Last year, I began an apprenticeship in youth work at a Christian youth centre in London. I do not consider myself to be religious, however I am on the fence to the idea of some sort of higher being. Either way, due to my lack of religious affiliation, I presumed from the start it would be a spiritual and emotional rollercoaster.
The majority of my colleagues were black or white; there were no people of mixed racial heritage apart from some of the young people I worked with, and myself. This was tough because I was supposed to assist youths struggling with their identity, but in some ways I was still struggling with my own.
My experiences up to that point had placed me in many situations where not only would I be the only mixed race person, but the only black person. However during bible study I would look around and see mainly black faces and a few white. The group was small and intimate and discussion on topics I had never thought about before was rife. I can relate to the fact that for a lot of people, being mixed race in such a new space has left them feeling misplaced, not black enough for one crowd and not white enough for the other.
“Yet, I still found it very rewarding. It helped me to see some of the good that comes from religion such as giving people more purpose in life and helping to focus them on the right path.”
But I felt comfortable with my colour. No worries at all. Although there were times when I was younger that society made me feel too dark, there I felt safe and welcome in my skin.
Nevertheless, I was aware that in terms of my spiritual and religious beliefs, I was very separate from the other people in the room. I had a very positive experience in the bible study. I added words to my vocabulary that I would never have thought to use before, and we would decipher text just like I would back in English Literature A-Level, which I found very enjoyable. But the people around me viewed this text as gospel, while I merely saw it as glorified fiction.
Another apprentice recounted a story of the person he was before he became a Christian, and that person made terrible choices regardless of what his parents taught him. It took him going to prison to realise that he wasn’t living a good life. Christianity taught him to be kind, to forgive, and helped him to unburden the past he carried on his shoulders by showing him the way to change his life for the better.
It also helped that I was principally amongst a group of like-minded people. As youth workers, the sole focus of most discussions, even when about the bible, was how we could interpret it for the benefit of the young people.
“To have grace, I was taught, meant not only to forgive someone, but to treat them with absolute kindness.”
The best thing I took away from bible study was the word grace. To have grace, I was taught, meant not only to forgive someone, but to treat them with absolute kindness. So if someone stole from your house, you would not only forgive them, but you invite them back into your house and maybe even give them a present.
This is the rebuilding of trust, and hopefully to a lot of people it would show that even though they have wronged you, you are willing to put the past behind. It’s what I started teaching the youth. If your friends are truly sorry, forgive them. Show them it’s okay and you understand that people make mistakes. If we can’t forgive our friends, do we really have any friends at all?
My experience at the hands of these Christians was engaging and educational. Now I could have easy conversations with a group I felt so isolated from before. They had opened me up to a world of acceptance that disregarded race, gender and sexual preference, which was something I had never experienced from religion before.
No, I wasn’t born again, but I did dwell on what it would be like to have my life guided by a higher power. I saw that for these Christians, it gave them drive, a commitment to making good decisions, and helped them to see every day as a new challenge. At the height of this experience, I have to say I was jealous of this purposeful lifestyle.