In the Name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, One God, Amen!
Recently, my friend told me she doesn't feel like she belongs to our church because she is not “Tewahdo” enough. That struck me as a strange statement. Although I have my own ideas on what it means to be a Tewahdo believer, I have never thought about my own “Tewahdones.” Now, I realize I never thought about it because I am one of the privileged ones. I am able to fit into the idea of what being Tewahdo means merely because I was born in Eritrea. On the other hand, my friend doesn't share that luxury because she was born in America.
My friend is one of those people I refer to as "free-spirited." She doesn't try to fit into the mold of being Habesha nor does she follow the common Habesha characteristics of saving face. As a result, she often stands out and who she is as a person alienates her from the church group, even though it has nothing to do with her faith. A lot of people at our church think her demeanors don’t abide with how people at church are supposed to act, look, and so on. Thus, they send her indirect messages of nonacceptance. When she expressed her feelings of isolation at church, I felt sad because I know that is against what our church stands for. I started thinking about the representations we uphold as Tewahdo believers and how we advertise our religion through ourselves. What vibes do we give as mezmurans, priests, deacons, and church members?
Our representation of being Tewahdo believers can be pigeonholing. We view being a Tewahdo follower as a cultural phenomenon, which leads to people who don’t fit into that culture feeling left out. We forget that we were warned not to confuse God with our personal beliefs. In Colossians 2:8, St. Paul says, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” I am aware that I too play a role in this problem of limiting the representation of a Tewahdo believer to one picture when it is actually a combination of pictures made into one. We are limbs of one Body of Christ. But sometimes I find myself thinking, wow look at how he is dressed, or look at how she talks, or look at what they're doing just because in my head I have images of how a Tewahdo person is supposed to look like. But just because I am wearing all white, covered head to toe and act shy doesn't necessarily mean I am a good Tewahdo believer. After all, no one has any idea of what I do when I am not pretending to be a “good Tewahdo.”
Romans 14:13 says, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” Being a “good Tewahdo” is not black or white. Sure, we can look at the lives of saints from the Holy Bible as a blueprint, but even that is tricky because their lives weren't all the same, and they didn't go to heaven using the same method. They were all different types of followers of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. One thing they all shared was their love for God. This shows us that there is no one way to be Tewahdo as long as you are abiding by God's commandments. For example, let's look at the story of the lady that was ridiculed because in the eyes of other people her offering wasn’t good enough. However, the lady was rewarded by God because Jesus knew it was all she had. Looks can be deceiving, let's remember that God wasn’t impressed by the people who gave a lot of money and looked generous (Mark 12:42-44).
So, is one person more of the right Tewahdo believer because he/she wore white or has Habesha manners? Is my friend who doesn’t dress like the other mezmurans and doesn't speak Tigrigna the wrong Tewahdo? Hopefully, you answered no. It is not to discourage wearing white or knowing Tigrigna, indeed those are important, but they can’t be deciding attributes of a Tewahdo believer. There is no one way to be a Tewahdo believer. Yet even as we are aware of this, we are so quick to judge someone by their appearance or actions just because they don't fit into the cultural stereotype. In Romans 14:4 it is written, “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” To judge is not our place, let's just encourage each other to grow spiritually. To lose dedicated believers because we are unaccepting of different ways of being a believer is counter-effective.
From today on let’s make it our mission to be open-minded, so we don't make anyone feel less than. Let’s also make sure our friends feel as welcome as we do at church. I don’t want our church to suffer the loss of believers at the cost of our blindness. If there is one thing we can all be certain of, it is that Tewahdo is our unity.
“Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).
Glory be to God, Amen.
Bieza and Bieza-Natu