My Story – Being Young, Being Black and Being a Foreigner

Being Young, Being Black and Being a Foreigner, what a topic right? I am sure it has you wondering what I am going to be talking about in this blog. Is this going to be one huge rant, one long ‘woe is me’ speech on how my life is just horrible? No, I don’t want it to be that kind of blog! I know these are topics that we all have an opinion on, maybe can complain about for hours or even something that has caused you a great deal of hurt and damage. I want to take a different kind of look at these things. Yes, I have suffered at the hands of “being” all of these things, but I have also found meaning and purpose in these things. I would be doing myself a great disservice if I did not take some time to reflect on these realities. The fact of the matter is God has ordained that I be young at this stage of my life, he has determined from eons ago that I be born into this world as a black man and he has decided that I should live in a foreign country right now. Every person has been through or is currently in one or more of these eras of life, and they each hold their fair share of difficulty. I would like to share how God has shown me purpose in these things.

Being Young

With the length of my beard, some may argue that I no longer qualify to be recognised as a “young” person anymore. A part of me feels like I grow my beard because I don’t like being seen as the kid anymore, and want to be considered without my age being taken into consideration. But I am young. Born the 4 th of February in the blessed year of 1989, makes me 27 years old now. So what are the struggles of being young? The most prominent one is not being taken seriously when around older people. In the business industry, the church, with family and with older friends, there always seems to be a need to have to over prove your case before anyone takes you seriously. We often get one chance to prove ourselves, and if we screw that up, getting a second chance is an uphill battle. Jobs want more experience than we have. The church wants more conformity to their ‘old ways’ than our young bones can live with. The family wants us to follow careers of their choosing. The older people around us seem to be very busy with their own lives, goals and dreams. It is almost as if they say, “They (the young people) will figure it out by themselves, we had to do the same!” I have been blessed enough to have mentors that have invested their time and experience into my life. I do, however, know that this isn’t the norm. There are so many young people that have no one to help them navigate life, and they are making bad decisions every day. We sooner would point fingers and judge their decisions without taking any steps to assist. So what can we do? For young guys;

“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” Ecc 11:9 “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 1 Tim 4:12

Enjoy your youth, you only get it once, but don’t enjoy it to the extent of losing your soul. Your actions may be forgiven, but they still have consequences. Stand for what is right and good. You may have to shout louder than most to be heard, but do not settle for being ‘side lined’ because of your age. Instead be humble enough to submit to older people and take heed of their wise counsel. For the older people;

“The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendour of old men is their grey hair.” Proverbs 20:29 “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5

There is an arrogance that comes with being young. We think that we know everything. It would be much easier to leave us to our ways and let us learn through injury. It is much harder to intervene. As the strength of youth fades, teach us how to embrace the “splendour” that comes from getting older. Stand in our way enough that when our pride fails we can submit to you and learn to be humble.  

Being Black

As some of you may know from the talks I have done, I haven’t always been black. I have been black now for about 8 years. Before, I wasn’t black at all, I was just a person. I lived and learnt and worked with people of most races, but there were never any labels. I just had lighter skinned friends and darker skinned friends who were just people. These where the years of my life in my home country, Zimbabwe. When I came to Johannesburg I finally realised that I was actually black. The distinction of my skin colour became more pronounced than ever before. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think it is another opportunity to learn. Having a ‘race neutral society’ is great, but it does have its flaws. It sounds very politically correct to say that you are ‘race blind’, but I think that does more harm than good. What this says indirectly is, “I acknowledge that you are equally a person as I am, but I am disregarding that you have a culture that is different from mine and beautiful in its own right”. We need to acknowledge that other people have a culture which is different to our own culture. Of course racial profiling and discrimination because of skin colour is wrong, but I think complete blindness to the fact that we are different is just as wrong. We have been made differently on purpose, and ignoring that is not God- honouring.   What does the bible say about race?

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.”
1 Corinthians 12:12-14

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”
Rev 7:9

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.”
Romans 10:12

Yes we are different, and yes that is a beautiful thing that should be celebrated. But a greater reality is we are the same, cut from the same cloth and at the end of the day we will all be found at the same place. I truly believe if we celebrated each other, forgave each other and knelt together in prayer, we would not have so many conflicts between the races. The racial issues in our country will only be healed by Jesus. Jesus, having been rejected and murdered by the people of his own race, died in order to break down the hostility between Jews and Gentiles.  

Being a Foreigner

In South Africa in 2011 the official census indicated that 2.2 million foreigners lived in South Africa. Today, some speculate that 5 million foreigners live here, but that number has not been substantiated. Regardless of this, at this stage about 4% to 9% of the population is made up of foreigners. I am one of those.

Most people don’t understand the struggle of being a foreigner. From getting permits, finding jobs, fitting into the culture, the treatment from police, xenophobia and the constant missing of ‘home’. Every couple of years I have to start considering renewing my permit, (that would require a whole other blog to fully explain!) but what an unwelcoming experience! The fear of being ostracised because I am not from here is always at the back of my mind. The response I get most of the time after ranting about all that is, “Why not just go back home?”

When I was younger I heard a brilliant illustration from T. D. Jakes. He said he was driving somewhere and it was quite a long drive. He didn’t know the directions, so he was using a GPS system to direct him. The GPS would tell him, “turn left” when it is time to turn left and, “turn right” when it was time to turn right. Part of this drive was a long stretch of straight road for a couple hundred kilometres. He did not want to get lost so he would constantly tap the GPS, but it would say nothing if it was not time to turn.

In the same way, if God directs you somewhere, you need to go there. When you are there, if God says nothing, then you need to stay there. So why am I here? Because my ‘GPS’ hasn’t told me to turn yet. God led me here and he wants me here right now. My role now is to see what God wants me to do here. Work hard and diligently where God has placed me, knowing very well that ultimately my citizenship is not in Zimbabwe or South Africa. Ultimately, my allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, and that is where my ultimate loyalties lie.

Yes I am a foreigner here, but so too was Jesus in this world. He left his home, to wonder around many foreigners, for a greater purpose than comfort, ease and financial gain. So, if you are a foreigner here, ask God if you should be here. If he says no then you need to leave. If he says yes or he says nothing, then you need to work. We are not from the same nation, but we are from the same kingdom. We are not born by the same mother, but we have been born again by the same Father.

What does the bible say?

“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
Leviticus 19.34

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Hebrews 13:2

“If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
Matthew 5:47

As much as I am a foreigner to you, you are a foreigner to me. So, the above is not just a plea for you to treat me well, but it is a provocation for me to treat you well. What would make us different from Non-Christians if we only treat our brothers well? Furthermore, as the body of Christ, the real foreigners are those that have not yet joined us on this side of faith. Even if you have never left the country before, if you have been saved, you were once a foreigner.

This is the journey I am currently on, and with all the tensions, God has shown me grace and purpose. I am thankful.

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