I’m at home in the ’hoods

Photo: Julia Taubitz, Unsplash. Photo: Julia Taubitz, Unsplash.

I love to meet people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. There’s a lesson in every new relationship.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.” I like how the Living Bible puts it: “A friendly discussion is as stimulating as the sparks that fly when iron strikes iron.”

Experts say there is a connection between friendship and health. Friendships enrich our quality of life.

From the time that I was new to the Anabaptist tradition of Christian faith, I can attest to the value of friendships that have increased my sense of belonging and purpose.

Friendships are essential in a world that can feel ominous and lonely. Due to the pandemic, many have not been able to spend time with loved ones. In some places, people are afraid to go out at night for fear of being shot. In our stressful world, we need healthy relationships to boost happiness and reduce anxiety.

THe first time we meet someone, one thing always comes up: Where are you from? Where do you live?

When people ask me this, I sometimes break the ice by sharing my country of origin, Nigeria, or by saying, “Oh, I am from the ’hood!”

I live in South Central Los Angeles, a predominantly Black neighborhood. Due to a history of drug and gang activity, many people still connect South Central L.A. with films like Menace II Society from 1993.

Despite its transformation, many people still think of South Central L.A. as an uneducated, poor community. But there are many successful, educated, middle-class African Americans there.

People make assumptions about us based on where we live. I call it social profiling through ZIP codes. Even if you don’t know what South Central L.A.’s ZIP codes are, you might think you know about the people who live there — whether they are society’s haves or the have-nots, educated or uneducated, “red” or “blue” politically.

Some ZIP codes are considered safe and others unsafe. If people have the means to do so, they choose their ZIP codes based on what they think they know about safety. But no matter where you live, security can still be broken and leave even the most apparently secure people vulnerable.

Because of where I live, I am especially aware that it is wrong to make assumptions about people based on their ZIP codes.

I want to call our attention to a different kind of ZIP code. As believers of Christ, we all are from a particular ’hood — one where there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Because of Christ, we live in the Godhood.

Within this Godhood, we’ve chosen a specific address: the Anabaptist ’hood, which comes with a whole other set of assumptions and stereotypes that each of us may have opportunities to define or redefine.

Jesus Christ is the mastermind, the chief architect, building engineer and cornerstone of Godhood living.

Besides being defined by equality, the Godhood is defined by safety. Especially now, in light of the war in Ukraine, we see how physical safety cannot be taken for granted. Scripture promises a spiritual refuge. Psalm 91:1, in the King James Version, says, “He who dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”

One who dwells is not a visitor. One who dwells feels at home.

I feel at home in the Godhood, the Anabaptist ’hood and South Central Los Angeles.

People might make assumptions based on where I live, but the only way to really understand me is to get to know me personally.

I have been in business meetings where people have made assumptions about me. Most of the time I ignore it, but a few times I have felt a nudge to circle back and reintroduce myself. Once we exchange more information, I have noticed the atmosphere change.

Whether they know me as a teacher, businesswoman or minister, people make assumptions based on how I look, or, perhaps, where I am from. It is a wall I must constantly break down.

Among those who live in the God­hood — our safe dwelling place, God’s shelter — there ought to be no assumption, no discrimination, no inequality based on gender, race or class. Rural or urban, from any ZIP code, Christ is in all, and everywhere.

Anthonia Onye

Anthonia Onye is regional minister for Southern California for Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference.

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