When I was a graduate student in Massachusetts, a friend made a contribution to the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. She and several others made it possible for this museum to build a wing for religious art. When the new wing was ready, the museum hosted a private viewing to thank the donors for their gifts. My friend invited me to join her because she knew I loved Church history. We planned to meet at the museum to enjoy dinner together and view the most impressive works of art.
I was so excited about the evening that I arrived at the museum rather early. I encountered a gatekeeper whose job was to let patrons enter and send the kitchen crew to the back door. Now this man was convinced I was part of the kitchen crew. While I would gladly cook dinner to pay my way into the halls of history, I was afraid that kitchen staff would realize I was a fraud. Based on my appearance alone (since he did not speak much English), this man was certain that he knew my real identity. There was nothing I could do or say to convince him otherwise, so I gave up trying to make my real identity known. I submitted to his prejudice and started to walk home.
I got about 100 feet from the museum when suddenly a powerful force gripped me and I decided to take a stand. I felt I had to oppose his prejudice. I was a legitimate guest of a patron, and I refused to allow his ignorance and bias to determine my identity or my destiny that evening. I decided not to give him that power. I turned around, picked up some speed, and walked right past him. I was determined to live out of my authentic identity, and it was exhilarating. I also believe it was pleasing to God.
I’ve often reflected on this experience and wondered how many times I have made false assumptions about others, believing that I knew their potential based on a brief encounter. How often do we allow appearances to guide our assumptions of others? History shows that presuming to know another person based on their looks alone is a great error. There are countless examples throughout history of people who refused to allow others to underestimate their value, dignity, and potential service to Christ.
Consider Rosa Parks, who helped launch the civil rights movement! She had the courage to insist upon her true identity as an American citizen by refusing to leave her seat at the front of the bus! Ms. Parks was tired of prejudice and refused to give in to it anymore. She lived her authentic identity as an American, with all the rights and privileges. Her courage to insist upon her real identity changed the world forever.
Consider Amanda Smith, the freed American slave, who became one of the most successful missionaries of her day. While speaking at a revival in England in 1882, Smith located her identity in her relationship to God. She said: “You may not know it, but I am a princess in disguise. I am a child of the King” (Sloan, pg. 91). Smith realized that “if she was God’s child, she was an heir of God!” (ibid.). An heir, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or class, is entitled to the privileges of all of God’s children, including the privilege of using her gifts as a leader and missionary.
Smith embraced her full inheritance and used her gifts to lead thousands to Christ. Many on the mission field also recognized her as a leader. One man wrote to her saying that he had learned more about Christian leadership from watching her than from any other example in his life. Smith confidently pushed past gatekeepers as she battled ethnic prejudice and gender bias. She recognized that her identity rested not in her gender or ethnicity, but in her relationship with God.
Like Amanda, we must locate our identity in a consistent reading of the Bible, where we discover that all Christian men and women are equally created in God’s image, redeemed by Christ, and gifted by the Holy Spirit. Scripture also teaches that we are responsible for developing our God-given gifts so that we might reach our full potential in Christ. And, we are also responsible for empowering our sisters and brothers in Christ, so that they too may become who God intends them to be. As the body of Christ, we work together, allowing God and not our human prejudice to define the scope of our service. In doing so we may need to push past a few gatekeepers.
CBE is dedicated to helping others locate their true identity and potential for ministry in Scripture’s teaching that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28). Each week we reach new Christians around the world with the biblical truth of gift-based ministry. We often hear of the impact our ministry has in empowering individuals just like Amanda Smith. Will you join us? Consider attending our next conference in India this coming February, where we will learn from our Indian sisters and brothers how gift-based service is impacting life for Christians in India!