This is a question I have heard many times throughout my life! Of course I have also been asked in the past whether I’m Lebanese and whether I’m Pakistani. An Arabic lecturer who taught me at Bible college, insisted that I surely had Lebanese blood in me. Recently a Jewish friend of mine insisted that I could have Jewish blood in me.
When Kiwis used to ask me whether I’m Indian, I would react saying, “No, I’m Sri Lankan”. They would then reply, “but that’s the same as India, right?” Of course I had an easy way to explain the difference – in a way they would understand, “It’s like saying you are from Aussie”. Yes, some ask this out of ignorance, of not knowing how to distinguish given the similarities and in some cases, some ask not knowing that a little yet beautiful island called Sri Lanka even existed on the map.
Another subset of people ask this because apparently I look Indian. Even here in Sri Lanka, I get asked that. Despite this being my country of birth, and both my parents being of Sri Lankan origin, I often get misunderstood to be “Indian” or a “foreigner”. When it comes to the Indian communities overseas and in India – well, more often than not, I have been asked or mistaken to be a Gujarati. That’s based on appearances. However, a number of Indians would ask a Sri Lankan this question as in their eyes, all Sri Lankans are Indians as apparently Sri Lanka was geographically a part of India. How many years ago, I have no idea. Nonetheless, it is believed that the first migrants to Sri Lanka were from India…
Yet I think this notion of all Sri Lankans being “Indians” based on the yester years where it is pretty much ancient, is kind of impractical thinking – clinging onto the past instead of living in the present. First of all, I wasn’t born if and when Sri Lanka was a part of India, nor were my parents let alone our previous generations that I know of directly from India to be able to trace heritage there. We are simply Sri Lankans by birth. It’s crazy to base my identity on something that currently doesn’t exist… Besides for that matter, I’m not even a “Sri Lankan” by nationality anymore but rather a “New Zealander” and a “Canadian”. Just because I’m ‘brown’ in complexion doesn’t make me an Indian let alone doesn’t compel me to speak Hindi. Just because I’m born in Sri Lanka doesn’t force me to speak Sinhala (the main language of Sri Lanka) let alone Tamil, my mother tongue and an official language of the country. There is no musts! I was raised overseas and it’s not fair to expect me to be “Sri Lankan” let alone “Indian” (whereby India isn’t a place that I lived so to speak!). We have no right to impose our opinions and values on another as each one’s paths are different. It was annoying that people in India expected me to speak Hindi and quite a few seemed surprised that Hindi wasn’t a language in Sri Lanka! We are all uniquely wired.
Anyway.. even if we do go by the principle that Sri Lanka was a part of India and also that Sri Lankans origins began in India, and hence if we want to say Sri Lankans are all Indians too (although we certainly have mixed marriages and thus descendants of European nations, Arabs / Middle Easterners etc), .. then we really should go back to the beginning of age. If that is so, we realise that we are all descendants of Adam and Eve making us technically Hebrews and no other nationality.
Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden. Once they made the wrong choice, they were banished from the garden. Cain sinned and was banished from the presence of God. He moved to the land of Nod, east of Eden (Genesis 4:16). After the floods, God repeated to Noah and his sons the mandate He had initially given to Adam & Eve – to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1). Then from these, the clans of Noah’s sons, the nations spread out over the earth after the flood (Genesis 10:32). Genesis 11:1 records, “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” Yet the people decided to build a city, “with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4). The LORD then decided to “confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” (11:7) “From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:9).
It was a result of sin that caused the spreading of mankind… from being in God’s presence in the Garden of Eden to ultimately being scattered over the face of the whole earth and with languages confused. In fact when you really think about it, it was the sin of selfish ambition that led to the outward spread. From a common speech, now there are confusion of languages… the various ethnicities developed when scattered in different parts of the world. From one nation and one speech, we are now many nations and many speeches where we do not necessarily understand each other. Yes, this was not the perfect model for creation yet was brought to pass due to our wanting to make a name for ourselves.
We as believers cling on to so many different types of identities, based on our nationality, our ethnicity, our mother tongues, our ministries, which church we belong to, which denomination we belong to… At the end of the day, we lose sight of our true identity – that of being God’s child, created in HIS image… we also thus lose sight of the focus. Jesus went about doing the will of His Father. He never lost sight of that.
I think Paul’s attitude sets us believers on the right path –
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone – Ephesians 2:19,20
We need to remind ourselves that we are now not “foreigners” nor “aliens” (whereby aliens are those who are not citizens of a place), we no longer find our identity in being a Jew or a Gentile, male or female… but as citizens with fellow believers, the members of God’s family… coming together as the body of Christ.
Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ – Philippians 3:19,20
We can focus on earthly things and identities that belong to the earth. Or we can choose to keep our priority to focus on why we were placed on earth in the first place and remember our citizenship is in heaven. We work towards the Kingdom of God and stand up for righteousness as opposed to striving towards establishing a name for ourselves – whether as a country, or a church or even a ministry… Our priority should be to see God’s name being glorified.