“Heavenly Voices” shows the sorrow and joy of Mennonite women of color through song and speech.
“Heavenly Voices,” a play written by Goshen College professor Pat Lehman, has made an impact on both its audience members and the women involved in its production.
“Heavenly Voices” grew out of the Mennonite Woman of Color Oral History Project. From 2000-06, Lehman and her colleague Linda Christophel traveled across the United States interviewing Mennonite women of color about their experiences with racism in their communities, both in and out of church.
Lehman and Christophel both come from bi-racial and multicultural families, and their own experiences with racism and discrimination spurred them on to hear the stories of other women.
The stories they heard were not only stories of struggle but also of God’s faithfulness, encouraged by the joys and the sorrows that all women share. This is what makes the experience so powerful for people who watch the play, and why Lehman is so passionate about the project.
“It’s encouraging because the stories are relevant,” Lehman said. “Everyone experiences joy and sorrow and so these are really everyone’s stories.”
In 2006, Lehman and Christophel completed a video called “Living Water, Living Faith,” which shared the stories of 40 women, and later Lehman wrote “Heavenly Voices.”
“The name comes from several places, really,” Lehman explained.
The play does take place in heaven, where the women are conversing, but Lehman also heard a quartet of women sing at a church in Alabama on a Native American reservation that had the name Heavenly Voices.
The play itself spans four acts of the women reminiscing on their childhood as they are gathered in heaven. Their conversation focuses on how they came to the church and their Mennonite background, realizing the hard times they had in their lives.
A number of women, all alumni, faculty, staff or students of Goshen College, portray the stories of ten different women throughout the play. The actresses came to be involved in a variety of ways, including invitation and word of mouth.
Hillary Harder, a senior, became involved with “Heavenly Voices” when Lehman, her Oral Communications professor at the time, asked her to join.
“I have so valued learning the stories of these women–they’re about the funny, tragic, miraculous things in life, but they’re also about the everyday details that can only belong to true stories,” Harder said.
The play has been performed several times, including at the Mennonite Convention in Phoenix in the summer of 2013, and more recently at Hesston College’s Homecoming this past weekend, the theme of which was “Celebrating Diversity.”
The group has received support from the Goshen city community, Waterford Mennonite Church and Goshen College, which has allowed them to travel and make contact with others who would like to be involved and support the project.
This next weekend “Heavenly Voices” will be performed at Sarasota Christian School, to continue sharing stories of women that, really, are all of our stories.