Six years ago, I decided to do the ‘big chop’ of my treated hair and start embracing my nappy, natural 4C hair. Two years later, my husband and I relocated to a “woke” context ... Geneva, Switzerland, which has been home ever since. I would later appreciate this seemingly simple decision to embrace my natural hair as it would highlight my ‘Africaness’ and prepare me to teach my daughters about their own hair. I always wanted to be a mother. As most little girls grow up playing house, I did too and hoped to one day have children of my own. It is with great joy and expectation that I have anticipated our children. Motherhood begins way before the baby is put in one’s hands. All the planning, and thoughts that a mom goes through are part of the process to preparing her for the most life changing moment of her life when she meets her little one. Motherhood is as exciting as it is humbling. It’s a journey that continues to teach me about God, myself and life, as well as how God nurtures me. Indeed, nurturing identity and belonging does take many forms, and is particularly necessary in this “woke” world. Interestingly, hair has been a major step in nurturing my little one; for it gives the appreciation of identity, value and dignity.
As a believer in Christ, my understanding of motherhood is anchored in scripture. Psalm 127:3 exhorts that Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from Him. Motherhood, therefore, is a divine blessing, a gift, and a reward. Motherhood is essentially a stewardship role; an honour and joy to wisely nurture the children God has gifted us with. Children are in our sole care for a season, and will eventually grow to live independent lives - just like I am miles and continents away from my mother. How we handle this season has an impact on their adulthood and life in the future. Another scripture that defines and guides my role as a mother is Proverbs 22:6 - Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. God in His wisdom has entrusted me with the role of leading them onto the right path. As a Christian, I am discipling, witnessing and teaching my children the love and ways of God; modelling what it means to live a life that honours God. These guiding scriptures are not dependent on where I live or where God has positioned me. In one way or another, God gives the wisdom to obey and live them out in all of life’s seasons.
However, I submit for your consideration that the environment does play a role in shaping our lives. One vivid issue of the cultural environment of this time, is the whole phenomenon of “wokeness” . Indeed, what does it mean to live in a “woke world”? Is “wokeness” about having an awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice? This seems to be the general sense. “Wokeness” could also mean being well informed, up to date, and alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice. By these standards, most first world countries would consider themselves “woke”; including the one I live in presently. Social and racial justice are highly valued and emphasised at every level of public life. As a melting pot, Geneva has people from all over the world, which makes social and racial justice almost inevitable. However, being a predominantly Caucasian society, the African race falls in the minority.
As a Christian, my understanding of justice finds its rooting in God. While social and racial justice are championed in almost all spheres, there is less emphasis on the one who is Justice Himself; God. However, religion and faith in this context are private and not for the public spaces, out of “respect” for all. Faith communities tend to be the minority, which is a significantly different experience for me coming from Uganda - a context where faith and religion have greater value and visibility. Acknowledged in public life, faith expression in the form of national prayer days, religious education in schools, including ardent street preachers on every other corner, offer one an opportunity to engage with faith and religion.
In contrast, in my current “woke” context, God is neither mentioned in schools, nor in public spaces, and is mostly seen as offensive to many. Faith in public spaces is shunned and actually prohibited. Faith is a private matter. Naturally, as a Christian mother in this “woke” environment, the work I have to put in to teach and pass on my Christian faith and values to my children is far from casual; it requires great intentionality. In that sense, not having the family safety net to share in this responsibility, is greatly missed. The blessing of having a great Christian community, therefore, is truly appreciated in the “woke” context.
On the racial justice front, my work as a mother is to instil value and love for all races.Being African in a predominantly Caucasian country, requires deliberate engagement on my part, in teaching and explaining the richness of our race, anchored in our God given identity. First, teaching the Bible from a tender age, nurturing a love for the Scriptures, and modelling the value of knowing and loving God, is a big part of educating a little one about seemingly complex racial justice issues. It is the nurturing of a biblical worldview, which will influence the way a child views race - both now and later in life. One of the Scriptures I have been emphasising in our learning is from Psalm 139: 13-14 For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.
Second, in addition to nurturing a Christian worldview, I have to go the extra mile to look out for books and content that bear imagery and pictures that include the African race. This is critical, that my daughter sees herself and relates more with what she reads, and who she sees; after all, she is not usually surrounded by those who look just like her, like she would, if she were back in Uganda. Third, I have been intentional in teaching and nurturing a value in my daughter, of our culture, food, and language; ensuring that she has a sense of belonging beyond her parents. Communication with her extended family, using internet enabled technology, does inform her belonging and sense of value as an African, in a predominantly Caucasian culture.
Finally, pray unceasingly; this is the thrust of the call of motherhood. As Abraham Lincoln once stated, “I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.”
About the author
Olivia Niyo is a passionate Christian wife and mother. She spends her time nurturing her three year old daughter and preparing for her sibling on the way. Together with her husband, Olivia leads the young adult ministry at their local church. She also participates actively in writing and speaking engagements. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, for the last four years, Olivia is from Kampala, Uganda.