Have you ever asked yourself, where do I fit? It’s a question I have been wondering about for quite some time.
I was born in Switzerland to a Swiss mother (white) and a Congolese dad (black). I was raised in a multicultural neighbourhood and, pretty quickly, I was labeled as a black kid growing up in Switzerland; a Congolese, to be specific. I was fine with that around my friends, at school, and most of the time really, but when I was around 8, I realised that I did not belong to the Congolese community – or not totally at least. I didn’t know the language, the culture, the history, the music, the jokes… but my skin colour also made it clear that I wasn’t just a regular Swiss kid either, so where did I fit?
I ended up playing basketball and, being ok at it, I felt like that was a great place to belong. They were my people and that was the case for a good amount of time. Around 16, I started going out and spinning so I ended up being a DJ. Eventually, those two realities turned out to be more like dead ends for me and I started university, studying philosophy. Have you ever seen an almost black guy, semi-professional basketball player, DJ and regular in the hip hop scene ending up studying philosophy…? The question remained, where do I fit?
On top of all that, let’s add my faith journey. To be honest, for years I had a hard time feeling like I belonged in any church. The rhythm of life that came with being an athlete, DJ and philosophy student was not something that I shared with many other Christians around me. And vice versa. I still remember when, around 11, my best friend told me I couldn’t believe in Jesus because he was the white people’s God and that I had to believe in Jah (true story!).
My story has repeatedly brought me back to asking Where do I fit? but I soon realised that this question was real to most people, and especially university students. With a changing group of friends, city, activities, etc, university is, for many, a place where you can totally reinvent yourself, both for the best and the worst. We all crave community, so the question of fitting into a group is a serious one for us all.
In the Bible, I found out that most of the heroes of faith had to journey with the same question. Think of Moses being raised in a different culture, Joseph being a leader in a foreign country, David being ignored by his own dad, Daniel being a king’s adviser in exile, or Peter leaving the fisherman’s business, and so many more examples. But what if where do I fit? could actually be more of a trap than anything else…?
Let’s consider Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 9:19-23: “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.”
Honestly, this is all quite disturbing! Who is this guy, who intentionally fits everywhere and nowhere?!
Then I realised the key. Rather than constantly asking myself where I fit, the better question is this: Where do I put my identity?
Community, groups and activities are all great, and are to be encouraged, but they are flimsy things on which to build our identity, despite how easy and tempting it can be to do so.
So what should really define who we are?
Finding our identity in God is definitely easier said than done. But it’s a key journey for every disciple. For me, that journey involved being ok to let go of what others would think of me, stopping trying to do everything to be accepted and loved and, instead, looking honestly inside myself and to God.
My skin colour is definitely more black than the average Swiss person (and every now and then, a look from a stranger reminds me of that). My culture is more of a Swiss young guy: I love basketball and can still play well (or so I tell myself) and music still has a huge place in my life. But none of it defines who I am. You can take it all away and I will still be a loved son; I don’t have to pretend and try to live out anyone’s expectations, or prove that I fit into a certain mould (what on earth even is a philosopher anyway?!). Strip it all back and I will still find value in the fact that Jesus calls me His friend and brother. I call that, returning home.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells a story about two lost brothers whose father’s will is for them both to come home. I think one of the foundational realities of the Christian faith is that wonderful invitation to come home; to really experience relationship with your heavenly Father. Home is a place where you don’t have to try to fit because you belong just the way you are. The journey is then to become the best version of yourself every day and not to fit anywhere based on what you do, your skills or your skin colour. Once you belong, you can then invite others to do the same and you can help them experience what being home means for them. And that’s what Jesus did. When you think about it, Jesus didn’t just tell a story about two lost brothers, He also introduced Himself as a son. As such, He left home so that everyone would be able to experience and come home. And He is calling His disciples to do the same…
So if you find yourself asking that question, where do I fit?, I would encourage you to change it to where do I put my identity? Engage in that beautiful journey and continue becoming that son or daughter of God. Find people that will challenge you and see you beyond what you do, your people groups, your title, and all that other stuff. Find a community that will help you become who God says you are and challenge you to dare being you.
And once you’re there, extend the invitation, just as Jesus did, and just as the apostles, and Paul, and so many more recent heroes of faith after them have done.
By Yves Bulundwe
Yves lives in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he leads HOME church with his wife, Janet. He is also involved in leading youth and student movements across Europe.