What’s up everyone.
My name is Chris Ghubril and I serve as a team leader with Cru in southern Arizona, as well as the cross-cultural training coordinator for the West Coast. And today we get to talk about a topic that I’m very passionate about: understanding your ethnic identity for the sake of helping fulfill the Great Commission.
You may have asked yourself questions throughout the years as, “Who am I? Or, “Where do I belong?” And maybe those questions peaked for you in puberty, or maybe you’re still asking those questions today. But I know I have asked myself that question a lot of times. I’m 100% Arab.
My parents emigrated to the States. My dad from Lebanon, my mom from Syria.
And when they came here, they never really identified as Arab, so I was functionally raised in a household that did our very best to assimilate into white America, and I was forged into a culture of biculturalism in this world of being white, with my white peers and then speaking Arabic and being an indirect communicator at home. And I was expected to live these two lives perfectly, and understand how to live both of them with just nonverbal cues, without ever being coached or directed in this way.
But all of this came to a crashing intersection the morning of September 11, 2001. I had thought I was doing a good job of acting mostly white around my white peers and keeping my Arab roots at home. But that morning that tragic event took place, it changed everything. I, like everyone else in the country, was confused and scared. But I went to school that morning. And I discovered that my white friends experienced 9/11 differently than I did.
Because when they saw those people who crashed the airplanes, they saw people that looked like me. And they lumped me in with that. So my name was no longer Chris, it was “towel head” and other racial slurs.
So compound the fear I was feeling as just being an American on 9/11, with now this new racial trauma of understanding this dynamic of identity. I didn’t know where I belonged anymore. My Arab life and my white life were bleeding together. I no longer had a place of being.
Who was I supposed to be? What was I supposed to say? So I was stuck with the question, “Who am I?”
And I quickly came to understand that, try that I might, I would never be fully white. Or fully Arab. I was in this confused, middle ground of no home culture to find myself in. But I also didn’t have the luxury of time or safe people to process this with. I had to grow up quickly and fit in and navigate these waters.
So let’s look at a story in Scripture of another man who was equally confused about where he fit in and what his identity was. This guy was born in one culture, raised in another culture and married into a third culture. Homeboy was just confused.
Moses was born an enslaved Hebrew when Pharaoh declared genocide over the Hebrew people. But he had a faithful mother who preserved his life and took a massive step of faith by putting her newborn child in a basket in a river. And then sent him up where Pharaoh’s daughter found him and said, “I’ll take it as my own.” And then Pharaoh’s daughter coincidentally found Mose’s mom to nurse him and to raise him, and to nourish him. But then Moses was raised in the palace of Egypt, knowing that he’s raised in the culture of Egyptians, but his ethnic origin was the Hebrews. He was triggered when he saw an Egyptian slave master mistreating a Hebrew slave, and he killed the slave master. And that trauma caused him to freak out, and he fled to Midian. And he married into a Midianite family, and in this area that we find the question, and this story that we see, “Who am I?”
I see this in Exodus 3: “Then the Lord said, ‘Behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppressed them. Come, I’ll send you the Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘But I will be with you.’”
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” That’s a deep, loaded question. See Moses was an old man at this point. He was a refugee survivor of genocide, with a faithful mother, raised in the house of Pharaoh as a transracial adoptee, and now living as a farmer in the outskirts of town. He’s asking, “Are you sending me as a Hebrew? Are you sending me as an Egyptian? As a Midian? Where do I belong? I am simply a lowly farmer that’s fallen from grace from my adopted royal family. Who am I?”
Moses was having an identity crisis. And it was this crisis that led him into self exile. So certainly, he had to be terrified when God, speaking through a non-burned, burning bush, told him to go face to face with the most powerful man in the world, who just so happens to be at the household he abandoned and ask him to free from slavery, the people of his household of origin, who he was supposed to have been murdered from.
Talk about awkward.
Not knowing who you are, not knowing where you belong, and where you fit in and then being told to fulfill a mission, is daunting.
So Moses, lacking that credibility, went to God and asked for some follow up questions. Moses said, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am.” And He said, “Say to the People of Israel, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My Name forever, and thus I Am to be remembered throughout all generations.’”
Where Moses was confused about his own identity, God declares Himself to be the one who defines identity, the very essence of being. God says, “You may not know where you belong, but I know you and I created you and I know where you fit in My creation. And most of all, I’m the one who defines belonging. It is My Name and forever, and I Am to be remembered by that name for all generations.”
God purposefully created Moses to be a confused tricultural man with no home culture, in order to lead the people of Israel out of slavery and into the promised land of Canaan. Similarly to Moses, Jesus was born in midst of a tyrannical ruler that ordered genocide over his people, and had a father preserve him. He fled to the household of Egypt, and His faithful mother raised Him in the ways of His people. And Jesus went on to free all of humanity from the slavery of sin and death, and into the greater and truer Canaan, the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is a bicultural man.
He first dwells in heaven with the Father and the Holy Spirit in perfect unity. And when He came, His incarnation was in Jerusalem under Roman control. We see time and time again in Scripture, God using people with a specific culture and ethnicity He created them with, to fulfill a mission in a unique way only they could, given their specific context.
So maybe you’re saying here, and you’re not really confused about your culture, you don’t really think there’s anything to learn about your culture. You don’t have any more questions about your culture. That’s not an excuse to not steward the gift of your ethnicity and your culture.
If followers of Jesus were to do the hard work of helping fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples of all nations, we must know ourselves. And if we don’t know ourselves, then we won’t know how people in various cultures will receive us. We won’t know what bridges are to be crossed. If they’re even bridges to cross in the first place.
Paul gives us what I affectionately call the Great Code Switch in I Corinthians as a strategy to fulfill the Great Commission, in light of the Great Commandment. And we find this Great Code Switch in I Corinthians 9, “For though I’m free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. I have become all things to all people, and by all means, I might save some. And I do it all for the sake of the gospel, and I may share with them in its blessing.”
We can’t become all things to all people if we don’t know where we’re starting from. But the most beautiful part of the Great Code Switch is that last sentence, “I do it for the sake of the gospel, and in it, I find a blessing.” The cause of the gospel is our motivation, and our reward is a blessing. It is a blessing to see people in various cultures worship the Creator, in a way they were created to do so.
So may we do the hard work of self awareness and knowing ourselves, in order to help fulfill the Great Commission and reach people that are different than us and not just people that look and think and act like us, that we may be blessed with that beautiful glimpse of heaven.
Thank you very much.