Being in a different country such as Nigeria helped me to see how important the concept of identity is and how it shapes so many lives, my own included. As Christians, we are set-apart and loved sons and daughters (see Ayo’s 'Dear Daddy' posts) of a God who owns, supports, redeems, guides and loves us deeply. Not only that, God made each of his children unique: our culture, parents, body features, humor, talents, desires, weaknesses shape us, and the special combination of these features gives each person a distinctive role in society and in His kingdom. Yet, we so often forget these truths and struggle with who we are by wishing we were someone else and by constantly comparing ourselves with others.
Here are some identity issues that I’ve observed or faced myself in Nigeria:
1. Some Nigerians compare themselves too much - Coming from a rather individualistic society where no one really cares how you are dressed and sometimes even who you are, I noticed that many of my Nigerian friends think a great deal about how others perceive them: lots of money is spent on new shoes, hair styles, golden necklaces and watches (that sometimes don’t even work, but they are put on anyway!) and oftentimes these things are shared rather proudly on Facebook. These comparisons are often fueled by gossip about the latest 'gist' on fashion, bad-looking people, hot girls etc. It sometimes felt like an invisible competition going on, which is sad, because it makes people unhappy und restless. Now I am not against dressing up nicely, yet doing so just for the sake of being seen and praised will draw you away from your identity in Christ Jesus.
Abeg, for your own sake: Leave this game of comparisons. Your friend is flying Aero and you’re still using Peace Mass? No wahala! Rejoice with him and sponsor him a Coke, this will make him and you more happy than being jealous!
2. Tribalism often undermines national unity. I love the different tribes and I love Nigeria as a whole and I do think that both the tribes and the nation should be upheld. But all too often I’ve heard members of one tribe speaking badly about another. Igbos are supposed to be money-greedy, all Hausas are 'Boko Haram', the South-South is Sodom and Gomorrah and roadless Ebonyi state has yet to be civilized. Before you nod your head, let me say that having been in Enugu, Jos, Calabar and even Ebonyi state I can say that I found most of these statements not to be true or at least very one-sided.
It is okay to see yourself as an Igbo or Yoruba person and to celebrate your unique dances and to eat your local food (I love Abacha by the way :) ). However, we need to be careful not to criticize others and not to only see ourselves as a member of a tribe or a nation, but first and foremost as a Christian who happens to belong to a certain tribe. This will enable you to love others and be around them, regardless of their background.
3. The grass is not always greener on the other side. The most joyful Nigerians I’ve met were those who were happy to be in the Lord and who were not ashamed of being a Nigerian. Those who constantly tried to imitate white people (their music, styles etc.) and who complained to me how their country sucks and how they wish they can be in Germany were usually not that happy. It is good to travel and to see different places, but one thing I’ve learnt in my short life is that true and deep joy can only be found in a secure identity as a Christian, not so much through 'perfect circumstances'. Yes, Germans may have more money and yes there may be more jobs, but let me tell you that you won’t see a lot of smiling people on our streets - circumstances never guarantee long-term joy!!
4. We don’t want to be reduced to one feature. My best friends in Nigeria have been those who were interested in me as a (whole) person, not just in me as a 'white guy'. Yes, I am an oyibo and that explains some things, but honestly there is so much more in a person than his or her skin color - dreams, passions, thoughts, problems, friends, relationship drama - you name it! Oftentimes we (I include myself) reduce a person to just one feature, be it he or she being a film star, being poor, being a business man, being beautiful, being Igbo, being a girl, a preacher etc. A wise person has a balanced identity in the sense that he or she not only reduces him- or herself to one feature (“I am an addict”, “I am famous” etc.). An even wiser person tries to treat others the same way - it’s not easy-o, but let’s try :)
5. By just being who you are, you can be a great blessing. Nigerians love to dance, I don’t - people seem amused when I try to 'move'. I’m more of the calm type, while many Nigerian preachers like to shout. But you know what? I don’t have to. In Nigeria, I just tried to let God use me the way I am instead of trying to duplicate Nigerian style. When I was asked to preach, my German mind started to outline a structure of 3-4 points. I thought my teaching style might be boring since I can’t perform miracles, quote Igbo proverbs etc., but some people told me they were blessed by this kind of solid teaching. I’m not saying one style of preaching is better than the other, but I want to suggest that we can complement one another by using our unique gifts. Faking other people’s identity is just stressful and unsatisfying.
To finish off, let me just quote one Scripture for you:
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." - Ephesians 2:1
You’re a 'handmade' child of God, you don’t need to create your own shaky identity derived from the fleeting opinions of this world. What a wonderful thought for all of us! :)
He has prepared a lot of good works and ways you can serve Him and others for us, based on the way he made you and the place he put you into, so joyfully go ahead and walk in these works, in this life he gave you, knowing that your true identity is secure in Him!
I think this is my personal favourite post by Sebastian. It 'spoke' deeply to me.. I understand what it means to want to be like 'everyone else'. Wear the right kind of clothes, buy the latest phones, change my handbags as frequently as I brush my teeth and wear that red-coloured soled pair of shoes (whether I can afford to or not).. The pressure can be much! *fans self*.
It's important to take a seat and ask yourself - "Who or What defines me?" Like Sabs asks, What is your identity founded on? Are you running a rat race dictated by society or your circle of friends?
Do you feel the pressure to do stuff, achieve quick-quick, marry hurriedly because others seem to be doing it now-now?
Thank God for Sebastian, as for me, I choose to be defined by who God says I am as expressly detailed in the bible. Even without make-up, even without the fancy bags, even without a husband, even without a fat bank-balance, even without children, even with my past, I am Ayo Thompson - Complete in Christ Jesus (Col 2:10), Fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), the apple of God's eyes (Zec 2:8), His battle-axe on earth (Jer 51:20), His human representation of love (1John 4:11)..
Who ARE you?
Please visit Sebastian's blog http://seb2nigeria.wordpress.com/ It's in German but you can use 'Google translate' if English translation is required - Lovely lovely blog!
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