I can’t imagine what it was like for my very Malu family to come to the U.S. and learn how to navigate its systems. Imagine being surrounded by people, languages, and cultures that are nothing like the one you know. Imagine that with a family, in-laws, and a language barrier. Imagine it when you are the most educated person in room, but unqualified simply because your degree doesn’t translate in this new place.
Imagine it when you have to make ends meet and there isn’t any turning back. I struggle to understand how my dad and mom navigated apartment hunting, mortgages, insurance, etc. In 2017, I at the ripe age of 25, use my dad as my wealth management consultant. I went through the American public school system, am college educated, and live on my own. My dad manages my insurance and my 401k. This is why he can still tell me what to do, he honestly has the resilience and grace to always know better.
Church was a safe haven for my Malayalee (Malu) identity. It was a place where Malus were safe to be themselves and find real, relatable community. This was gathering around people who looked, spoke, and talked like us.
Biblical teaching was deeply influenced by Malu and family culture. It meant that whatever you were taught in your respective family home seeped into the way the Bible was taught to the congregation. A lot of people found ways to use the Bible to further their own agendas and belief about a range of community topics. It became a forum for safeguarding Malu identity, upholding family reputation and status in communities, and allowed us to have a real relevant place in America.
Malu identity and Pentecostal identity became one. There was no easy way to separate the two – being Pente and being Malu was one in the same. I still have a hard time seeing myself out of the Malu Pente identity. I don’t really know what it means to be just a Malu girl.
I could never see God past his brown face.
In my mind, God looked like my dad – a tall Malu man – good intentioned, but very susceptible to real human emotion, error, and pain. God looked at me the way my dad looked at me when I did something wrong – confused, frustrated, and sometimes, unforgiving.
It is really easy to run away from God when we sum Him up to the hurt, pain, and destructiveness of our broken communities. I also think we are doing God a disservice if we sum it up to the amazingly loving, caring, and devoted nature of our broken communities. Neither are reflective of who God truly is.
My family struggled with finding community in an America that wasn’t looking out for them. Outside of the Malu church, our family had no other real support system. In response to this, many Malu people, out of genuine love and desire to create Christian fellowship for their families, started meeting in a house and praying together to build the Malu church in their respective cities.
Our families go to Malu church so that they can hold onto a piece of their very real identity. Our families are made up of human, vulnerable individuals. These families were trying to make America their home. They wanted to find refuge from the rough, difficult, and confusing nature of living in America. It’s not all fun and games here, people. I actually believe that the Malu church was built to find the hope of Jesus in the difficult journey of being an immigrant. I believe it was a community – such like the American ones we are now a part of, solving for a very specific need and in ways, banning together for these individuals to do life, together.
This is why the Malu church is not a problem. The problem is allowing our Malu identity to solve for brokenness that extends out of living life on earth. It is a layer to how we have to approach God. When we can first see ourselves as followers of Jesus, we can then, approach God with our Malu identity and see how it fits into the mix. First, we have to wrap our heads around what God says about us outside of being Malu Pente.
I love the Malu Pente church. In this season of life, I am not called to it. I respect, and honor it – but it is not my current sphere of influence. I love Malu Pente people and I will always be an advocate, friend, and admirer of those who are embedded, rooted, and called to it. However, I will say that the pain that the Malu Pente church placed on me and many friends that I know and love is very, very real. I believe both haters, advocates, and admirers of it have to look to it from a God centered lens.
I also believe that God can heal the people broken by it.