“Who are you?” I ask my daughter Amani (6) and my son Tele (3) each morning when they wake up, and again right before bed. “A child of God, loved and cherished!”, they respond. “That’s right, and never forget that,” I tell them. I want my children growing up hearing from someone that deeply loves them the truth about who they are. I want that same thing for our students and families we work with at eduKenya. Identity can be a fickle thing. We can identify by skin pigmentation, tribe, family, socio-economic status, and nationality and make snap judgements about who people are. This past weekend anger and frustration over not just one event, but years of fear and injustice spilled over. It is an issue of the collective heart. Throughout the history of humanity, we have unwisely sought to use descriptive characteristics to define people. In the United States, for the last 300 years, while there has been an ebb and flow of improvement from slavery to the present, we still find ourselves dealing with fundamental issues of fear and injustice because of physical characteristics of human beings. Imagine this for a moment. You have A+ blood, your neighbor has O- blood, and the neighbor on the other side has B+ blood. We cannot see any difference, but we find out each other’s blood type, and begin to define each other by blood type, making generalizations about the B+ blood types, allowing this biological difference to define the hearts, minds and character of one another. By using skin pigmentation, we have essentially done the same in this country for the last 300 years. We have let injustice use a descriptive characteristic as a defining characteristic and made judgements of hearts, minds and character based on what should be a minor biological trait. Speaking to the church at Corinth, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, each one of you is a part of it.” You see, what defines us is our identity as children of God, and what brings beauty to the body of Christ is the unique characteristics that make up each one of us. My wife, Njeri, is Kenyan and my children are a beautiful mix of us. My daughter has innocently said over the years, as we snuggle together as a family, “Mommy has brown skin, Tele and I have caramel skin and Daddy has pinkish skin.” Then we talk about the beauty of our diversity together, and that our appearance isn’t what defines us, God does that.
We seem to be in a bit of an echo chamber right now, either trying to justify our thoughts and ideas, others begging to be heard, and others seeking to be disassociated with racism, privilege, bigotry and the like. Our knee jerk response, while temporarily satisfying, may yield the same results that we have continued to see in our history all too often: an outcry, momentum and then back to life as normal. We speak loudly and we post on social media. We talk of injustice, inequality and even promote a level of self hate. We continue to adhere to this age-old social construct that dehumanizes us into categories of skin tone. These are categories that tell you way too little about someone. We need to acknowledge and deal with the prejudice brought on by these outdated social constructs and re-educate ourselves to an identity that is defined by being the image bearers of God. While I understand that brown skin right now represents modern historical injustice at the hands of people with white skin, we also need to forge a way forward that is grounded in unity. That unity is found in the person of Christ. We are all sinners in need of grace and mercy, and must be intentional to help everyone genuinely feel that they are, in fact, a child of God loved and cherished.
We are called as a people to repair and restore (Isaiah 58). As I think about my children, I want them to grow up and define themselves by the Truth – that they are children of God, loved and cherished. I want them to speak into injustice, and be a person that doesn’t simply use idle words, but uses their resources, their voice and platform, their minds, their time, their hearts – their life – to share God’s I LOVE YOU with this world.
Here is a challenge to each of us. I want each of you, every morning, to wake up and ask yourself who you are. Then respond by saying, “I am a child of God, loved and cherished.” Your next step is to ask that question, whether verbally or in your head, to each person you see or interact with, and then be a person that steps in with actions, truth and love, to help them confidently be able to answer, “I am a child of God, loved and cherished.”