When you think of giving up something to follow Christ, what things first come to your mind? If you are like many, favorite foods, modern technology, material comforts and family and friends are first to come to mind. I know this through the reactions of many friends and well-wishers who would frequently list for me the reasons they pity me for coming to Africa. I’m blessed that these things really don’t bother me. Yes, I appreciate life’s comforts and I wouldn’t turn down a Chicago-style pizza, a bowl of ice cream, a giant chocolate bar or even a hot shower, but these are all things that are easily lived without. As a matter of fact, most of the world is living without them.
Something I’ve realized in the past few months, though, is that maybe Jesus was asking me to give up something else, something that might be more difficult, but something that might shave off a few rough edges and maybe make me more moldable, usable and hopefully more like Him.
In Love Does, Bob Goff says that contrary to our assumptions, usually the thing Jesus is asking us to give up is not our money, belongings or even our hopes, but our pride. “He asks if we’ll give up that thing we’re so proud of, that thing we believe causes us to matter in the eyes of the world, and give it up to follow Him. He’s asking us ‘Will you take what you think defines you, leave it behind and let ME define who you are instead?”’
When I recently read this, it resonated completely with me as it is exactly what I’ve been experiencing. You see, in many ways, coming to Africa has meant giving up my identity.
While in the US I have been an independent woman with qualifications in my field, have had confidence in who I am and the gifts I have been given, most of those things don’t matter a whole lot here. For example, in the US I was an English major and later teacher, thus proficient in my language, but here, I struggle with speaking a language often fumble for words and understanding. While I can cook well in my own kitchen, Rwandan women know are certain I cannot cook, because real cooking takes place outside over a fire. Though I wash my clothes by hand, I’ve frequently been told I don’t do it right and certainly don’t know these things as white persons are accustomed to machines that do such things for them. I don’t know how to plant and cultivate my own crops. The freedom of a vehicle has transitioned to dependence on my feet or public transport. What do a BA or MA mean to a culture in which the majority are not educated and many still have no understanding of the need for education, some still believing women should not be educated. To top it off, single persons are deemed as children no matter the age or experience as marriage is the right of passage into adulthood. In many ways, I am in the same position as a small child, learning a language, a culture, a place, new methods of working, and finding my way. At times I have cried out to God, that I have completely lost my identity.
Then I am reminded that my identity is in Christ, that who I am in Him is all that matters, that I have asked Him to rid me of self and fill me with Him.
“When we get our security from Christ, we no longer have to look for it in the world, and that’s a pretty good trade.” Bob Goff, Love Does
Goff, Bob in Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World, 2012; Thomas Nelson, Nashville.