My family is super small. I have 3 siblings and we grew up with a single mother. Mom is an only child. I have no immediate aunts, uncles or cousins on her side.
I enjoyed spending time with my maternal grandmother, Nana. She was short, not even 5 feet tall. I remember her taking me to church. She was religious. One of my earliest memories is the fire department rushing into our small apartment. Nana fell asleep with one of her “religious” candles burning—true story. She died when I was 13.
I know very little about my father—born and raised in Haiti. Immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1970’s. Died in 1990. I don’t know if I have any aunts, uncles, or cousins on his side.
In elementary school, I didn't understand the depth of the phrase, “going to see my cousins.” I thought cousins were no big deal. In youth group, a few kids came with their cousins. You couldn’t separate them. If you tried, they’d just subvert the system and get together again. Anyone who came against one cousin, came against all the cousins. This is when I realized there was more to having cousins, and family, than what I understood—and I wanted it.
Fast forward 20 years. I’d been in South Africa for about 2 months when a friend’s cousin took a hard fall. Unsure he’d walk again, a family prayer meeting was called. I walked into a house of about 50 people! All cousins—grandchildren of Mr. & Mrs. Africa. There was singing and laughing and praying. It was chaotic! It was their normal. Who knew families could be so big? Not me. But I wanted it.
Over the next 4 years, God taught me 5 very important lessons about family. I believe these lessons have implications for our ministry here at CFBU.
1. The family is part of God’s original design for support.
In the story of Adam and Eve, the Lord says, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper (or "help-meet," KJV) suitable for him.” The Hebrew word for “helper” or “help-meet” can be translated: “one who brings aid” or “workfellow.” The first family was pretty tiny (before they had kids) but their purpose was clear: the man and the woman were to help and support each other.
I believe that men and women teach this important principle of helping to their children—a foundation for personal righteousness. Parents serve as a model for how to help one another. As children leave their nuclear families and begin their own families, the lessons of helping and support will naturally carry over.
2. The family is a critical foundation of God’s original design for society.
One of God’s first instructions to Adam and Eve was: “be fruitful and multiply.”
(Gen. 1:28a) Sadly, many Christians end the verse there, but there’s more: “and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28b) We must understand the role and responsibility of the family.
God’s design for family was not that men and women would come together, have kids, and then retreat to their homes in isolation. If that were the case, men and women would never “leave and cleave.”
The family is a foundational pillar of society. Our role is to subdue and rule—to use our myriad of resources in the service of God and man. A healthy family structure, means a healthy society. God gave numerous laws for a healthy family in Lev.18. and in Lev.19, readers receive instructions for community.
3. We are designed to live in family and in community.
Writing this, I became curious about my own family tree. I created an Ancestry.com account (the free trial version, because my curiosity did not compel me to pay $40!). I traced a history to my maternal great-great grandparents. Born in the 1870’s, they had 7 children! 150 years ago, families were a lot bigger.
Today, the average number of children is 1.93 children per household. I wonder why recent generations moved away from the command, “be fruitful and multiply”?
Not only was the family meant to be the pillar of society, teaching us the foundational tenets of how to interact in community—patience, kindness, biblical justice; the family also creates community. In the Old Testament, it was common for adult children to live on the family property—the land of their father. It was also common to have 3 generations of family living on the same land. There were a lot of people—community. Humanity is meant to do life together.
4. In a family everyone is needed.
(I’m NOT talking about sticking together in cases of abuse. In situations of abuse, seek safety and counsel.)
We live in a culture where it is easy to throw someone away. Cancel culture is evidence of that. However, in God’s family, everyone has a place and plays a part; everyone is needed. Paul tells the church in Corinth that there is one body made up of many parts (1 Cor. 12). And in the first two chapters of Ephesians, we read about our intentional adoption and placement within the family of God. You have a place within the family of God!
In South Africa, I learned the importance of belonging. This was a hard lesson. I am not married, and for a while, I was the only non-married person I knew. In South Africa, marriage is important among Christians. If you’re not married by age 30, people usually think something's wrong with you. I was often asked, “Waar is jou man” (Where is your husband)? Their guess was as good as mine. I struggled, wondering what I could contribute to conversations or relationships—other than free babysitting. Eventually, I found my space and shared a non-married point of view. As limited as my vantage point was on some things, there was space for me to give—and to receive. What we bring to our family and community is a gift to be shared. As family, we have an opportunity to give, out of our free will, and to bless the family and our community.
5. God has a big plan for a big family.
In June 2018, I unexpectedly moved back to the U.S., from South Africa—that’s another story. I wasn’t in a position to work and didn’t know what God was up to.
I planned to stay with the Bontragers for 1 month. Honestly, I wasn’t sure that our two worlds could effectively meet. The differences in our cultural backgrounds, political alliances, and understanding about why I own so much lotion were barriers that took time to overcome. (They still don’t get why I own so much lotion. Can't be ashy.) How could this relationship ever work?
God began teaching me from the book of Ephesians about adoption and family; these things are not predicated on skin color. When you've been adopted into the family of God, Christ fulfills the requirements for our relationship. Ephesians 1 tells us we have been adopted into the family God. Believers have been predestined to be sons and daughters to God the Father.
Unbeknownst to me, I had many requirements of White people. Making sure they understood my perceived plight of all African Americans was a prerequisite for our relationship. I added requirements to scripture, putting undue pressure on those God called to be my family. Thinking about it today, I am grieved by the attitude of my heart.
My biological family may be very small, but the family of God I've been adopted into is massive—a reality I couldn't fully embrace while holding on to CRT. I take the idea of family seriously. These lessons are the foundations God is using to build The Center for Biblical Unity. If I didn’t understand family and adoption, I would have no premise to support a biblical view of unity.
Those who find CFBU find family and community—not because of the will of man but because of the blood of Jesus. I deeply appreciate what we’ve been given in the CFBU family. I hope you do too. We are family!