Friday, 17 March 2017

Colourful People made by a Colourful Creator

Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. ~ Acts 10:34-35

... and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation ~ Acts 17:26

Many years ago, while my husband and I were selling sourdough loaves at the local Bistro, a woman came to our table with an olive-skinned, wide-eyed child on her hip. We started talking, the smell of fresh bread like a comforting hug between us. She spoke with a slight guttural accent, reminding me of the way my father formed his words.  We became friends.  I guess it was the European connection that drew us together at first, with us both being so far removed from our “roots”.  She now lives down a dusty potholed road.  In the middle of what a lot of people would classify as “nowhere”.  But to her it is somewhere. It is home.  Home between heart sisters and friends, who may not share her skin colour, but have become her family.  Her name lies softly on your tongue, like the flowing language of my own parent’s place of birth. The small country she left behind for Africa, is nestled into a curve on the Southern border of the Netherlands.  As a young woman living in Europe, with Africa still just an evocative image of ochre and sun in her mind's eye, she fell in love with a young man. He had a disarming smile and a heart for people.  He spoke her language with a distinctive accent.  For his Mother tongue was a Bantu language with click consonants.  Her family did not approve at first. Her mother especially was deeply concerned that their union would cause her daughter much hurt.  But they respected her choice. When the decision was made and the time came for the couple to return to his homeland, her family sent them off with constrained grief and a hidden dread.

They bought a wild, wide tract of land from the tribal Chief, a place that causes your eyes to narrow and reach far over the planes, up and into the mountains standing sentinel in a half moon. All for the price of a bag of groceries or a crate of beer. Just opposite the road lay an established settlement, a typical rural village with its motley collection of dogs, corn growing verdant in their gardens, kraals for ceremonies, old folks on rickety furniture or leaning on cranes as crooked as their spines. A sweet little school for the children. A sangoma is firmly established as the one to fulfil different social and political roles in the community, including divination, healing of physical, emotional and spiritual illnesses, directing birth or death rituals, finding lost cattle, protecting people against rivals, counteracting witches, communicating with the ancestors, and narrating the history, cosmology and myths of their tradition.

With much enthusiasm they started setting down roots. Became parents of two beautiful children. They shared a dream of making a marked and lasting difference in the local community they lived in. A hope to uplift the standard of living, education, infrastructure. Much has been invested into the children, the new generation to whom everyone looks with hope to overcome and shed the yoke of segregation and poverty. In a sense, they have begun to fulfil this dream. But deep down - the hearts of the people have not changed.

The local people mostly embrace her into their community. She is their sister, a mother among many. Children run and play freely and are welcomed everywhere. They are raised and cared for by everyone in the village. Little ones are like pearls among them, the strings worn, adored and cherished.

Her husband's choice was nonetheless met with suspicion. It has made him somewhat of an outsider among his people. His willingness to serve is often taken for granted, rather than valued.  It is naturally assumed that where there is a white person, there is affluence, bringing with it the responsibility to share.

The theme of their story is not exclusive. While it is true that actions speak louder than words, even the most honourable actions are not guaranteed to change people’s hearts. The race I belong to, the country of my birth, my vocation or station in life, social status etc. – these “things” will continue to influence the way most people perceive or treat each other, regardless of what they say. Unless - there is a renewal of the mind and heart.

This only God can do.

When I found my own worth in Jesus, it firstly changed the way I viewed myself. At first I was devastated by what I saw. I saw my pride, my misplaced bitterness about the past, my judgement, my accumulated debt of sin, heaped up accusingly before me. But then I was shown another image. That mountain of debt was placed on the shoulders of Jesus as He - King of the Jews (his race), hung on a cursed cross for all to spit on, torture and mock. And as He lifted his anguished face up to heaven and cried: "It is done", it had been done for me. He was buried in a sealed tomb, with all my sin, shame - all the weight of my fallen state before my heavenly Father removed.

The risen glorified Christ walked lightly out of the tomb. The weight of the sin of mankind buried. My freedom to be who I am and to live for the purpose I was made, bought at the dearest price. To bring glory to Him, to imitate Him, follow Him. To radiate the very light He brought into the world on the first day of creation, for all to see.

I have always loved colour. Colour in fabrics, textures, the hues of the land that surrounds me. Ever changing, never insipid. And the liberal variation of melanin pigment in a myriad of people who walk the earth - each so startlingly unique... 

The freedom in my own identity has mercifully not made me colour blind - it has enhanced the vibrancy with which each living thing hums. I am aware (sometimes painfully) of the privilege of having a white skin. But I am not ashamed of it. It is part of my purpose, my beauty and perfection in Christ. I do not believe in pitying people of a different skin colour, race or creed. They have been fearfully and wonderfully made according to God's plan. No mistake there. The mistake is in assuming to know what they need or want. God shows needs best. I am learning the hard way, that my good intentions are often hollow actions performed with the misplaced need to be charitable or worse: to sooth away guilt over being white.

Even with all my "whiteness" - I grew up knowing that I was “different”. That my family were different. Weird. Unusual. Not because I looked unlike other children. But because I was treated differently.  I was a “kaaskop”. (Literally translated – “cheese head”. A slightly derogatory name for people coming from the Netherlands.) Which carried with it a kind of a stigma. Nothing rational, just a distrust of what was not the “norm”. Xenophobia – if you’d like to give it a name.

After almost four decades of a seemingly mis-spent life, it mercifully stopped having a bearing on the way I see myself.  I found that once I could love, like and accept the woman in the mirror, I could do the same with the people around me. If we could weave a pattern of every mind boggling human facet, containing the image of God -  what a tapestry that would be! 

I have come to truly love people. Not in the sense that I want to be around them, rub shoulders and probe their fascinating beings and doings all the time. I cherish our remoteness. I appreciate the natural occasional brushes with other mountain dwellers that this life-style affords. The freedom to still stop my car and offer a ride to workers and wanderers at the roadside without fear. And (at times) to enjoy the intimacy those moments afford, with someone I would otherwise not be likely to have a conversation. I welcome the weekly arrival of the gentle, comely Xhosa woman who uncomplainingly cleans our cabin. Not only for that reason. I have found to my surprise that I have come to love her, and not only because she gets rid of the dust and dirt and dog hair in our home... I want to share my freedom with her - show her the peace of heaven I carry inside me.  The lanky, easy going man who helps us tame the piece of wilderness we live on, makes me smile inside. He is so refreshingly unaffected, so full of willingness and acquiescence. I long for the day that he may walk free of the superstition and false believes which hold sway over his life.

I do still have trouble liking some people, but I have not doubt that there are quite a few individuals who feel the same about me!

As for all our wonderful diversity - we were made by One loving Creator God through Christ Jesus. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." (John 1:1-3). His children. Breathed on with His love. Children He longs for – continuously. Acceptable - because of what He did on the cross. Requiring nothing else, but repentant hearts and acceptance of Him as a personal Saviour.

Jesus, given his embedded Jewish culture, could not be colour blind. And neither should we. God created ethnicity and the various national cultures of the world. But human beings invented "race". "Whites", "blacks", "Asian", "Indians", etc. are the product of imperialism and colonisation. Europeans created "whiteness" and "race". Colour  "blindness" ignores the beauty of God's cultural diversity.

By God’s design, you are valuable and uniquely reflect who He is to the world.

Your ethnic background is not an accident. God gave it to you. You may carry your “uniqueness” into eternity.

Just look at this amazing glimpse given to us in Revelation 7: 9-10:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they all cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb

What a picture! What a promise! And each of us fits beautifully into that magnificent masterpiece. Not because of the way we were made. 
But for what God intended us to be.