God uses these rough periods in the lives of His children to make us pure, holy, beautiful and perfect, following in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who, “though He was a son, learned obedience from what He suffered” (Hebrews 4:8).
I am learning in a very painful way at times, to stop struggling to climb out of situations, especially emotional conflicts, for if “in bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 3:10), then I will “not be surprised at the painful trial that I am suffering, as though something strange were happening to me, but I will rejoice that I participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that I may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed” (adaptation of 1Peter 4:12-13).
I remember a happy childhood for I was securely involved in my carefree environment. I came from a family that was full of love and material possessions. My parents, of East Indian origin, were both Hindus of the Brahmin caste. My mother was the first one in our family to be converted to Christianity by a local Christian and grew in faith when missionaries brought the gospel to our home. In fact, this mission, World Team, held their first church meetings at our home. My father was converted several years later, an answer to the faithful prayers of his wonderful wife. Disillusioned by the lifestyle of the Hindu leaders in his family, my father had never hindered his wife or young children from attending the Christian meetings before his late conversion.
I heard someone justify this and say, “We must avoid jealousy and carnality among the native leaders.” I felt strangely uncomfortable after hearing this statement for it somehow offended my sense of ethics. After all, was “jealousy and carnality” characteristic only of the native peoples? Was this not common to mankind generally? Were missionaries not also threatened when someone seemed capable of usurping their positions of power and authority, positions which they could never achieve back in their native North America?
When I was twenty, my parents decided to send me to Toronto, Canada, to pursue education in Business Administration. One of the first questions Canadians ask me is, “Why Canada?” I guess because we had family friends living here is one of the reasons. Also, it was in naïve trust that they sent me to this “land of opportunity” fully believing that I would be well taken care of especially if I found a good church. After all, they had no reason to believe otherwise. They loved me, our family was well respected in Trinidad and I was always made to feel special. So maybe they assumed that everyone else would feel the same. They were totally ignorant of the fact of culture shock and subtle institutional racism that I would encounter in both school and churches.
I saw their attitudes as faith without love, reminiscent of the missionary attitudes. The church that I was attending was huge and I felt small and insignificant as no one noticed my need and cry for fellowship. The facts that I was a non-aggressive person, a tiny person, a young woman, an East-Indian woman, all seemed to contribute to my being overlooked.
Unknowingly, I had got an apartment in a ‘bad’ area of our city or so the media propagated. Suddenly I felt humiliated. God was now teaching me how life on the other side felt. Now more than ever, I felt the snobbery and stereotyping of the sheltered complacent middle class Christian. Now more than ever I saw how God’s message was being distorted and badly misrepresented to the underprivileged. Imagine Christ suggesting that I attend another church where I would find the suitable race or class!
I discovered that I had always assumed that darker-complexioned people would find me more attractive or desirable than a darker-skinned person. When this did not happen, I was genuinely confused. I realize how much we are socialized in our colonial upbringing to indirect subtle racism, the most hurtful kind.
But how could I judge others?
God was teaching me to understand these hurtful attitudes through my own attitudes. So my sensitivity grew as I began to see and know myself. Around this time I was also slowly beginning to withdraw from any place where I would experience any form of paternalism, rejection or condescension.
In a goal-oriented society, the church seems to place stress on “doing things for Christ”. Once, in a group where introductions were being made, I heard everyone saying their name, field of study, future career goal, country of origin etc. until the turn of an African student came. She simply said, “My name is ___, and Jesus is my Lord.” I was stunned and ashamed and rejoicing at the same time. This dear sister simply mouthed words that held eternal value. What a lesson I learned!
Our words are a reflection of our values.
On another occasion I heard a young lady proudly telling a group of visitors, “…we brought him here, you know..”. It is no wonder that we often felt like specimens. Whenever there was a focus on missions, I saw people suddenly looking at me with that “good-cause-in-life” look, obviously trying to let me know how much they wanted to do for people like myself. Every word that came out of my mouth, like my name and address, were all equally incredibly “interesting” or “fascinating”. Since I knew that I was merely giving dull statistics I saw their responses as somehow contrived and artificial and it hurt!
I learnt the lesson that when we befriend to convert using the “how-to’s”, we do not see the person as an individual like ourselves. Only a few people could be natural with me whether that was shy, moody, nervous, etc.. It seemed that the others thought that they must be a friendly missionary example to the brown person. Here there was a slight fragrance of patronizing and condescension.
However, back in Canada even though I knew I was equal, I was not treated as such and often felt I had to prove myself in some way superior to be noticed or accepted.
You know, I am simply amazed at how many “how to” messages I hear, e.g., how to witness…how to pray…how to get to know God…how to treat international students…etc. The western world seems to love conformity and thrive on methods or external rules. It makes life a lot easier for us. For by following these ready-made conditions, we are easily seen or recognized as “Christian”, whether mature or committed etc.. But this bypasses an important stage in the Christian walk, the humbling process, the painful exposure of our true selves, the suffering of knowing God in an intensely personal relationship and Him knowing you. We are robbed of the necessity of being sensitive to the Holy Spirit for guidance on different situations.
Did Christ have set methods for witnessing? Not at all, I daresay, because each individual He shared with was different, unique and He met each one at his or her need. However, this “be-attitude” requires a change of the internal, a painful cleansing and breaking and surrendering of the old nature, the “self”.
It is simpler to follow the impersonal textbook rather than to be under the eye of the personal Teacher Himself who sees the true condition of the heart. This is the true cost of discipleship.
To all Canadians I showed my who-needs-you attitude. I felt comfortable and accepted among the international students that I met at university. Here I could play the guitar and sing without the fear that I was being evaluated for the correct tone or pitch. Here sincerity and the sharing of a message was the all important issue. If you placed one Canadian among us in whose attitude I sensed the let-me-show-you-how-it-should-be-done-correctly attitude, I became mute. And so I became increasingly cold and withdrawn from Canadians.
After all, I was a poor victim of prejudice.
But if you are a true child of God, you know that this cannot go on indefinitely. You see, I have a loving but HOLY Father Whom I was daring to represent very unworthily and I had just sung a chorus, "Cause me to come to Thy river, O Lord..."
Knowing more than anyone else of my deep need for security and belonging, God decided to teach me the hardest lesson I have ever had to take. He abruptly removed physically and emotionally the deepest source of that security and belonging that I had here in Canada.
My whole world, my whole security was suddenly shattered. It was, I knew, the worst thing that could have happened to me.
Numbly, with eyes clouded with pain, I looked up to God and simply said, "For You to allow such a thing to occur, there must be some constructive or instructive reason. Teach me."
This attitude stayed with me through many crises since then. That night I realized fully my call to service to a Holy God and the importance of being worthy of that calling. God's holiness rained down upon a tender, wounded heart and exposed the unChristlike deeds and attitudes. I saw clearly that I had dared to play word games with and about the Holy, omnipotent God.
God was actually asking me, "Do you think that I love you more than my Canadian children?" In a flash I realized that subconsciously I had thought so since I believed that my sense of ethics was higher, but at the same time, He also said, "Who do you think you are?"
His love shows no favouritism regardless of the sin committed. I was equally wrong and He loved my Canadian brothers and sisters. He would forgive me I learned how to forgive them. He had forgiven them and me. Who was I not wanting to forgive? In Matthew 6:14-15, it says "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
I spoke to a Dean at the Bible college and I was deeply touched when with tears in his eyes, he thanked me for sharing and wished that more international students would share how they were hurting.
I now saw that in many cases where I had assumed a racist attitude, it was merely an insensitive display of ignorance, and by not sharing but rather storing the hurt inside, I was building walls. Christ's message breaks down the walls!
I also started obeying the command to fellowship with other believers, with the other parts of the family of God, namely the Canadian believers. I am no longer concerned about 'fitting in' for I am a heavenly citizen and my 'home' is wherever He has chosen to place me at any point in time.
There has sprung up in me tremendous righteous indignation and courage to speak out and defend that Name which I bear, whether it is in the Christian or the secular world. I will be held accountable and responsible for upholding that Name as an ambassador of Christ Jesus here on earth. What a privilege!
For this reason, I see it very important that missions must be cleansed of its cultural and legalistic and denominational trappings. [It seems that each denomination thinks it has the corner on the truth!] God's message to mankind must be clear. It matters not your academic or denominational accreditation. What matters is your call to service and your willing heart in tune with the Holy Spirit, loving and caring as Christ so beautifully set the example.
(written by a friend of my brother whose name he can't remember)