Africans have a wonderful sense of family and our discussion at the breakfast table today was an education for me on this.
My friend Pastor Zulu was getting ready to tell my something about my wife – particularly how wonderful he thinks she is (he’s a very smart guy this Pastor Zulu!) and then mid sentence he paused after saying “your wife.”
He then began to correct himself saying, “In our culture, if I’m talking about my wife, I would never say ‘MY wife.” I would say ‘YOUR sister-in-law. And if I were talking about your wife, I would not say “YOUR wife, I would say My sister.”
Sounds confusing, but stay with me.
“You see,” he continued, “if it was someone close to ME, I would give them to YOU by saying YOUR not MY, so that you have a sense of belonging to US, of being a part of US. We wouldn’t use language that separates us from you, but that brings you closer to US. If they are very close to me, I would “throw” them to you. But if they are very close to you, I would “throw” them to me.”
I snickered as I tried to imagine this 5 foot tall Zambian man that weighs all of 95 lbs hurling my pregnant wife through the air, like a big bellied Frisbee (A very cute big bellied Frisbee I might add)!
He went on. “If my brother has children, I don’t refer to them as ‘HIS children’ but ‘as ‘MY son’ or ‘MY daughter’ because it brings them closer to me. He would do the same with my children. They would call both of us Dad.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about family these days, with baby Ireland soon to enter the picture (a reality that fills me with equal amounts of joy and terror). And I’m reminded in our discussion (which we later christened “Pentecostal Dining Room Church”) of how much I tend to want to own things, and of how much effort I exert in the pursuit of individuality, often to my own detriment.
But also, I am struck by how biblical the African perspective is. After all, it was God Himself, who “threw” HIS Son to us, so that we might be brought close to HIM. And all that energy I spend trying to find MY purpose, or MY destiny because MY identity has become completely wrapped up in what I do, might be much better spent simply loving other people and letting those relationships be the source of who I am.
So, if I can, I would like to throw this thought to YOU so that YOU might throw it to those YOU love and care about so that we all might know a little better what it means that “in HIM we live and move and have OUR being.’ for, ‘We are HIS offspring” (Acts 17:28).
And here in Africa you and I have some pretty great siblings!