I stared at the frowning 13-year-old face across the table from me, her mouth curled up in defiance, mine open in disbelief. The room seemed to get hot really quick, sparks stirring up in my flared nostrils. Then as she went back to playing her Nintendo DS, the Lord caught my tongue and I realized that this child had no idea what she was talking about. This was not the U.S.A., not even a big city. It was the kind of place where you could go months without ever seeing another foreigner, let alone any of my people. Straightening my tie, I leaned back in the chair and shook my head as I realized that this attitude was most likely learned from adults, maybe even family.
That was years ago, before I was a missionary, but discrimination becomes an even greater issue once you set out across the world on the Lord’s business. Of course, there will be many, many people who you encounter that will shine bright with warmth and compassion, making you feel welcome in their country. I’m talking now to those that think that heading for foreign territories will help them outrun the disappointing reality of this month’s theme, so let me tell you straight: discrimination is an ugly, inescapable tragedy of a fallen human world separated from God. If it’s not race? Then nationality. Not nationality either? Then social class. Money doesn’t matter? Ah, but you’re a woman, or a man. Even your age may cause some to raise an eyebrow. The Bible teaches in Genesis that after the progenitors of the human race, our ancestors, chose to deny a pure, faithful relationship with the living God, brother murdered brother with the very next generation. (Genesis 4:1-9) Jealousy, hearts consumed with superiority, drenched in fear, began to dig deep into the human bloodline as our numbers increased across the globe.
The good news is that God sent His Son to walk among us; a human being of humble beginnings, a man of the earth who worked with His hands in carpentry, who knew what it was to suffer, to be judged by his outward appearance. God made Jesus Christ a sacrifice to bear all of our weakness, including the curse of discrimination, and rise victorious. Within that resurrection is the potential for every human being to be brothers and sisters again, regardless of background or skin color. I can think of no better example of this truth than in the book of Philemon, a letter from the Apostle Paul to a Christian slave owner whose runaway he happened to encounter:
“I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow-man and as a brother in the Lord.” – Philemon 1:12-16
This is the beautiful message that the missionary carries on that road of evangelism. Still, being a survival series, how do we handle those inevitable bumps?
– First, understand that discrimination will meet you in the mission fields. Coming to terms with this does not mean that you have to like it or accept it as unchangeable, but will lessen the shock as you stay in prayer and have faith for God’s will to move.
– When it does happen, don’t act like it doesn’t bother you (if it does). Choose to go straight to God and pray for healing, and then for the person/people.
-Witnessing in groups will help when you encounter a situation, the other Christians serving as a support network. On the subject of groups, we may feel a strong inclination to confide in those of our same race/social background/gender/etc. That’s natural, as few can understand how you feel more than someone cut from the same cloth.
– That being said, let’s be careful that we don’t shut off from others either, the group becoming a source of recycled complaining and bitterness, where old and new discrimination can grow. It happens, and Satan uses it to sow discord among international Christian communities.
– Read scriptures that deal with this issue and how we are all the same in God’s eyes. For example: Philemon, Galatians 3:28, 5:14, James 2:2-4, Isaiah 56:7.
Lastly, we need to stay aware of our own susceptibility to prejudiced thinking. All humans, Christian or not, were born into the same ungodly world and accepting Jesus into your life simply means pardoning of the sentence of separation from God, not necessarily an immediate change in thinking. Mistrust of other races, the rich, the poor, men, women; they can stem from cultural history, bad personal experiences and the ever honest media. Spiritual unity and love for our fellow-man will take a conscious effort on our part, so let’s keep each other in prayer, the word of God in the front of our minds as a sword and shield.
The world is changing; God’s kingdom come, His will be done!