I once lived deep in the bush of Africa among a homogeneous tribe of hardworking people.
Determined to learn their customs and language, I placed myself under their tutelage in all matters of daily life.
I learned to do laundry by hand, flicking my wrist two times then scrubbing four quick swipes. I learned to peel onions with a dull knife and cut them in long slender slices. I peeled garlic with my hands until my nails burned, all the while carefully ensuring I squeezed the clove out with one quick movement. More would have revealed my inexperience, that I did not really belong.
I swept my front step each day and made sure the thatch on my roof was straight. Every morning I rose early and carefully wrapped the colorful tribal cloth around my waist just so, stopping at the right spot above my left hip and tucking it exactly. Everyone did it the same way.
Everyone did everything the same way.
They laughed the same, they danced the same, they carried water the same. Everyone owned the same sort of plastic cup to hold hot milky tea, which was, incidentally, stirred the same direction by everyone who made it over the open fire.
One day I walked for hours with my good friend to visit her mother in another village. I carried her small baby on my back, bundled just right in a bright blue and green cloth. Along the hot and dusty trail, we stopped under a patch of banana trees to rest.
A wisened old lady with a stooped back walked slowly toward us. Staring at me, she circled behind me and touched my hair. Pinching my skin, she said, “She stands like one of us. She carries the baby like one of us. She dresses like one of us. But is she one of us?”
My friend laughed and said, “Her skin is different but we have the same heart.”
With a crinkled smile, the old mother took my cheek in her thin-skinned hand and said, “Welcome daughter.”
That was what I wanted. To be welcome, to be one of them. I wanted to be so immersed in their culture that no barrier stood between us. I desired greatly to be like them.
However, no matter how long I trekked in the African sun, my skin never did grow as dark as theirs. I never did really enjoy doing my laundry by hand, and even after years with them I was still scolded daily for not doing things exactly like they were supposed to be done.
But my heart was the same, and we grew to love each other deeply as we lived life together.
I had dreams and sorrows, aspirations, and hopes. I needed strength and power outside myself to live life. Life is hard, and full of suffering. I wanted to do the right thing, to be a good person, but I could not seem to get it right all the time. I needed a Savior, and so did they.
I watched the news last week with agony in my heart. The beautiful, colorful world God has created seeks to want to whitewash His masterpiece and make it one dominant color, race, or culture.
Why does man long for sameness, for a homogenous culture where everyone looks like himself and everyone does everything the same way?
Why are we so afraid to learn from one another? Have we become so blinded to the beauty of diversity that we cannot sense the thrill of differences throbbing and dancing alongside one another in one joyful throng? Do we not have a vision of heaven?
Heaven will not be homogenous.
Every last person will have come there with his own story, his own unique journey. The nations will gather like a pulsating quilt, quivering with joy before the King of kings as they ecstatically rejoice in the One who rescued them all, every last one of them, every color and race.
What if we placed ourselves under the tutelage of our diverse neighbors and learned from them how to live? What if we laid our sorrows and joys down beside each other and walked the road of life together? What if we came to resemble each other so much that those outside drew near and asked, “Are you one of us or one of them?” And we could answer, “We may look different, but our hearts are the same.”
Our hearts are indeed the same. And the answer to our hearts’ need is the same.
There is one Savior, one Mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). He is our place of unity, and it is to Him we run when the world seems to be crumbling and one beautiful diverse creature kills another, both made in God’s image.
Many often think my children do not see color in people because they spent much of their childhood in Africa. That is not true. They see many, many more colors than I ever imagined. They see peach, soft brown, and golden honey. They see chocolate, tea, and cloudy tan. I have never heard them describe anyone as white or black.
Perhaps we need to see more colors, and teach our children the beauty of the colorful world God has made for us.
Beneath the dance of color and culture, our hearts are the same. God waits for us to give them to Him.
Give me your heart, my son. -Proverbs 23:26
Lord, we give you our hearts. Help us guard them with all vigilance, for out of them come the issues of life. Humble us that we may learn from those who are different from us, and draw us out of our comfort zones. Heal our land, and our brokenness. Weave our lives together with the nations, that we may make a diverse and beautifully colored offering of worship to our King Jesus.