Bearing A New Name – When Strangers Become Family: Winner of LittAfrica 2023 Writing Contest (English)

Bearing A New Name – When Strangers Become Family: A Letter For The Youth Of Africa

By Lwazi Shwala, South Africa

I was 18 when I was gifted my first Bible. In my mind, I was late to the game. I had long been a Christian, but very much an independent contractor. I would flip through the Scriptures like old mail from unfamiliar relatives. There was a letter for every occasion. A distant uncle encourages me: “Do not be anxious about anything.” A brother warns me: “Do not only listen to the Word… do what it says.” Another brother simply narrates the careless hospitality of a sister I don’t know. This was now my family. I quickly treated them as such –  keeping some at arm’s length, uninterested in understanding them, whilst simultaneously gazing googly-eyed at my Oldest Brother and failing miserably to imitate Him.

Over the years, unfamiliarity gave way to affection and then to bouts of insecurity. What part did I have in this family? A family that had seen the Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night. A family set apart from every nation. As I repeatedly made my way through this mail I would mentally create two piles. Pile 1 titled Familial and pile 2 titled Miscellaneous. Galatians – Pile 1, John – Pile 1. Genesis (in part) – Pile 2. I would squirm at the phrase “the God of my ancestors.” What part did I have in this family?

I would squirm because I knew the family I come from. The despised of the earth. A family the world thought it good to steal and to steal from. Today, a divided household where parents steal from their children. This is my family. And every one of my personal failings testifies to me that I belong. The pride that I wear, the glances I steal, and the generosity I withhold remind me daily that I am right at home.

This is where I stand most days, making sense of how I am a member of the family of God – witnesses of miracles and heralds of righteousness; while a member of the African family – hopelessly sinned against and now meticulously sinful.

I continue to read.

In the Familial pile, I find 1 Corinthians. Paul writes “God chose the lowly things and the despised things… to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.” What a blessing to be despised.

In the Familial pile, again, I find Matthew 25. Christ says “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” What a blessing to be the least.

In the Miscellaneous pile, I find Psalm 87. An anonymous relative speaks of a city so Holy that it can be identified by its citizens. I look around my city and laugh in disbelief at the promise of God. All of a sudden I show my relation to Abraham. But I slowly move the text from one pile to the other. What a blessing to hope in the promise of God.

This is where I find my hope, and pray that you do too. In the case we are despised, like the shameful cross, we can rejoice. In the case we are viewed as foolish, like a stuttering Moses or the ditzy disciples, we can look forward. In the case that we are weak, like David, we can rest in the strength of God.

As a fellow young African, I encourage you to strive and innovate and sow in love and joy, for the good of this continent. But I also want you to know where your hope lies. God does not operate as the world does. He delights in uplifting the downtrodden and does not leave us to toil ourselves into prosperity. And in whatever residues of frustration, or even shame, the African story may bring, it is being eternally hopeful that relates us to God’s people. Hopeful that He lifts us up in the midst of it all. Hopeful that His Kingdom, absent of death, pain, disease and corruption, will unfold. Even in our wounded communities.

Lwazi Shwala was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. When he was a teenager, he found and read a Gideons pocket Bible of the New Testament and the Psalms. Lwazi says, “I understood very little, but was simultaneously convicted and compelled by Jesus’ teachings and character. His gracious hands have carried me in spite of myself throughout.”

Today, Lwazi is involved in social impact initiatives for youth. He recently finished a project assisting Faces Up, a Ugandan NGO, to develop the monitoring and evaluation of their programs. He is currently working for Umphakathi, a Johannesburg-based non-profit, on a skills development project aimed at reducing youth unemployment.

“Most importantly,” Lwazi says, “I am trying to make a daily practice of clinging to Christ as He has to me.”

Lwazi will receive a full scholarship to LittAfrica 2023

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