For Gladys Mwiti and other international scholars, a Christian identity must transcend ethnic identity through steadfast and conscious effort.
It is in Christ, Mwiti believes, that even those from “dismembered continents,” can rise above what is broken, be transformed and become healers among their own people.
“I believe that before we can become men and women of purpose, Christians of purpose, we need to remember who we are,” said Mwiti, CEO and founder of Oasis Africa, a professional counseling, psychological and leadership training organization. “Who we are in Christ begins with remembering from whence we came…It gives us a sense of direction as to where we are going.”
On April 23, approximately 50 community members gathered in Upper Gwinn to hear Mwiti and others discuss concepts of identity in Christ and how it surmounts prejudices and barriers of ethnicity, nationalism and culture.
The panel titled, “Deeper Than Ethnicity, Class, or Country,” also featured Salim Munayer of Musalaha Reconciliation Ministries and David Kasali of the Congo Initiative. This evening plenary session was a part of the three-day conference “For Such a Time as This” presented by the John Perkins Center at SPU, in partnership with the Center for Biblical and Theological Education. According to Kasali, identity is important for him and his fellow speakers.
“Before the church, before colonialism, we belonged,” Kasali said. “Identity for us means to belong to, to have an allegiance with and to defend.”
According to Kasali, a sense of belonging has been the definition of identity among 250 ethnic groups in Africa.
“Now as ethnic groups, as a church and as a nation we are at an identity crisis,” Kasali said. “We do not know who we really are even as people, and we are left trying to discover where our allegiance lies.”
Kasali attributes this identity crisis to the multiple forces competing to decide identity in the modern day.
“This is the most important time in our lives,” Kasali said. “We believe that the strongest power to help us attain that identity is Jesus Christ.”
Kasali proposed transforming cultural identity in accordance with a larger identity in Christ through God-given talents.
“I am uncomfortable with the language of dichotomy between who we are—our identity in God’s image and likeness—and the gift of culture—the language that God gave us,” Kasali said.
According to him, people often lose their identity in the midst of conflict. He proposed that the key to wholeness is reconciliation approached with the attitude of Pentecost.
“The thing that is unique about Christianity is that from every tongue, from every language, people celebrate,” Kasali said. “God celebrates ethnicity and culture. He rejoices in it, and it is time we celebrate our ethnic identity too.”