Identity

I Am My Father’s Child

Veronica Nguti is in our first Nairobi Cohort in 2019 and works in administration at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Our February plenary session and pre-readings took me down memory lane. I realized that we all have the innate need for acceptance, approval and love. This need is amplified especially in the fiery kiln of the painful experiences that are part of life.  Although my father was absent for the majority of my life, I was raised by a strong, independent, loving and God-fearing woman who loved me, encouraged and accepted me. It never occurred to me that these three needs had not been met. However, a look at my decisions and actions in the past reveal a need for acceptance, approval and love, and I sought these things from outside.

In one reading, the author mentioned that in western culture people draw their identity from within. In African culture this would be considered rebellion since we are trained to draw our identity from outside and by default, we learn to seek approval and acceptance from outside. Unfortunately, these are the three things that man can never give you in full and though he may attempt to, it will be flawed and will never satisfy. Acceptance, approval and love exist in the purest form in God and thus should be sought for and received from Him alone.

Names and titles are powerful. Bishop Dr. David Oginde spoke on “A Gospel-Centered Identify: Who Am I?” He shared that this is what distinguishes us from the next person. We almost always respond to the name we receive and the voice of the person or thing that named us. How else would you explain why cousin X behaves like the relative he was named after? However, we can refuse certain names and we have a choice to respond on not to respond. In my case, I chose to respond to what my friends and family called me, whether true or false and my world would shatter when these voices would turn against me or whenever I failed. Some of the words used to describe me were a strong, intelligent, hardworking and generous Christian woman who was passionate about youth and governance and did everything with excellence until I made a mistake and then I was made to feel like I was not. Until I got acne and suddenly, I was not beautiful.

The names and titles I had been given were true and still are true but back then, they were not my truth but served as masks. They hid the fact that I did not have the courage or the energy to pray every time I made a mistake because I felt that God had let me down so many times and would eventually leave me like my dad did. Every morning for about two decades, I would mask the low sense of worth with high achievement, I would mask the fact that I never experienced mercy for my mistakes with perfectionism and excellence.

Bishop Oginde did mention that our identity affects our service. I would mask my poor self-image with the latest fashion, and I would dread the night where I had to stare in the mirror and look at my naked self. Unfortunately, just like Adam and Eve, these masks or fig leaves I had sewn for myself in the form of people’s descriptions of me eventually became inadequate and I found myself crying to God for help.

Our true God given identity is not found from within ourselves or from external sources but in God through Jesus Christ. My journey started with confessing with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in my heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10). With that I became a child of God (Gal 3:26, John 1:12) I was important enough to die for (John 3:16). His word told me that nothing would ever separate me from His love. This assurance delivered me from the need to perform or do stuff to qualify for God’s love or acceptance. The more I read the Bible and talked to God, the more I realized that He did not want me to live in fear of being left, disowned or abandoned but that I was part of His family, not as a maid or a visitor but as a SON with an inheritance to boot since if we are children then we are heirs, heir of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:14-17).

He promised that He would never leave me or forsake me, and He has been faithful. This also gave me peace about provision because God owns it all and as a co-heir, I need not fear lack for He shall supply all my needs. Bit by bit I began trust God to provide rather than rack my brain or lose sleep over money and provision.

I was surprised to learn that God thought about me (and you), nothing shady but that His thoughts and plans for me were to prosper me, were full of peace, hope and future oriented. That his thoughts were higher than mine. I was curious and I really wanted to know what these thoughts and plans were, so I began to seek God regarding my purpose. Some of the things He shared were mind boggling and fear would often creep in, but I found solace in the fact that He had not given me a spirit of fear but one of love, power and a sound mind. That all I needed to do was to trust and obey. Whenever I failed, I was reminded that He is a compassionate God (Psalms 103:3) and He is faithful and just to forgive.

Eventually, I had to redefine success and review my motives. I no longer look at success from the lenses of money, fame and all things shiny and expensive but from the lens of the word of God. To me:

  • Success is walking in purpose daily as a child of God. Doing what He wants me to do every day.

  • Success to me is transforming lives for God’s glory.

  • It is taking responsibility for my action rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame.

  • It is remembering to ask for forgiveness and extending grace when I have been wronged.

  • It is living a life of purity by God’s grace, receiving healing for headaches, being a good steward at my work place, sharing my faith with the cabbie, encouraging the neighbor, getting up and moving on despite the failures and remembering to thank God for the good, the bad and the in between. Money, fame, 5-year plans are good, but all these are by the grace of God and for his Glory.

Finding my identity has been a colorful journey. I now know who I am – I am my Father’s child, whose I am - God’s, and why I am – God’s purpose, and I choose to adventure with God, fully submitting to His good, perfect and pleasing will for my life.

All for His glory.

Why do you do what you do?

By Grace Liu, Jakarta City Director

It is crucially important to understand your identity before you figure out what work you should do. This does not only apply to career direction, this applies to actions/decisions you make on a daily basis. Understanding your identity is important before doing anything because in the same way creation is an expression of who God is, work is an expression of who we are.

Once you truly understand who you are, who you are created by, what are you created for; then whatever work you are doing is does not become your identity, but an expression of who you are as an image-bearer, as a co-ruler of this world, as a child of God.

When your identity is security rooted in Christ, you achievements will not hold as much sway over your emotions because your identity is no longer in what you achieve. If I am keeping it real, yes - it feels really good to be the best in what you do and get the applause of people around you. However, when you understand that your work is an expression of who you are in Christ, there is a humbleness that comes along with your success - where you give the glory back to your Creator.

At the same token, when things are not going well and you fail, you might feel sad, disappointed, perhaps even angry. However the situation will not shake you or break you down, because you are not defined by your achievements but by who God says you are.

What matters in deciding what to do (work, life decisions, directional vision) is where/what God is calling you and being able to be sensitive to where the Spirit is leading. In deciphering where our calling is in each season of life, we focus on the CALLER (God) than the CALLING (work). What matters is not the result of getting things done, what matters is WHO is calling us because that is what give us purpose, perspective and the ammunition to push forward when things get hard. Our performance is no longer based on other people but we work for the audience of one. You work to serve. You work in a manner that reflects who God is.

This changes everything. This changes the way you choose your profession, the way you treat your co-workers the way you lead your team, the type of company culture you want to build. This changes your attitude towards every task given no matter how magnificent or small it is.

When you go to work tomorrow, remember that work (everything that your do) is an expression of who you are. How does your current view and attitude towards your work express who you are?

Reflections from Jakarta: Crazy Rich Asians

By Grace Liu

Crazy Rich Asians (just released on DVD) will resonate with anyone that has studied abroad and came back to Asia to experience the immediate cultural pressures of family obligations. The tug of war between putting your dreams or your family first is real, especially for those who inherit the family company upon returning from overseas studies. 

I grew up in North Carolina and New York. I moved to Indonesia during my early teen years and finished off my high school in Jakarta. I went to the University of Michigan and came back to Indonesia for family and for work.

But being Asian American, I saw the truths of both cultures portrayed in the movie. The western side of me believes that you need to stand up for what you believe in. So it is important to understand your passions and follow your dreams. Love who you want to love. You are your own person, it is important be secure and own the desires of your heart. At the same time, the Asian side of me understands the importance of being community-oriented; and how our personal dreams need to be in line with what is best for the family. This is not just about your immediate family, this involves your uncles, aunties, cousins, grandparents, nieces, nephews. Future decisions you make affect not just you, but your ENTIRE family.

Eleanor (the mother in Crazy Rich Asians) said that Americans are great with following their dreams and achieving their ambitions , but Asians are good with building things (such as family traditions, family businesses) that last. This is why in a culturally Asian family, who you marry is such a big deal. It is the prayers of the elders in your family that you find someone in line with your family values. Parents play a big role in this decision because you do not only marry the person, you marry into their family. Both families (their family culture, their reputation, their name) merge into one. When you marry, you carry the benefits and burdens of the family you choose to tie yours to. 

What does the Bible say about following your dreams verses building up your family? 

Philippians 2:3-4 says " Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." 

It is biblical to put the interests of others before yourself.  It is biblical to sacrifice you your fleshly desires for the good for your family, your community. However at the same time the Bible also commands us to "forsake your mother and father". 

Matthew 19:29 says, " And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life."

How do you find common ground with these two verses? 

God has given us talents, gifts, ambition, vision for life and these are all good things! However God has also given us the responsibility to love and care for the people within our spheres of influence. This includes our family. Whether you are Asian or not, your life decisions do affect your family on some level. Making life decisions with or without the support of your family makes a difference. 

Does this mean all our life decisions need to be agreed on by our parents? Absolutely not. Our parents are also human and can make decisions out of selfish ambition as well (not saying that all parents do this, but just know that everyone will have this tendency no matter what life stage you are in).

God has also given us to Holy Spirit to guide us from everyday little decisions to major life decisions. Sometimes these decisions may not make sense to our family. However, when God will call us to a season of life where our obedience to God will be challenged; are you willing to follow through what God wants for your life regardless of what other people say? I understand that this might be a big struggle for many of my Asian American friends when faced with this verse. It goes against cultural values; it is seen as rude or disrespectful when we go against family wishes. Following what God wants for our life is not about being politically or culturally correct, it is about being obedient and trusting that God even when you cannot see the bigger picture yet. 

Crazy Rich Asians was a bit cheesy, over the top, yet entertaining and addresses some real struggles Asian young adults face when integrating back to their home country after studying abroad. One thing I took away is, no matter what ethnic or family culture you were brought up in, we should always revert to bringing the Jesus culture into our decision making and our family culture. 

Grace Liu is our Jakarta City Director and has a passion to bring young adults together in community for the sake of the Gospel. Her and her husband Ronald have two kids and live in Jakarta.