March 15, 2021 -


How God Shares His Love through Your Ethnic and Cultural Identity

Chris Ghubril

Chris Ghubril Headshot
Chris Ghubril grew up bicultural, in white churches and schools, yet with 100% Arab American parents. Listen in as he describes how his story has informed the work he does to pave the way for other bicultural Christians, and to reach people across cultures for Christ.

Episode Reflection

Invitation to Explore

Christ Ghubril says that it’s important to know yourself, to study the complex realities of your culture, heritage, reactions, and personhood because through studying yourself, you are engaged in an act of worship: through studying yourself you are stewarding the reality that you were created in God’s image, engaging in an act of worship as you contemplate how you have been “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). When you think about who you are and who God created you to be, what is one thing about yourself, your identity, culture, or history that you are thankful for?

Scripture to Study

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! 
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 
you discern my thoughts from afar. 
You search out my path and my lying down 
and are acquainted with all my ways…
For you formed my inward parts; 
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 
 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. 
Wonderful are your works; 
my soul knows it very well. 
My frame was not hidden from you, 
when I was being made in secret, 
intricately woven in the depths of the earth. (Psalm 139:1-3 and 13-15)

Wise Words to Consider

“I get this as I reflect on the Scriptures where he says that God is not withholding of wisdom; if anyone lacks wisdom to ask Him for it and He will give generously. God doesn’t dangle the carrot of wisdom in front of us saying, ‘Do you wish you had some more?’ No, He gives it to us freely. So I’ve taken his word at that and I have asked the Lord for wisdom often.”—Chris Ghubril

A Prayer to Lead You

Loving Father, you know our hearts. You know our deepest longings. You know the rich, complex reality of our identities better than we know ourselves. Help us to embrace the person that you have created us to be and help us to change that within us that resists your will and love. Work through our complex histories and identities that we might be able to share Christ’s love in the world. We pray this through the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

A Practice to Begin

For Chris, prayer is a discipline that doesn’t come naturally to him. So he has relied on a Bible reading plan and praying through his schedule. There are all kinds of approaches to developing disciplines in the spiritual life. One way to begin a discipline of prayer is to spend the first 10 minutes in the morning praying for wisdom for the day and reading Scripture. Consider a place and a time each morning, before the day begins, to give God your first five minutes of attention and seek Him in prayer and then give five minutes to reading Scripture, the Gospel of John or the Psalms are great places to start. This pattern of seeking God in prayer and then listening to God through His word is a great way to begin a disciplined spiritual life. 

Questions to Answer

Take a moment to think about who God has created you to be. What are some important experiences in your past that have shaped you? What about yourself surprises you? What about yourself encourages you? What about yourself troubles you? How might your unique cultural identity and history help you to share the gospel and your testimony with others?

Resources to Help

I Am From: Cultural Conversation Cards

Jason Poon, My Ethnical Dilemma

Ross McCall, Ways to Develop Your Prayer Life


Sam Holland  0:04  

You’re listening to the Created For podcast. We believe that everyone was created to make a unique impact in the world. Created For is a podcast to explore ideas around purpose, calling, and discovering how God is inviting you to influence the world in your own way, right now.

I’m your host, Sam Holland.

Chris Ghubril serves as both a Cru campus team leader and West Coast cross-cultural training coordinator. These roles and his bicultural Lebanese heritage help him pioneer the creation of cross-cultural evangelism tools. Like Cru’s “I Am From” cards. He lives in Tucson with his wife Alyssa and their three-year-old daughter, Norah.

In his Created For talk last month, Chris shared about stewarding the gift of your culture and ethnicity.

Okay, Chris, in your Created For talk, you shared a really vulnerable experience about how you endured racism during the aftermath of 9/11, and how that influenced your calling. I just want to say I’m so sorry that happened to you. And thank you for sharing it as part of your talk. So I’m wondering, what are some other significant parts of your story that formed who you are and the work you do today?

Chris Ghubril  1:37  

Yeah, there’s a lot I can share – a lot of stories to pick from. But one that’s particularly significant is I was actually denied a grant for a nonprofit work, because I didn’t qualify as an ethnic minority. I wasn’t minority enough. And it turns out that this grant was determining minority status based on the U.S. Census. Which then leads to a whole lot of mess of brokenness in the U.S. Census of how Arabs and Middle Eastern people are to be marked as white on the census.

So that got me digging into why is that? Why am I marked as white, but not given the privileges of being white. And so as I dug into it, I saw that this goes all the way back to 1890 with the Chinese Exclusion Act, when the law of the land was that only white men could be U.S. citizens. It was on a case by case basis and when the first wave of Arab immigration happened to the States, they would come in and argue their status as white in order to become a citizen of the States. And that has lingered since then. So we are classified as white, but not given the privileges of that. There’s no box that actually represents me.

So this grant was functioning off of that. And so as I spoke to the administrators of the grants and explained my ethnic minorityness to white leaders, I had to communicate the brokenness of this method of determining ethnic minority status. And now since then, this grid has opened up towards more than just the U.S. Census markings of ethnic minority status, but to marginalized communities in general.

It has been a big win, but that has really formed me into the work of advocacy, the work of knowing myself and knowing where I fit in my story. Being confident in that – in my place – has led to the creation of “I Am From” cards, has led to different Bible studies I’ve written and worked through, different messages I’ve given. That burden of trying to advocate for myself makes me not want to have others go through that themselves. I want them to already have been advocated for and have the path blazed for them.

Sam Holland  3:56  

Yeah, you’re paving the way – pioneering. Can you tell us more about how your work creating the “I Am From” cultural conversation cards has flowed right out of your own story?

Chris Ghubril  4:10  

Yeah, like I mentioned, understanding myself more led to that. It was at a conference I attended that they gave out these cards – these demographic cards to everyone in attendance of the conference and just said, “Get to know someone else using these cards.” And it was a really great concept. The cards in and of themselves were not designed for anything other than a get-to-know-you icebreaker type of situation. But as I was going through the cards, I noticed once again, the demographics were the U.S. Census, and there is no place for me except for the word that I’ve grown to hate: “other.” I’ve been continually “otherised” by this type of demographic, if you will. And so as I saw this, I’m like, “I need to create a space where I’m represented, and not just myself, but so those that are like me can be seen as well.”

And for about four years, I had this dream of wanting to create a tool that is like this, so that all people can feel represented, and also engage with the gospel in a way that makes sense to them. So as I was going through this dream – this desire to create it, four years later I was given a position where I could create these cards. And so I created these “I Am From” cultural conversation cards with the purpose of being as broad as possible, so people can see themselves reflected in it. And then being used in such a way that the participants feel known. And that I as a missional, image bearer of God, can better communicate the gospel in a way that makes sense to an unbelieving image bearer of God. By getting to know their story more – getting to know what they need from the gospel specifically.

Sam Holland  5:55  

Yeah, tell us some of your favorite stories from times that you’ve used those “I Am From” cards to build bridges into conversations with people.

Chris Ghubril  6:05  

Yeah, I have one story that’s probably my favorite of all time. It’s with a student on a college campus that I was working with. This student, he is of Native descent, but is an adherent to Islam. And so you can see the synchronization of his spiritual beliefs, kind of, folding together. And as we’re going through the cards, I’m starting to discover that he has a big value of control. And he was ostracized for wanting control.

Now, if I were to share the gospel with him, saying that he is sinful and needs Jesus, that wouldn’t be groundbreaking for him. He would have agreed with me that he had sin. That is not something that is new to him. But what was interesting is that he was ostracized for his desire for control. So instead of turning to Romans 3, saying, “All have sinned,” I turned to Genesis 1 with him. And I said, “You were created to have control, you were created to have dominion over creation. But because of sin, we now have battle for control with each other. And we’re fighting each other for taking power from others.” And that was the first time he’s ever engaged with that. When he was affirmed in his value of wanting some sort of control, his dignity was heard and responded to. And then he was told that his Creator also values him having that control as well, but sin taints that. That was so unique for him – it was so mind blowing for him that he wanted to know more about it.

That would not have happened if I would have used a traditional gospel tool to have those conversations with him. He would have just blown me off as another crazy Christian trying to speak to a Muslim.

Sam Holland  7:48  

So cool. Yeah. You know, in your Created For talk, you spoke about Moses’ identity as a tri-cultural individual. Recently, I was listening to the Bible Project podcast, they had Esau McCaulley as a guest, and he was talking about Genesis 48:5, where Jacob blesses his half Jewish, half Egyptian grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. And that the blessing involved their ethnicity. Esau – his quote was, “God made a promise to me that he would make me a family of many nations.” He was quoting Jacob. So what are other Scripture passages that relate to your story and your work in this area of cultural and ethnic identity?

Chris Ghubril  8:43  

Yeah, I love that. That is beautiful and powerful. Esau McCaulley – brilliant man. I wish I could get to know him sometime.

But this concept of Bible passages that speak to identity – the first thing that comes to mind is Luke chapter 4. When I think of Jesus’s beginning of His ministry, as He’s going to the synagogue, He’s reading from the scroll of Isaiah. And then He goes off and starts saying, “In this, you’ve heard it fulfilled.” And He references the work that Elijah does with a widow in Sidon and says that there were many widows during the great famine in Israel, but none had faith like the woman in Sidon. And Elijah goes to that woman and cares for and provides all the bread and oil they need for all of that.

And then He goes on to use Naaman the Syrian leader, saying that there were many people that had leprosy in Israel, but it was Naaman who was healed from it – that was cleansed from it – by the prophet. And He uses this to, kind of, shame the nationalistic pride that the religious leaders had, that these religious people had, and saying that, “The kingdom of God is more than this – it’s a greater understanding than what we had originally believed in, for simply those that come from the seed of Jacob.” But it is now for all peoples – understanding this wider ethnic demographic, this ethnic scope.

And then I have a very unique tie to this passage because the widow Sidon could very well be my ancestor. When I think about my dad being born and raised in Sidon – he was born and raised in this city where Elijah went and ministered to this widow. And then Naaman could also be my ancestor, because my mother is from Syria, from not too far away from Damascus. And so when Jesus is using this widow from Sidon and this leader from Damascus, He’s saying that my ancestors – Chris Ghubril’s ancestors – were the examples of faith to the Israelite people. Saying that there’s more faith in these Gentiles than in the Israelite people.

And it’s very encouraging for me personally, because my heritage and lineage, but it’s also powerful showing the ethnic identity journey that Jesus was trying to take Israel through by removing nationalistic pride from their hearts.

Sam Holland  11:09  

Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about calling. So you’ve given us some examples from your own story of the way that God has used your identity and different experiences that you’ve had to inform your calling and your work. Can you tell us more about what does that look like practically over your lifetime so far? Just, to have God continually confirming your calling?

Chris Ghubril  11:37  

Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ve actually been doing a lot of reflecting on God’s calling in my life, lately. And as I think about the ways that God has shown up, He has been graciously clear to me – more than I deserve, which is the definition of grace. But how He has led my family very clearly with presentations of His decisions for us.

I think – probably the clearest example of that is we were seeking the Lord’s will for when we start having a family. I was looking at how much funding I had for my ministry, and I was like, “Oh, I need about $700 of monthly support to be fully funded.” And it took me about 11 partners to get $50 a month when I finished my initial fundraising development. And so when I saw that I needed $700, I was like, “Okay, this might be two or three years before we start having a family and growing our family.” Within a week, I didn’t make a single ask and the Lord brought in $700 of monthly support. It was so clear to the point I was like, “I’ll be in sin if we don’t start trying to grow our family.”

The Lord has been graciously clear and affirming– beyond clear to us. But I get this as I reflect on the Scriptures, when He says that God is not withholding of wisdom. If anyone lacks wisdom, to ask Him for it, He will give generously. God doesn’t dangle the carrot of wisdom in front of us saying, “Do you wish you had some more?” But no, He gives it to us freely. And so I’ve taken His word at that. I asked the Lord for wisdom, often for His guidance in small decisions, big decisions and raising my children. He is very generous with His wisdom, and I think a part of that wisdom comes affirmation of calling and trusting Him in that. So just being wise of knowing who He is, and how He leads us in that way.

And a big part of that led to me knowing myself and knowing how I respond to the Lord’s communication to me. Like, is my general response to Him resistance? Then I need to start repenting of that resistance. Just like I have to know my general response to my wife and my knee jerk reactions to some of her things. I had to learn my knee jerk reactions to the Lord’s communication to me, and then understand how this communication relationship at work, by doing that work of knowing myself and knowing God.

Sam Holland  14:07  

Yeah, can you tell us more about hearing from God and asking God for wisdom? So are you talking about prayer? Or what are some of these practices that you’re working into your daily life in order to stay connected?

Chris Ghubril  14:23  

Yeah, that’s a great question. Number one would be prayer. Every single night, I’m praying that the Lord would give me wisdom in the various things that I have the next day. I pray through my calendar – what do I have on my next day – and then ask the Lord for wisdom in that. That has been critical.

And that actually is a discipline. Like, I don’t think I’m gifted in prayer. There are some people that are gifted that their first thought is, “I must pray.” That has become a discipline in my life that I don’t necessarily always pray throughout the day. I gotta confess, I don’t live out 2 Thessalonians 5 very well. I do cease my prayers sometimes. But I have to make a discipline of that, followed by spending disciplined time in the Scriptures. So I make my prayers, and then I go seek the Scriptures.

And I oftentimes have to do a Bible reading plan in order to remain faithful to it, or else I’m like, “Oh, do I want to read Ephesians today? Or 1 Chronicles, or whatever.” But if I have a plan that guides me through it, that helps me practically stay faithful to the Scriptures – to be hearing from the Lord in the Scriptures, and then bringing my petitions to Him in prayer. Then seeing how my petitions are molded, based off of my time in the Scripture.

Sam Holland  15:42  

Let’s also talk about community. So Chris, who has God put in your life to support you, in your calling, in the work that you’re doing, and vice versa, where you’re supporting them in their calling in their work too.

Chris Ghubril  15:56  

Yeah, I really have a couple areas of community that I find myself in. There’s a group of BIPOC people that I have in my life that I engage with more raw realities of myself. (And for those that are unfamiliar – BIPOC is Black, Indigenous, People of Color.) And as I’m spending time with other people of color, I get to be more raw and understand more of how– and not be gaslit. I like to tell them, “This is a space where I can be flippant, and not be afraid of being who I am, and not thinking of how I will be received.” And that’s been super encouraging for me to have those moments of that. And we get to do that together collectively for each other, to affirm each other to empower each other.

And then I go to a white evangelical church, that’s my home church, and I do love my church. I love my people, I love them. I have a lot of hurt, but I love them so much. And in this I have a group of people in our church that I have that are safe – that are white people that I get to engage with and share with them like, “This is some of the ways that I have experienced racism within our church or racism or inequality.” And we get to have these types of conversations. And they also get to help advocate for me, as I don’t have to be the angry minority sharing this. There can be other people that are more resemblant to leadership in our churches that can speak to that as well.

And so it’s really good to have a multi-ethnic sphere of community where I can have spaces where I can be myself, I can also have spaces where I can live cross culturally, and have people that I can advocate for and others that can advocate for me. So it’s kind of an “all of the above” type of answer.

Sam Holland  17:58  

Yeah, what’s your church background? When did you first start attending church? And have you always been in white evangelical churches?

Chris Ghubril  18:05  

Yeah, when I first started going to church, I was a sophomore in high school. And yeah, it was a white evangelical church.

Then when I went off to college, I actually went to a cult for a semester. That’s a hot mess that I can share about some other time. Didn’t know it was a cult. I was very young in my faith. And I praise the Lord for His saving grace to pull me out of this cult.

And then yeah, I’ve been going to more white evangelical churches since then. And living in Tucson at the time– Tucson when I was in college, was in the top 10 least churched cities in America. And the churches in town were few and far between. And so I had to find a church that was in the suburbs of Tucson, which is a pretty white part of our city. And so I would be driving out to the burbs to go to church – now there’s more churches, praise the Lord.

But since I’ve gotten connected to a church body, I don’t have a biblical reason of breaking fellowship – like, there’s no heresy being taught, there’s no spiritual abuse, praise the Lord. And so we’re sticking there. We’re connected there and have some healthy relationships. So my entire church experience since my sophomore, with the exception of the cult, has been a white evangelical experience.

Sam Holland  19:23  

So, did your parents raise you in a church? Or what was it like for your parents as Arab Americans when you started attending church? Tell us more about that story.

Chris Ghubril  19:46  

Yeah, when my parents came to the States, they were Christian. In the Middle East, there’s no agnostic or atheist or any of that kind of stuff. There’s Muslim and there’s Christian and you’re born one or the other. Like, that is what it is.

I actually can trace my lineage pretty far back to how there were missionaries – my great-great-grandfather was the first missionary in our family and actually gave his life for the gospel on the streets of Lebanon. And so there’s a history of loving Jesus in my family.

My parents came to the states like, yeah, they went to church. When they were first here, they were in Iowa, but when they moved out to Arizona, we didn’t really go to church when I was growing up in Arizona. Until my sophomore year, when we made another move, and my dad’s like, “We’re gonna go to church.” I was not fond of the idea of waking up early on the weekend.

But yeah, it was going to this church that I actually met the Lord. They did a youth trip to Six Flags in Las Vegas, and what high schooler is gonna say no to Six Flags in Vegas. So I went on this trip. And then in Vegas, they went to another church – the sister church that planted ours. Heard the gospel of Jesus proclaimed through the woman caught in adultery, and how the whole city wanted to shame her. But Jesus saw value in her regardless of what other people saw, and I wanted that. And so I chased after Jesus. Literally, in that moment, as I ran to the altar, knocked a girl over on my way up there to meet Jesus. And then started my faith journey then. But yeah, my parents were all for it as long as I was doing something good – they were all for it in that capacity.

Sam Holland  21:27  

Yeah. So it seems like you’ve mostly grown up in white spaces. Or did you have an Arab American community that you were connected to? Just, you have such a strong connection to your Arab American identity – have your parents helped instill that in you?

Chris Ghubril  21:54  

Yeah, that’s a great question. I did grow up in a mostly white community. My grandfather was essentially the de facto leader of the Arab community in the Phoenix area, where at least monthly if not more, we would go to their house for dinner parties. And I hated it. Because you know, I was the only kid there. It was all people my grandparents’ age, but it was very much like, if you could imagine, or if you know of anything that’s like a typical Arab dinner party, it was that. Lots of food, lots of drinking, lots of loudness, but not yelling, just being loud. And that kind of is like underlying, formulating, parts of me.

But then when we would leave those things, I’d be going to a mostly white school with mostly white friends. And it just led to a lot of confusion. My parents, they really tried to assimilate into white America when they came to the States. And I would imagine it to be a defense mechanism. If you want to succeed, you assimilate to the dominant culture.

And, yeah, there was tension in that bi-cultural experience, where being Arab at home and being white outside of the home led to some sort of confusion. And the reason why I decided to lean more into my heritage, is because I want to know more of how God made me. And God made me Arab. As much as I experienced, and am fluent in white culture, I also have a very unique experience as being Arab and having those Arab dinner parties. Of speaking Arabic all the time – my dad and I having secret conversations, and you’re trying to go buy a car together and just to like, play the game of the salesman and to speak to each other about random things in Arabic, so they know that we’re talking about them. Like we have these little abilities and these tools. And so I’ve decided to lean into it and study more of myself.

And not everyone in my family has done that. There’s many in my family that have rejected their Arab heritage, and many of mine that have really embraced it. And so it’s kind of a point of contention across the cousins, across the uncles and aunts when it comes to our heritage and our culture.

Sam Holland  24:22  

Chris, if you had one invitation for followers of Jesus who are listening today, who want to step into their calling, what would that one invitation be?

Chris Ghubril  24:35  

If I had one invitation, it would be to know yourself. Study your culture, study your heritage, study your reactions, study yourself. We teach everyone to go to school, we teach people in America to value education. Go to college, get a degree, learn – in my case microbiology – study these things and get a degree in that. But we don’t necessarily platform getting a degree in knowing yourself.

And so I really would invite people – followers of Jesus – to study their own history and themselves to know God more. Because God created us, and that’s the best way to steward our imago dei – as we study ourselves, we’re studying how God made us. And then that’s an act of worship. If we truly believe that Psalm 139 is real that God fearfully and wonderfully made us in the womb, then we should be fearfully and wonderfully studying ourselves.

Sam Holland  25:36  

Image bearer, do you know yourself? What is your cultural and ethnic background and identity? If you’d like a tool to help you explore these topics with your friends and family, visit and search for the “I Am From” cultural conversation cards.

Created For is hosted and produced by Cru. If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe, rate, or review it wherever you listen. For more resources to continue your journey to living out your impact, check out the show notes on our website or follow us on Instagram at _createdfor. Thanks for listening.

We’ll catch you again on the next episode with Liz Bohannon, when we’ll talk about small dreams that make a big impact.

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