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Reconciliation Studies Professor Receives Illumination Book Awards Gold Medal

Bethel University Associate Professor and Program Director of Reconciliation Studies Claudia May was recently honored for her children's book When I Fly With Papa, which explores the emotional freedom individuals and communities can experience with God.

By Jenny Hudalla '15, senior content specialist

February 12, 2019 | 10 a.m.

Study sociology and reconciliation studies at Bethel University.

Claudia May is a sought-after specialist in reconciliation studies and has more than two decades of experience working alongside, teaching, and learning from global and national practitioners in the field.

On January 21—Martin Luther King Jr. Day—Associate Professor and Program Director of Reconciliation Studies Claudia May received the Illumination Book Awards Enduring Light gold medal for her recent book When I Fly With Papa. The publication, which won in the Christian Children's Book category, follows the story of a young black girl named Winnie, whose relationship with the God she calls Papa empowers her to live with remarkable love, curiosity, and bravery.

“I could hardly speak when I saw my name and book in the gold medal slot,” says May, who started at Bethel in 2015. “I thanked God, and I could not wait to thank those who supported me through the process of bringing my book to publication.” 

The first in a series that will chronicle Winnie’s embodiment of emotional freedom through her relationship with God, When I Fly With Papa is among the few Christian children’s books written and illustrated by black women who place a black girl at the center of a faith narrative. Since the book was published, May has heard countless stories about the ways it has touched readers from all walks of life.

In one instance, the book was given to a European American foster mother who was caring for children of color—largely because their biological mother could not secure affordable housing. The children asked her to read May’s book to them several times a day while they lived in her home. “Their courage to feel and voice their needs in the midst of adversity humbles me,” May says. “These children are my teachers.”

"I wanted children and those who read alongside them to engage with the limitless possibilities that come with sharing all their emotions, concerns, and experiences with God."

— Claudia May, associate professor and program director of reconciliation studies

With more than 20 years of experience in higher education, May has seen firsthand the challenges faced by young people to be fully themselves in many Christian settings—and she hopes her book will set them on a different, more freeing path. “They feel they have to hide part or all of themselves when they participate in faith communities,” May says. “They learn to share palatable emotions with others and suppress their struggles so they can be accepted or be embraced as a good Christian. I wanted children and those who read alongside them to engage with the limitless possibilities that come with sharing all their emotions, concerns, and experiences with God.”

The award puts May in the company of celebrated Christian author Sarah Young, renowned South African theologian and human rights activist Desmond Tutu, and Pope Francis, who received a gold medal last year for his book The Works of Mercy. Created in 2014, the annual Illumination Book Awards are designed to honor and recognize the best Christian titles of the year. The Enduring Light medals “reward exemplary Christian-themed books” published since 2000.

“[This accomplishment] means the world on so many different levels,” May says. “That children, young and old, can discover or deepen how to experience emotional freedom with God through my book delights me. The reception of this book has astounded me. The first time a little girl read my book, she created a song for each movement of my poem. Without any instruction or encouragement, she sang the words on each page. That’s creative and relational freedom. There is no end to how we can encounter God.”

Explore your own faith.

Journey alongside Winnie as she embraces emotional freedom with God. Copies of When I Fly With Papa can be purchased via May's website. 

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