The slogan “proudly South African” was everywhere: on billboards, on the back of cars, in shopping markets, on T-shirts, on vuvuzelas.
Shortly after I arrived in South Africa, the 2010 World Cup commenced, hosted in this very country. Well, I wasn’t South African, so I couldn’t join in the parade. Five years later, with the onslaught of xenophobic attacks, I definitely wasn’t proud to be Nigerian either.
Justifiably, many foreigners felt angry and betrayed during the attacks. I remember hearing comments like “South Africa isn’t as good as Nigeria anyway,” “Only God can help South Africa,” and “South Africans have no work ethic.”
Through years of hearing such things, I began to think that the culture and practices of my passport country were truly better than those in South Africa. It took a lot of eye-opening experiences to teach me otherwise.
I am now convinced that the thing that kept me on my feet after all these years was not my supposed cultural superiority. Rather, it was God’s grace.
Grace is given to us so that we can give it to others.
Picture grace as God’s big powerhouse. It is an enormous station in the heavenly realm, flowing with so much of His spiritual power that sparks are seen to fly from it for many celestial miles around. It is just massive. You can never take so much power out of it as to exhaust it of the slightest atom. Above its high-arched entrance, where angels stream in and out, is a board inscribed with these words: GRACE – ALL OF CHRIST’S POWER FOR ALL IN NEED!
When this heavenly power reaches us, we just can’t keep it to ourselves. The power reaching us is too much, it needs to overflow. We are filled to the brim and beyond with God’s light and love.
So what do we do?
We call others to share in it because, after all, there is so much more where that came from. So we can always give, give, and give some more. And then, when we feel depleted of God’s power, we can ask for more grace (after all, last time I checked, there are no power cuts in the heavenly realm).
Isn’t it an amazing thought that we can always have more of God’s grace when we ask?
“For grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.” – St. Augustine
God grants us His grace to not only sustain us and enable us to journey well but for us to also extend that grace to others. Grace lights us up so that we can be the light of the world and share His love with even the most undeserving.
God also grants grace to His children on account of their circumstances. To a new mother or a new primary school teacher, He might grant the grace of patience. To TCKs, He might give a special grace too: a grace that helps us see beyond culture, race, and ethnicity to the person – God’s creation – hidden deep inside.
There is a name for this grace. Cultural grace.
If you search about it, you will probably dig up next to nothing. This is because it was a concept I defined on a spur of the moment. I was trying to think of how to describe this wonderful virtue that, though not inherent to TCKs alone, is undoubtedly more seen in those foreign to the culture around them. I poised my hand to write and the words came to me instantly.
Cultural grace. The ability to look beyond culture and patriotism to see everyone as our equal under God.
Cultural grace helps us to see others through God-lenses.
Cultural grace enables us to see beyond the “faults” of the cultural practices or the “frustrating” attitudes of the people of our resident country. Through cultural grace, we begin to see things through God-lenses, and, before long, we begin to feel nothing but love for even those we are at most variance with.
“...for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7b KJV
My first experience with God-lenses was in my second year of university.
I was having a terrible time witnessing the depravity of many people around me. It seemed as if I was living in a Babel of sin.
Back at home, I would hear a lot of things like “South Africans lack morals” and “South African ladies lack virtue,” and what I was seeing seemed to prove the veracity of these statements. I couldn’t help but think, “Well, I think they must be right! Nigeria is more godly, after all, and South Africa is as sinful as the West!”
To make matters worse, there were one or two people that I really had issues with. It was difficult for me to live in the same vicinity as them. They just seemed so difficult and so sinful and so lacking in any sense of godliness. It was nearly impossible for me to abide in their presence.
But I was led to pray for these particular people, mentioning them one by one in my prayers. Then something quite amazing happened (picture a power surge through our heavenly powerhouse!).
It was as if I heard a whisper of God’s voice saying to me, “Joy, what if she acts that way because she has gone through such-and-such as a child.” Sometimes, those suggestions would be more definite, telling me, “She acts this way because of this-and-this.”
Before long, compassion started to grow in my heart until I just couldn’t see those people the way I saw them before. I started to see the heart behind their sinful actions and not just the sinful actions themselves. This made me quickly do away with all the anger and frustration I was feeling. God helped me extend His grace to them!
In the same way, the cultures you are surrounded by might do things against your preferences or even your Christian beliefs. But before pointing self-righteous fingers at people, go on your knees to pray for them, mentioning those you know by name. You would be surprised to see how God gradually changes your self-stained lens to God-lenses. He allows you to see the heart behind their actions and, in that way, extend His grace to them.
Cultural grace points fingers at us first.
Have you heard the term, “Everyone does it differently”?
We say this often but most times with a subconscious premise that our “different” is better.
Now, there can be some merit to a little bit of cultural or national patriotism once in a while. But never should we put ourselves at the top of some Darwinian pedestal, thinking of ourselves as more civilised, gifted, or, worse still, a God-sent, heaven-ordained gift and earthly saviour to those of other cultures (especially cultures thought to be more “primitive” according to worldly standards).
If we are to go about trying to change other people’s cultures to conform to our own, we would, quite literally, rob heaven of its beautiful diversity.
The Bible says:
“... there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” Colossians 3:11 KJV
In Christ’s eyes, no culture is more civilised or more primitive than another. These parameters are worldly instituted in order to keep some cultures above others.
We point our fingers at those who are less technologically advanced (I refuse to say less culturally advanced as some say) and call them “barbarians” or “primitive” when God calls them “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14).
If we are to be Christlike, we should remove any superiority complex from our minds. Instead, we should:
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” Colossians 3:12–14 KJV, emphasis added
Cultural grace allows for a differing perspective.
There is an amazing picture, the “9/6 Perspective Picture,” that has been circulating for many years now. In this picture, two men are standing, each on either end of a figure “6” – or figure “9,” however you see it! – painted on the ground.
One man shouts from one end, “I see a six!” The other retorts, “But it is a nine!”
The catch is that they are both right – only from different perspectives!
This picture is powerful because it tells us that truth – with the exception of biblical truth – can sometimes be subject to perspective and opinions.
Yes, you might be used to dressing a certain way, or eating in a certain way or with certain utensils. But just because another culture does it differently doesn’t mean that they are wrong! Maybe they just see things from a different, yet equal, perspective that is still correct in its own right.
Just like the men in the “9/6 Perspective Picture,” some things are better left to individual or cultural conviction.
How does this affect us as Christian TCKs, MKs, or PKs (or anyone else, really)?
As vessels of God in our resident country, we must learn to be respectful of certain cultural beliefs of those around us, as long as they don’t impede on biblical truth. (And even when they do, we must also learn the art of respectfully disagreeing!) We are in their country after all and should play by their cultural rules.
Secondly, when we seek to bring people of a different culture to Christ, we must remember that to be saved is to be welcomed into the kingdom of God, not to be converted to western culture or western practices!
As this is heavy on my heart, I will repeat it.
The proof of someone’s salvation is that they have received Christ apart from works and apart from a cultural change.
We must learn to see the difference. Besides, people are more likely to receive the gospel from those whom they see as culturally equal and not culturally superior to them.
Your culture (and you!) aren’t as good as you think anyway!
The root of deadly patriotism is built on the premise that “we do it better.” But we are often not as good as we think. In fact, we would do well if we are even half as good as we think.
I remember when I started noticing how bad Nigeria really was. The corruption of the government, the bad economical state of the country, the self-righteousness and pride of many of its people, the terrible, terrible crimes and deadly kidnappings claiming many people every year, the culture of hard drugs in the universities (yes, this as well!), the terrorism in the northern part, etc. The rose-coloured glasses with which I had always viewed my home country shattered.
Yes, South Africa was bad, but Nigeria was also very bad in its own way. In fact, every single country is bad and ruled by its own territorial spirit or “Prince of Persia.”
Yes, maybe the crime rate in your passport country is not as high as the one of your resident country. But isn’t the moral aptitude of many in your passport country equally as low? So what if your country is a “Christian” country – or at least the census says that – but how Christian is your country really?
These hard questions lead us to see the importance of humility.
Humility is the key to cultural grace. It allows us to esteem other cultures as equal to ours and to esteem all people more highly than we esteem ourselves.
The Bible says:
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” Philippians 2:3–4 KJV, emphasis added
Let our cultural superiority complex give way under the hand of God to Christlike humility and kindness.
Dear TCK, are you seeking to break barriers?
Learn to extend cultural grace first.
TCKs for Christ: Writer
is an avid dreamer, writer, and unapologetic Christian. As her name states, her one purpose in life is to spread joy wherever it is needed. Formerly a PK, she has lived in South Africa as a TCK for most of her life. She enjoys reading, writing, and playing the piano. Connect with her on D’JoyGene or Instagram, @DJoyGene
2 thoughts on “Cultural Grace: A Cure to Deadly Patriotism”
Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insight, Joy! This is so convicting and thought-provoking.
Hey Joy! This is so beautiful and wise. Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts