Last week, the world lost one of its most powerful and needed voices for truth. Rachel Held Evans gained prominence as a progressive Christian blogger, author, and speaker who abandoned evangelicalism and invited Jesus-followers to make room for questions and uncertainty in their faith. She was a champion for the voiceless and marginalized, advocating for representation in the church, elevating the voices of women and minorities — especially black women — and LGBTQ+ persons, and challenging unjust traditions and the people who uphold them. On May 4, 2019, Rachel died at age 37 following complications from an infection. She leaves behind her devoted husband, Dan, two children ages 3 and almost 1, and thousands upon thousands of heartbroken followers who were inspired, challenged, and cared for by her work. Many of us at Engaged Pentecostalism have been moved by RHE, as she is affectionately called by her fans, and as we all mourn, Summer shares her story below:
I’m not sure where to start. Others have written so eloquently about you, and have given such amazing testimonies of how you have changed their lives dramatically, and encouraged them so beautifully.
You’ve done these things for me as well. But, I’m just a normal girl. I’m a stay-at-home mom; my days are full of diapers and soccer practice. On Sundays we go to church, as I have my entire life.
My life is fairly mundane, and my testimony isn’t ritzy, but you’re part of it. You’re a big reason why I still go to church and am okay with taking my kids to Sunday school.
Without you, I would have left it all behind.
Because of you, your blogs, your books, and your social media presence, I still have my relationship with Jesus intact. I’ve been able to wrestle with questions of my faith instead of leaving them by the wayside and starting a different kind of life. I’m still here because of you.
You see, much like you, I was deep in evangelical Christian conservative culture. I went to a Christian school, and my extracurricular activities included going to youth group on Wednesday nights, plus whatever service projects my youth group would do on the weekends.
I went to a discipleship program after high school where I studied the scriptures, learned how to preach, and memorized 300 bible verses. (Don’t ask me to recite them now, though, because I would likely fail.)
I was the prime “good Christian”. If you could rate Christians on how “real” or “good” they are, then I would have been a solid 10. Never cussed, never drank, never did drugs or messed around with boys. I just focused on Bible verses and my dreams of becoming a missionary.
I did become a missionary after my discipleship program. I had the opportunity to serve a missions organization for 6 months in Thailand working with sex workers: a task I was vastly underprepared to take on and grossly uneducated to do.
While I was in Thailand, I began to see things start to unravel in my faith. Things weren’t adding up. When I reached out to my spiritual leaders, they seemed to be saying that the problem was me.
Upon returning home to the States, my faith was completely compromised. Nothing made sense, nothing added up. Nothing seemed right, or just, or fair, or true. And it wasn’t affecting just my faith, but my entire outlook on life. Even after meeting and talking with pastors, I would fantasize about suicide, how that would be easier than facing the hurricane of questions that constantly whirled around me.
By the grace of God I lived through that season, got married, and even had a couple kids.
Then Trump happened.
Even then I still identified as a conservative, Republican Christian, but the 2016 elections brought up many of the questions I still had and revealed inconsistencies with what I thought Christianity was all about. I was again perplexed and feeling so alone in my questions, doubts, and anger at the current climate.
I was able to find a few people who understood my frustration and shared with me their own. They told me about you, Rachel. They held my hand and led me to your blog, and then again to your book, Searching for Sunday.
Rachel, your words were like balm to my ever-thirsty, dry and weary soul. They were the reassurance I needed to know that even though Christians can be terrible, JESUS is not. And we cannot intertwine the two.
I found solace in your writing. I felt comforted, empowered, and close to Jesus for the first time in years. I felt like maybe this Christian journey could actually be a real relationship — complete with questions, anger, arguments, growth, and comfort all included — a real, genuine relationship! Not just a dictatorship where my allegiance is required with no questions asked.
Rachel, you let me breathe again. You helped me live. You empowered me to seek change in the church for the sake of the gospel.
And for that, I am forever grateful.
I have weeped for days after hearing of your passing. Although I never met you personally, your written words have given me a place to feel safe, heard, and understood. They have been like the hug from a friend I so desperately needed at my most vulnerable times in life.
You were my friend. And I will never think otherwise.
Rest In Peace, my friend.
Well done, Good and Faithful Servant.
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.