I never knew I wanted a ‘people’ until a couple winters ago. I was preparing for a missions exposure trip to northern Manitoba. Part of that prep was a course that covered the history of the native people in Canada, as well as their culture in northern Manitoba. I was struck by the loyalty of the aboriginal people—loyalty to their people, to their ancestral lands, their languages, and their heritage, loyalty in the face of a hostile culture that was intent on wiping away their culture and practice. But in the face of this loyalty, I came to realize: I had no people.
Technically, I am a Mennonite. I have blood-ties to the Mennonites who emigrated from Russia in the late 1800’s. I know what warenke, kielke and farmer sausage are (even though I don’t really care for them). In my understanding, Mennonites don’t drink, don’t dance, are theologically conservative and emotionally non-demonstrative. And I appreciate that. I admire the Mennonite commitment to a holistic spirituality—taking care of the heart through a missions’ focus, the body through relief work, and the lifestyle through a simple way of life and hard work. I hold to Mennonite theology to the best of my understanding though, as most people, I have my difficult spots and doubts.
But I have a very difficult time seeing Mennonites as ‘my people’. My theology may be Mennonite but my ethnicity is only… sort of. I didn’t grow up in a Mennonite community, and though my church belongs to a Mennonite conference, it does not reflect a strong Mennonite culture. My father’s side of the family is not Mennonite. I don’t have the right last-name. I’ve sometimes called myself a ‘half-breed Mennonite’.
So, I suppose the Mennonites are not my people.
I’ve been studying 1 Peter for almost two months now. One of the key points of 1 Peter is that Christians are God’s people—once we were not a people, now we are His people (2:10). We are now ‘living stones’ being built up into God’s temple (2:5). Wherever we are from, whatever our ethnicity, whatever our ‘sect’, our macro identity is found in the church, the people of God. This crystalized for me this morning as I read McKnight. He said “find your identity in being part of God’s family, not in being part of a society that does not accept you”. The fragments of thought came together in my mind. I do have a people.
I recently joined a ‘cell’ group from a church in my community. I don’t attend that church, but I was looking for other women my age to connect with. On the whole this church believes as I do, but their practice and emphasis is quite different from what I am accustomed to. Still, when I met with these girls, prayed, worshiped and confessed with them, I felt at home. I felt connected, like I’d known these girls for a long time. And why not? They’re my family. Together we are God’s household, his people.
I do have a people. My people are the church. Locally, that means Mennonites, but on a broad scale, my people are all around the world, worshipping Jesus and living to please him. When they are oppressed, that is my people being oppressed. When they thrive, that is my people thriving.
The only question is, what am I going to do about it?