(The UCU Standard – Monday, May 23, 2016)
MUKONO, UGANDA ✦ It was in Canada and we were at a campy lakeside retreat, and it was a beautiful summer day and a gaggle of children were playing outside the large window near where we ate.
My daughter, that is my adopted Ugandan daughter, Hannah, looked at me with a tear rolling down her cheek. I asked her what was the matter, and, looking down in shame, she said, “I’m the only black person here.”
I looked outside and couldn’t argue. For sure, she was the only black person in sight. She was right. Yet she wasn’t. So we talked. We talked about the world and its people and its colours and what it all means, and also what it doesn’t mean.
We talked especially about Canada and where we live when we’re not here at UCU – we live close to Canada’s largest city, Toronto, where white people, in fact, now make up less than half of that city’s population. It’s the sort of cosmopolitan place where it’s easy to find any colour under the sun.
Of course, whether they’re made of big urban centres or small villages, societies tend to encourage people to divide along race and ethnicity and culture. I don’t need to tell you that Africa knows its own tribal divisions and you don’t need to look far, anywhere in the world, really, to see the consequences – war and poverty chiefly among them.
A 10-year-old child wouldn’t know much about this, but she would know what it means to feel different and alone, even as she would know how this could ruin an otherwise fine day.
But the good news, at least if you have half a hope in the good news of Christ, is that being different, in fact, holds a remarkable promise.
This is what Jesus demonstrated in his life and death and resurrection. He gave the gift of his good news for all people, regardless of race or creed or gender or societal status or any other difference.
Born in scandal in Asia, then living as a refugee in Africa, then growing up back “home,” in the ridiculed community Nazareth, from the beginning, even before his controversial ministry years, Jesus knew the shame (or at least the shame that some would try to foist on him) of being different.
So he responded. “This is my body.” This is what he eventually said. It has many parts. But just one purpose. This is what Jesus’ followers are called to understand, what they’re called to grow up into.
One body. Different parts. Working together. Not in fear. Not in envy. Our differences – whether we’re from Africa, North America, Europe, China or the moon – are gifts that are purposely and divinely given.
Apparently, this is how eternity will also be filled, like a garden with a good splash of colour, with people of every tribe and tongue and skin-tone and you name the difference which, on earth, tend to be so disturbing at least some of us at least some of the time.
Yes, even at a Christian university, there can be fears and prejudices. I’ve personally experienced a few of them.
Even as here at UCU there can be a remarkable sense of partnership with foreigners who are here offering their services. I’ve personally experienced this also (thankfully, more often.)
None of this will change the day my daughter shed a tear for being different. Nor will it change the challenges outsiders know in any place that’s not home.
Then again, looking at that eternal sweep of things, where, really, is home?