I am a cis-female born in India to a middle-class set of parents who were both migrants in Mumbai with vestiges of British colonial power affecting their lives. My parents were brought up in culturally Christian homes and eventually made their own decisions to follow Jesus. They impressed upon me and my 3 siblings that God has no grandchildren, just children. Christianity is not generational. It is a deliberate, repeated decision to follow Jesus every day.
I have many regrets, resentments, and things to forgive from my childhood but an overwhelming number of joys, wisdom I wouldn’t trade, and happy memories too. My parents made decisions to follow Jesus into various places all through my childhood. I lived in 10 homes by the time I was 18. Almost every change came with a lot of family discussion, prayer, and a general normalising of huge upheaval because of a sincere belief in God’s guidance. Every move came with a new set of friends, new experiences as an outsider, language barriers, and a transition period where one or more of us was going to have a meltdown. We experienced, first-hand, the cost of deciding to follow Jesus as a family.
Christianity is not generational. It is a deliberate, repeated decision to follow Jesus every day.
Our family hit a crisis when I was 14: my parents’ marriage was struggling, my two older siblings were coming through their own journeys of forgiveness after a major bust-up with my dad, my younger brother was lashing out in all directions and I was completely numb. My dad had stepped down from church leadership. We couldn’t imagine being the picture-perfect pastor’s family anymore. We were broken. It seemed like all hope was lost. My mother and father then did something completely new and yet, utterly predictable. They moved as they saw God lead. It wasn’t a neat up-sticks kinda move. It was messy and long. My mum stepped away from her career as a headmistress of a successful, private Christian school in India that she co-founded, to start from the bottom in a rough school in London, England that didn’t care who she was or what she had to offer as a Christian. My dad struggled on in limbo, caring for his frail mum and his youngest dealing with significant change trauma, generally aware of his children not liking him.
I lived in 10 homes by the time I was 18...We experienced, first-hand, the cost of deciding to follow Jesus as a family.
At the time, we lived in four different places. This was completely atypical for Indian families with unmarried children. You didn’t just live apart. This was serious. This move was a desperate attempt at making our family, our first church, work. My dad, younger brother and I joined my mum after almost a year. I was very aware that it should have been my grandmother on that plane and not me. Sadly, my gran, with whom I had shared a room for 5 years, passed away a couple of months before I moved. My older siblings had applied to British universities and it all dove-tailed in such a way that we all lived in the same house for the first time in years. Strange.
Then began the longer and even messier process of healing and adjusting to sharing the same physical space. My parents followed Jesus, and each of us kids had a choice to make to follow Jesus too. All our moves prior had us at the higher end of the privilege spectrum but we were now faced with having to prove ourselves in new ways, such as choosing to extend grace towards people who were systemically in a more privileged position than us brown people. One of the many ways we had to legitimise our existence was in presenting our faith. As we were in the throes of a battle for our family, there were times when it felt like all parts of our identity were under siege. The collective, the individual, the internal, and the external were pitted against each other in what I now see as a classic ‘divide and conquer’ manoeuvre from the enemy of our souls.
All our moves prior had us at the higher end of the privilege spectrum but we now...extend(ed) grace towards people who were systematically in a more privileged position than us brown people.
We leaned heavily on each other’s faith at a time when we felt so different from the people around us. We witnessed the wonderful power of prayer to a God who hears. We also saw the limitations of our biological family unit and the blessing of the wider church. We experienced the indignation of being misunderstood and also the joy of being accepted without question, both within the walls of our new home and in the search for a church we could call home. Having been through two church splits, seen family with depression gaslighted by well-meaning Christians, and experienced several counts of willful corporate ignorance on things that matter to me, I have plenty of reasons to want nothing to do with the church. But God…
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."
Thanks Paul for the letter to the Ephesians. This passage helps me to remember that beyond my own household, I am in the household of God, TOGETHER with you, if you believe in Jesus, no matter where you were born. I love my family. I love my church family. I would still follow Jesus anywhere.
I have plenty of reasons to want nothing to do with the church. But God…
As a side note, I would really like to encourage the church to embrace the multiple experiences of life within it and show how it wouldn’t hurt to listen to and learn from people who come from cultural backgrounds similar to that of characters in the Bible than present day white-dominant, English-speaking cultures. The foundations of my Christian identity were poured in a context so vastly different to the one I am in now, that I often find myself wondering how other globe-trotting Christ-followers navigate these repeated evaluations of their belief structure.
Cynthia's talk from the conference 2021.
Part two of Damian Young's story of starting a new church community.