I found my first taste of heaven in Kenya. It was in a one room corrugated metal church in a small village outside of Nakuru. We shared the same space with Kikuyus, Luos, Luhyas, Americans, and Canadians. Families from the surrounding rural village region joined with teenagers from the urban slums of Nairobi who joined with a group of North American missionaries to spend an evening worshiping together.
“Dance like a Maasai…Dance like a Luo….Dance like a Mzungu (white person),” the worship leader shouted into the microphone as the entire room burst into joyous dancing and laughter and song. We took turns learning and sharing traditional dance steps. We played drums and guitar. We sang in multiple mother tongues, and took turns both leading worship and being led in worship.
In a cultural context often fraught with ethnic tension, division, and conflict, we were one. In a country scarred by colonization and exploitation of power, we had a moment where class and race lines disintegrated. I experienced the blessing of other peoples even as I sought to be a blessing to other peoples. Yes, we were still distinct and unique, but we were drawn together through our shared worship of the same God. We praised our common Savior together and the Lord’s pleasure was palpably felt by all in a power that went beyond words.
In that moment, we were one.
That moment, however short, gave me a taste of what the heart of God longs to see. He wants to be praised in Kikuyu and Kiswahili. He wants to see his people dance like a Luo and a Maasai. I experienced the beauty of God through experiencing him worshipped by different nations, tribes, peoples, and languages (Rev. 7:9). That night made me even more excited for the time in the future when I can fully experience the multitudes before the throne in heaven and learn to dance like every single one of them.
Each people group is a reflection of God in their own way, as my colleague Tara Wawelo so beautifully experienced in Kenya.
God created the capacity for ethnicity when he created people. Ethnicity is so important to God that we do not lose it in heaven; we bring it with us. Paul’s vision of heaven reveals the eternal nature of our ethnicity: “there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). From the old creation to the new one, from Genesis to Revelation, from before the Fall to after the Resurrection, God loves our diversity. It’s his idea.
Why? In order to fill the earth, our intensely-creative God gifted humanity with the capacity to adapt. This gift, which we call culture, is the ability to learn to survive in every social, geographic, and spiritual environment we find ourselves in.
Our ethnicity gives us a shared sense of belonging, a source of identity, a place of rooting ourselves in our world and knowing how we ought to live. We all have a core need to belong to a group and to believe our group is good. It’s part of how we are wired.
Our ethnicity also gives birth to multiple expressions of worship to our God. These different cultural expressions are a witness to the world of his glory; it's one of the reasons why ethnicity is good.
Ultimately as humans, we must find our identity in Christ. But we should not neglect that it was he who gifted us a people to belong to. “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27). Our people, our ethnicity, is purposed by God. When I find the truth of my identity in Christ, I am freed. When I find the truth of God’s purpose for my people, my land, my ancestors, and my progeny, we are freed.
God longs to redeem entire people groups and not just individuals. Healed people groups rooted in the truth of their identity in Christ are powerful forces for the Kingdom. God wants to bless us and use us as conduits to bless others.
Here are some things to remember as we learn to bless ethnic identity:
While the work of ethnic blessing can be powerful and healing in the context of relationship, great care should be exercised before exercising it with those you don't know personally. Because there has been so much wounding around the topic of ethnicity, it is important to recognize that others may not be willing or able to receive your blessing in this area.
Repentance is critical. The work of becoming one who blesses rather than curses is an ongoing project. Be committed to the continual inner work of allowing the Lord to strip away false beliefs.
Words are made powerful by actions that back them up. Because blessing creates a verbal contract supporting another's well-being, it is logical to connect our words to our actions as well. If we bless a people group to thrive, then we should also be ready to take action against the social forces that are hindering their thriving and to work for transformation.
In a world where ethnic tensions are palpable, our ability as the Church to bless ethnicity should be exercised. Let’s get into agreement with the Lord about his vision of every tribe, nation, and tongue and speak that into existence “on earth as it is in heaven.”
The members of Novo’s Ethnic Reconciliation Project have provided a few examples below that demonstrate a variety of ways to bless ethnic identity. We encourage you to spend time with the Lord and see what blessings he puts on your heart as well.
May we all be experiencing the taste of heaven my colleague described, as we choose to align with God to bless the skins he put us in.
Blessing your own ethnic identity
Have I rejected that which you made, O Lord? Have I never blessed my ethnicity?
I bless my physical body; my features, melanin, and hair were all chosen by you, Lord, in my mothers’ womb. You lovingly crafted a masterpiece to house my spirit. This body reflects the image of a people (ethnos) you love!
I bless this body with acceptance and intention from its Maker. May you serve as a witness to the world that Jesus loves this color hair, this shape of nose, and this shade of melanin so much he created me as a display of his workmanship.
I bless the stories of my people. Stories that tell of God’s faithfulness, power, and love. I bless the tongue (language) they are told and retold in. This tongue has sometimes been accepted and sometimes rejected. I speak the truth over my language that it will endure and takes its rightful place in history. It will join the multitude in our Lord’s heaven. Its utterance will be made and its sweet sound will bring honor to our God. For his heaven would not be complete without the praise of my people in our tongue. So, I bless you tongue, language, to proclaim the praises of God.
I bless my culture, those beliefs, values, and practices that my people taught me. I call my culture into and under the Lordship of Jesus. For there you are a good reflection of ways to live out the values of my King.
I bless my culture’s particular way of honoring, loving, celebrating, preserving, worshiping, and relating.
I accept and bless the cultural identities which I experience as good and part of God’s design. Jesus, being fully human, experienced everything I do; including existing from a human cultural base. He was Jewish, I am (your ethnicity). I bless myself to be both fully cultural and fully in alignment with the Kingdom of God.
I bless myself to accept and embrace my ethnicity; for when I can love myself, I can love and accept others who are ethnically different than me.
I bless myself with the simultaneous ability to build up people of all ethnicities while dismantling schemes of the enemy, like racism, set out to destroy based on ethnicity.
I bless my ethnic identity and call out the gifts you purposed through my people and our lands. May no amount of lies, hate, and history undo the original intention of the Lord when he formed and fashioned us.
I bless my heart, mind, and spirit to hear the truth of my ethnicity and that of others. I will live out the blessing I was created to be through the people God birthed me from, the tongue he gave me, the culture that shaped me, and the gifts meant to be birthed through my people.
Ethnicity of mine, I take you as a gift from God.
Ethnicity you are a part of my eternal self. When I stand before the Father, he wants to see you, your tribe, your tongue, your nation. You will be counted in heaven so I count you now on earth as the Father will in heaven.
May I reflect his glory through my ethnicity and I may I strive to create a world where others can do the same
Blessing another ethnic group
(Ethnic group) I see you. I see your color; I hear your language and I celebrate both as a reflection of the Lord.
Because heaven is not complete without your people neither is our world or my life. I bless (ethnic group) to have space right here where you can bring the gifts God has purposed through your people.
May your people prosper, multiply, and thrive.
Where my people have inflicted pain upon yours, I stand guilty and will strive to be part of deconstructing beliefs and systems that have harmed instead of blessed.
I bless the places where my people have stood with your people, edified and honored you.
(Ethnic group) you are designed by the living God to be a blessing. May more opportunities and platforms come for your people to teach, lead, and shape us.
May every curse and scheme of the enemy set out to destroy your people be crushed, especially those curses that live within me.
God loves you and accepts you as his. May you and your people experience this acceptance deep in your being, in this country, and through our relationship.
I bless you to bring ethnicity in our relationship, in your workplace, in this nation, and the nations of the world, for you are purposed with gifts from God and created to be a blessing.
Walk the Earth and bless; bless from your culture, your language, and your nation.
A parent’s blessing on the ethnic identity of their child
To my precious children,
Did you know that your birth is not an accident? Before you were born, the Lord chose the soil of your birth, the space which would hear your first cry.
In the name of Jesus, the Jew from Nazareth, I bless your feet for the journeys the Lord takes you on and the lands on which you find yourself. I bless you to be a blessing in each space and land you dwell.
Did you know that your blood is not an accident? In you, God wove together two distinct bloodlines into one. Your ancestors have made tragic mistakes and achieved great victories. Neither bloodline is superior to the other nor achieved full perfection. Both are created by God, in need of his redemption, and both make you who you are.
I bless you with the ability to forgive those who curse you because of who you represent and I speak the truth of Christ into the wounded caverns of your identity. Likewise, you must beg forgiveness for those you have cursed.
In the name of Jesus, the Jew from Nazareth, I bless you to be filled with the power of God, knowing that your true identity comes from the Father. God has given you the gift of your land, your blood, your history, and he can and will use it for his glory. But these gifts are for his glory and not for yours. He has given you crowns for you to lay at his feet, not to lord over others or to deny them their crowns.
I bless you with lips that praise our King in your mother tongue and in the music of your heart language. I bless you with the freedom to walk and to eat and to dance and to rejoice and to mourn in the custom of your people. I bless your people because of their distinct rhythm of life and spark of humanity that, through God’s redemptive purposes, is a blessing to all the nations on earth.
I bless you with the knowledge that your people are precious in his sight and have a unique purpose to make in his Kingdom. And I bless you with the humility to know that your people are not the only people who are precious in his sight with a purpose in his Kingdom. I bless you and your children and your children’s children with hearts that long to see every tribe and tongue and nation worshiping the One True King.
I bless you to be a bridge-builder, a force for peace, and an ambassador of heaven in the corners of the earth in which you dwell. May you join in the mission of God to bring healing to the nations, in every land, throughout all bloodlines, and throughout every era in which humans inhabit so that all peoples may be redeemed and able to fulfill the purpose for which God has created them.
A blessing for Benjamin (a father’s blessing)
Benjamin, you are loving, patient, kind, gentle.
These are the colors of our family,
the colors of our people, the people of God.
Your heart pumps the blended blood of Asia—
Pakistan, Thailand, China;
just as my heart pumps blended European blood—
Sweden, Germany, Ireland.
And though the name in your red passport
is different from the name in your blue passport,
you are always our son of blessing,
the son of our right hand.
We would choose you again, given the chance.
I bless your skin, son, in Jesus’s name.
May it always be as beautiful to you
as it is to your mother and me.
I bless your blood, son, in Jesus’s name.
You have richness there I could never give you.
You carry the streams of God in your veins.
You carry his presence and pleasure
wherever you go.
I bless your eyes, son, in Jesus’s name.
May you see the Kingdom grow
beyond what I have seen, in a spectrum
invisible to me.
I bless your hands, son, in Jesus’s name.
May everyone see that you have
your Father's hands,
full of compassion, generosity, and help
for a world that does not yet know its true Father.
What About You?
Is there a blessing you can share? Who are the people around you, those you have relationships with, that God is leading you to bless? What skin (ethnic group(s) are they in? What skin (ethnic group(s)) are you in? What specific blessings come up in your heart as you hold them before God?
Learn more about incorporating blessing into your life with Novo’s Blessing Guide.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
This piece was a collaborative effort from the Ethnic Reconciliation Project within Prime Healing and Prime Worship.
Colletta Rhoads is field staff is South Africa working in issues of ethnic identity, inner healing and deliverance. Her heart is to help normalize conversations of ethnicity and justice within the Church in order to see tangible transformation in our societies around ethnic conflict and the wounding that results from it.
Tara Wawelo has a passion for creating spaces to learn about and delight in the beautiful complexities of our God-given gift of culture. In her work as a professor of cultural anthropology in SoCal, she loves to create opportunities for others to struggle through how culture influences their worldview, identity, and Christian walk.
Dan Erickson is a poet and missionary in Pretoria, South Africa. He writes blessings, encouragements, songs, worship and spiritual struggle poems. He teaches creative writing and spends time coaching and encouraging local spoken word poets.
Liz is a Novo field staff member working in Eurasia. Her heart is to see gospel movements in ethnic groups who have experienced generations of conflict. She desires to utilize strategic and inner healing prayer to initiate breakthrough and healing.