extended to the marginalized voices in your community to share their lived experiences? Where do the people of God get reminded that God is with them? How can testimonios become a part of your gatherings?

Tweet this: Where can you infuse spaces in your congregation with invitations to share stories? Learn more about the power of stories shared in community today at the Fuller Youth Institute.
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Photo by Nathan Mullet

[1] Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, “Doing Theology,” Common Ground Journal, Issue 1 (2). ISSN: 15479129, commongroundjournal.org.

[2] Spanish for “church potluck.”

Jennifer A. Guerra Aldana Image
Jennifer A. Guerra Aldana

Jennifer A. Guerra Aldana, originally from Guatemala, grew up in Southern California as the daughter of church planters. Jennifer received her B.A in Social Work at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) and worked with various populations in San Diego County. She has pastored in bilingual, intergenerational, and intercultural ministries and earned her Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. She has led research projects and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at Fuller Youth Institute. She is the author of several pastoral toolkits, blogs, and academic publications. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Higher Education from Azusa Pacific University and is a professor in the School of Theology at PLNU. Her passions include borderland conversations, intercultural youth spiritual formation, bilingual ministries, and theological education for the Latina community.

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