Being a mom has changed me. I know that’s not a revolutionary statement. I think most of us mamas would say motherhood has changed us.
It’s changed the way I think. It’s changed my priorities. And it’s changed the way I read my Bible and pray.
That last part might throw some people, but it’s true. Raising a few multicultural tiny humans has come with some unique challenges. From code-switching, to cultural identity. There are just some beautiful twists and turns I didn’t see coming. But also it’s made me more aware of the cultural identities of people in the Bible and how God strategically placed them where they were for his glory. Lest anyone should think I’m reading my own context into the text. I don’t believe this is the case, I think my change of context has just made me more aware of details that were already there. Details that show struggle with cultural identity. And in the Old Testament stories these details would have significance to the people they were written to: a people freshly coming out of captivity in Egypt and then Babylon, a minority group, a multicultural people (The Cultural Background Study Bible has really helped me grow in understanding the context and timelines in which the Bible was written, unless noted, the context I share here was gleaned from this resource).
There could (maybe should) really be a book written on this. But for the sake of a blog post, let’s keep it short and simply skim over a few of these people. I pray that by drawing attention to these characters we see a better formed understanding of the Bible and God’s story, we find new ways to pray for our multicultural littles, and we gain a new perspective in how we can disciple our children for God’s glory.
Mind you, in looking at these stories, we are not making heroes out of these characters. God is still the hero of the story. But we are looking at how God used these people and revealed his character through them. May we be able see the complex identities in these very human characters. May we see their struggle, and in all of that how God used them for his glory. And may God love and use our littles for his glory too.
Joseph was forced to immigrate. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers. And through many twists and turns, mostly involving dreams, he went from being enslaved, to the head of a home, to a prisoner, to the second most powerful man in Egypt. An immigrant sitting in a seat of power. However, something I missed until I was a mama, was that although Joseph had power, he still sat alone.
Joseph was served at a table by himself, and his brothers were served at another. The Egyptians sat at yet another table, because Egyptians felt it was disgusting to eat with Hebrews.Genesis 43:32 CEV
Though he had all the power, he still didn’t belong. Too powerful to sit with the other Hebrews, but also the Egyptians would not sit with him, because he was a Hebrew. And as a mama, I wonder how often he had to sit alone. In a warm culture, where sharing a meal was a core piece or community. How often did he eat alone?
Later we see how his understanding of Egyptian culture, and learning how to navigate systems of power leads to his family being able to move to Egypt, and given their own land.
Then Joseph said to his brothers and to everyone who had come with them: I must go and tell the king that you have arrived from Canaan. I will tell him that you are shepherds and that you have brought your sheep, goats, cattle, and everything else you own. The king will call you in and ask what you do for a living. When he does, be sure to say, “We are shepherds. Our families have always raised sheep.” If you tell him this, he will let you settle in the region of Goshen. Joseph wanted them to say this to the king, because the Egyptians did not like to be around anyone who raised sheep.-Genesis 46:31-34 CEV
We see how he navigated power structures while sitting at tables he did not belong. This allowed him to provide for his family, people that were starving in another land. Clearly, this is speculation, but it would appear that being a minority that immigrated to the land at a young age gave him insight into the power structures and cultural nuance. Having to navigate these gave him an understanding of what to say and how to say it, and that lead to his family being able to settle in their own land in Egypt. Which we know is a key part of the Exodus.
It also leads me to pray for our littles: God, when our multicultural children find themselves seated at tables where they are lonely, may you comfort them. Remind them of Joseph, whose struggles you worked together for good. Gift them with the ability to strategically navigate the systems of power surrounding them. And may they learn how to speak truth to power to advocate for those in their families and communities in need. May you use these abilities for your glory.
Moses was a a trans-racial adoptee into the house of the most powerful person in Egypt. We can see him wrestling with identity when he literally wrestles with and kills an Egyptian soldier who was beating a Hebrew man (Exodus 2:11-12). The next day he sees two Hebrew men fighting and tries to intervene. However, they challenge him, asking ‘will you kill us like you killed the Egyptian’ (Exodus 2:13-14). Then when Pharoah finds out about the murder, he tries to kill him!Which is what lead Moses to flee to the wilderness (Exodus 2:15).
What I find interesting in the story of Moses is the very apparent struggle of cultural identity. He killed the Egyptian, obviously feeling compassion for the Hebrew man being beaten. However, the Hebrews made it very apparent that he didn’t ‘belong with them.’ Yet when Pharoah chose to kill him, we see he also didn’t belong to Egypt. Where did he belong? How long did he feel like an outsider? Not belonging to one people or another?
Yet, God chose him to lead the Hebrew nation to freedom. And I also wonder if he would have been equipped without having been positioned where he was? Having grown up in the palace, he had been privilege to an understanding and education he otherwise would not have had. He would have known and had relationship with people in royalty, and a better understanding of how to navigate the politics. And though he possibly had a speech impediment (Exodus 4:10), God used his voice to not only advocate for his people, but to overturn Egypt.
And this leads me to pray for my children: Lord, when my children struggle with their cultural identity, remind them that you have created and placed them with purpose. Like Moses, may their unique placement in time, in life, and in culture help give justice to those being oppressed.
Yup, Boaz. You probably didn’t think he would be on this list, but his mother was Rahab? Yup, the same Rahab that hid the spies when they visited Jericho, and was saved when the walls fell down (Joshua 2:9-13). But because of this she was also an immigrant among the Israelites. I wonder if seeing how his mother was treated maybe influenced the way he treated Ruth?
We know that God commanded Israel to care for the foreigner among them (Leviticus 19:33-34), which was a contrast to how the nations around them often treated foreigners. We also know they weren’t always the best at this (Zechariah 7:9-13). Could observing this lead Boaz to go above and beyond what was required of him? And if we read the rest of Ruth we see that his generosity lead to the redemption of Ruth and Naomi. In the end they all became ancestors in the lineage of Christ.
When I think of this, I pray: Lord, my children are first-hand witnesses to some of the struggles of being a minority in our country. Like Boaz, may this give them compassion, and a willingness to help how they can.
A young woman from a minority group, forced into a beauty pagent to win the favor of the King. Something that hits me as a multicultural mama is Esther hid her cultural identity (Esther 2:10). It’s what she had to do to survive. But what if she had stayed hidden? What if Mordecai had never spoken those famous words to her, that she had been ‘made queen for such a time as this’ (Esther 4:14). I have no doubt God would have made another way to deliver his people from the hand of Haman. However, Esther didn’t stay hidden. She was the miracle God had placed to deliver his people.
And I pray for my children: Heavenly Father, when my children feel the need to hide their beautiful mixed heritage, I pray you would send people to speak life into them. Like Esther, may they be reminded that you have placed them where they are, as they are for such a time as this. Because who knows if they are actually someone else’s miracle.
And finally, Paul. Little known fact: Saul’s name was not changed to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). When Saul is referred to as Paul, he is code-switching! All the bilingual mamas know what this is. It’s shifting your language or mode of communication to fit your audience. Saul was his Hebrew name, and Paul was the Greek version of this. He code-switched his name in order to relate better to the people he was sharing the Gospel with. And we see other places where Paul code-switches! Like when he notices half the room is Sadducees and adjusts his speech accordingly (Acts 23:6-8). Or when in Athens he contextualizes the Gospel after noticing the unnamed God (Acts 17:22-31). Paul code-switched.
But that would make sense for Paul. After all, he was from Tarsus, a multicultural hub of the ancient world. It was where several trade routes met, meaning people from all over would come through Tarsus. To live in Tarsus meant interacting with people from different cultures was the norm. He was also apart of an oppressed minority group in the Roman empire. He had to be fluent in both Hebrew and Greek. He grew up having to code-switch. And apart of me wonders if maybe that’s why his ministry was so effective. Why he was able to take-on the cause of the gentiles (Galatians 2:11-13). Why he was able to speak truth to both Jews and Gentiles, and spread the gospel throughout the Roman world.
And it leads me to pray: Lord, you have placed my children it a setting where they will naturally learn to code-switch from a young age. As you used Paul, may you use them for your glory.
Prayers for my Multicultural Children
These are only a few of the stories, and just brief summaries. We could go longer and talk about Abraham, Rahab, Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel… again, I did say we could write a book. But in the end, I don’t think the Bible is so much a book of heroes, but the story of God. And so what do these stories show us about God? I think one thing I see is that God is not in the habit of randomly placing people. He positions each of us in his wisdom and for his glory to accomplish his purposes. And that includes placing multicultural people in moments that can shift the story. He places them where he has already uniquely equipped them, whether because they can code-switch, or have been forced to navigate power structures, or simply because they have seen the struggle of being an immigrant. Nothing is wasted!
I think this should also cause us to pause and reflect on how we disciple our multicultural children. How do we foster a sense of pride and purpose in their roots, not just for their self-esteem, but because we believe that God has divinely placed them? How do we create children’s ministries that empower them, as opposed to machines that require assimilation to belong?
In the end, God will have his way. He works all things for his glory. However, he also invites us to be apart of his purposes. So let’s dream. If you stumbled onto this little post in the vast internet, I’m assuming this is something God has already been working in your heart. That you see this need, whether because you have your own multicultural littles, or because you have a culturally diverse Sunday School class. Either way, you’re here and have been entrusted with their hearts. So let’s dream together.
I don’t have all the answers. To be honest, I probably raise more questions than hard solutions. But I think that is the opening for some creative imagination. Let’s explore, what God may be up to. Let’s raise littles who look for where Jesus is working, and choose to be apart of it. What miracle may God be working behind the scenes? And who knows, but maybe God has divinely placed our multicultural children for such a time as this.