I often hear, ‘…things were better back home. The way we ran our church services was far superior to the way we run our services here’. Our bad experiences in the workplace sometimes force us to think that life was way better back home than it is here. ‘Oh, I hate this place, institutional prejudice is unbearable’, is a common expression. I believe these expressions carry genuine connotations.
I went to a Sikh school, a school primarily for Sikh children. Although a majority of the kids were from Sikh homes, pupils from all walks of life attended there. The teaching faculty were kind and often gave equal attention to their pupils. However, from time to time, when you exceeded their expectations, or perhaps did not do very well, you drew more attention. Very much like what Dillibe Onyeama, the first Nigerian at Eton College, alluded to in his recent revelation about the racism he suffered at the prodigious college in the late sixties. Often, the teacher would ask me to stand up. The first thing they would utter was, ‘What is your name?’ Knowing full well what it was. My timid answer would be, ‘Ramesh Massey.’ ‘What is this Massey (Messiah)? What does it mean?’ The teacher would go on to ask, ‘it means Christ?’ Which led to my religion, ‘oh, so you are a Christian’. From then on, either my name would be mispronounced deliberately, or I would even be given a name that had no relevance to my name. A little while ago, Christians were considered, ‘unclean’, and not to be touched, though I never suffered that level of humiliation. However, as some of us experience racism in the west, many of us, or our forefathers, suffered under the caste system (with its five categories) in my country of birth. Your caste plays a major role in securing jobs, especially reputable jobs. You cannot visit or go to certain places depending on your caste. Some may even refuse to take food from you.
Is racism or prejudice only confined to our shores? Is this something that only Blacks or Asians suffer at the hands of the Whites? The Jews hated Samaritans to an extent that they felt that Samaritans would never make it to heaven. But praise God for Jesus. He changes all that by making a good Samaritan a hero (Luke 10), and the other Samaritan becomes the female evangelist (John 4) who goes on to share the good news with others. Jesus also experienced religious and racial discrimination.
It is evident that the first disciples were not above prejudice. Even Peter was prejudiced – see his experience at Joppa (Acts 10:9-23), where God had to challenge his prejudices regarding Gentiles. After Jesus’ ascension, the new Christian ‘church’ had to rethink its attitude to Gentiles (i.e. non-Jews). Many Jewish Christians believed Gentiles must become Jews before they could become Christians.
Brethren, I have been saddened by the recent events across the pond, and of course the peaceful marches that sometime also turn violent, even in our own backyard. Albeit, there seem to be legitimate reasons for all these. While we must rise to the occasion and fight the injustices taking place in our society, let us not focus on the negativity or barriers. Think of Daniel, even as a captive, he goes on to become the Prime Minister (Daniel 2:48). Think of Joseph, his own family who had their own prejudices, betrayed him, and he goes on to become the governor of Egypt (Genesis 41).
Do not let your discouragements stop you in your tracks just because there are barriers. Learn to jump over them, squash all barriers and reach the spot you’ve always aspired to. Let us not be distracted by those who are keen to push us down. The famous civil rights activist, Martin Luther Jr, once said, ‘I have decided to stick with love, hate is too great a burden to bear, free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty we are free at last. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’
Our names represent our heavenly Father, who made us all wonderfully and fearfully, no matter the colour, creed, or our background. We are children of our Heavenly Father. Continue to excel, and grow spiritually. Pray for those who persecute us. So that we may do our Father’s will.
“Then Peter began to speak: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right”. Acts 10:34-35