Growing in Identity to Bridge Cultures

When Destiny Mercer was invited to a LaVida conference during her sophomore year at Vanderbilt University, she was conflicted about attending. LaVida is The Navigators Hispanic Network with a mission to love Hispanics/Latinos and identify, encourage, resource, and develop them to serve Jesus and His Kingdom. Growing up in Dallas, Texas, she was immersed in a Hispanic neighborhood and community, but she wasn’t necessarily proud of her culture and heritage. She wasn’t sure she wanted to attend a conference that celebrated Hispanic culture. However, she did have a strong friendship with Barbara Santana (Navigators Collegiate), who invited her to attend the conference. With very little Hispanic representation at Vanderbilt, Barb was Destiny’s first Hispanic friend in Nashville. Ultimately, Destiny decided to attend the conference with Barb.  

A session at the conference on “Ethnic Identity and Identity in Christ” resonated with Destiny. She realized that along with a strong identity in Christ, God had also provided a cultural and ethnic identity for her, and she could celebrate both of these aspects of her God-given personhood. Destiny reflects, “In this workshop, I learned that God had intentionally created me as a Mexican American to be a ‘bridger’ between two groups of people that are often politically divided in our country (Mexicans and Americans) and for the sake of relating to each group of people very personally. This realization encouraged me to use my identity as a ‘bridger’ as an asset for the advancement of the gospel.” 

Destiny – Photo Credit: Angel Patricia Photography

After the conference, Barb helped Destiny process what she was learning and challenged her to continue to do the work of understanding her cultural identity.

The following summer, Destiny participated in a Navigators Collegiate summer mission to Guadalajara, Mexico. It was her first time to visit Mexico and she gained an appreciation for the people and culture, and also became more confident communicating in Spanish.

Destiny shares the impact of the summer:

“We were taught how to evangelize in cross-cultural settings and share our faith with non-believers in Guadalajara. That summer was the most healing summer of my life. To be able to connect with the Mexican people in a way I never thought I would be able to and to hear them affirm truth in the areas I had been insecure during my childhood was an incredible blessing.”

Destiny had become friends with Gabriel Mercer at the LaVida conference. What started as a friendship became more, and they started dating and are now married. He has been part of her journey of understanding God’s design for her life. She shares, “Since the moment we met, Gabriel has encouraged me to believe truth about my identity as a Mexican American woman and has always reminded me that no matter how many lies and insecurities I may face, ‘the truth is that you are Mexican and you are American, but that doesn’t make you any less of a Mexican than someone who is born in Mexico or someone who speaks Spanish fluently.’ Through my sweet husband’s constant reminders and God’s incredible faithfulness, I can read scriptures like Psalm 139:13-15 with greater confidence because I now believe that God’s design of me was intentional and purposeful.” 

Now on EDGE Corps at Vanderbilt, Destiny is passionate about discipling other women in understanding their culture and God’s design for their lives, just as others have done for her. Destiny wants to help people of color understand how God has gifted them, and how they all uniquely reflect God’s character. Also, she has grown to see that we all get a better picture of God’s character when we are in a community that reflects the variety of disciples. In this way, Destiny now sees that race is not a political issue, but a biblical truth, as the church in Revelation (7:9) reflects the variety of people who bear the image of God.

Destiny, who was already a Christian when she went to college, met people from Navigators Collegiate in her freshman dorm and started to get involved right away her freshman year. She joined a Bible study and realized that there were other students on her campus who were following Jesus. But she has seen that sometimes students of color who have visited a campus ministry a few times may end up dropping out of the ministry because they don’t find their own place of belonging. Her goal is to welcome all students, help them understand the importance of their cultural identity as they follow Jesus, and help the ministry better reflect God’s Kingdom.

Praise God for His design of cultures, and for helping disciplemakers realize a solid grounding in identity in Christ and in ethnicity. Pray that many more students of diverse backgrounds will find a place of belonging and growth within Navigators Collegiate ministry.

Learn more about LaVida at www.lavidanetwork.org

Comments:

  1. Personally, I’m praying people realize the only identity that matters is their redeemed identity in Christ and that the secular idea of intersectionality would be condemned by Christian leaders and organizations that exist to serve the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Galatians 3:28

    Having been affiliated with the Navs for over 20 years, it saddens me to see this kind of focus from a Christian organization – the focus on what divides us is very unbiblical.

  2. Thank you! This is what God has been telling me over the past two years: that my identity as an African American can be leveraged to further the Gospel and is also apart of His perfect design!
    I am grateful to you Destiny for sharing the truths that God revealed to you, with us!

  3. What a wonderful Christ honoring journey. Thank you for sharing Destiny’s story. we often (glibly) say “God doesn’t make junk” ; but seldom apply it to ourselves or our lives in significant or practical (earthly?) ways. It is “God who determines the times set for us and the exact places we should live” (Acts 17:24) He didn’t just form us in our mother’s wombs fearfully and wonderfully, He designed us and determined us specifically to live for, love and reflect Him to all whom we meet. May we all rejoice in His design and the lives He has granted us; and may we all live our lives for His glory and the wellbeing of those He entrusts to walk across our paths. Blessings to all who call upon His Name…

  4. There is only one race and that is the human race. We just have different amounts of melanin based on our DNA. Different cultures, sure, but one race.

  5. I’m so pleased that Destiny is growing into the person as the Lord has made her. Belonging to Christ unites us together regardless of our backgrounds. Also in His wisdom and by His Spirit, becoming more fully all that He has made us to be in the Lord including our ethnicities gives us a beautiful foretaste of Rev. 7:9!

  6. I am so grateful for this article, well written and laid out. I, too, have a background of insecurity in my being both Mexican & American (I now say that I’m an American of Mexican descent), proud to be both. And, Yes! Galatians 3:28-the only identity that matters ultimately is our identity in Christ–praising Him for that! However, we cannot deny our outward appearance and should recognize that “for such a time as this” we are who we are: how wonderful to take up the vision that the LORD has created us specially to, perhaps, be that person who will speak about Him to whomever (of course) but also, to others who “look like us” that may identify more fully simply because of the color of our skin or our background. May the LORD continue to richly bless Destiny and all who carry the banner of the gospel in this current world.

  7. Observing the comments on this thread (as a white person), it’s enlightening to me how quickly some Christians want to jump to the fact that we are “all one identity in Christ” and that they seem to downplay ethnic/cultural identity as if it doesn’t even matter (or shouldn’t matter) if you’re a Christian. Yes, when we give our lives to Christ we all gain new identities in Christ. But when that happens, God doesn’t recreate our personhood and turn believers into some sort of neutral ethnicity with an ethereal culture separate from the world we inhabit. Instead, He uses who we are, culturally and ethnically, in our current time, for His glory. I’m sure Destiny knows and understands that first and foremost her allegiance is to God and His written word, but because she is part of the Hispanic culture, she can reach out and minister to people in a beautiful, unique, contextualized way that most white people (like myself) would never be able to.

    So Destiny, as a fellow sister in Christ, I applaud your efforts and give glory to God for what He has done in your life!

    1. I agree completely with you, Sister in Christ! As a Jamaican American I know that ultimately my true identity is who I am IN CHRIST. In addition, God has uniquely created me & designed my life experiences to cross cultures in a way that He has used for his glory. We shouldn’t ignore the beauty of that, but instead embrace it in accordance with His purposes and His will!
      Thank you for your encouraging testimony, Destiny!!

  8. Beautiful story about Destiny. Her name is truly symbolic in her story…destined to walk in the good works the Lord has prepared for her…using her life as a bridge. Building bridges across cultures or within one’s own culture is what we are all called to.

  9. Destiny, Your story gives glory to God. As scripture says: Let each man be convinced in his own mind. Some eat meat because they love the Lord, some do not eat meat because they love the Lord. He knows the motivation of our heart. Your heart comes across as very pure in this matter. I relate to your culture struggle. The Lord had to set me free from loving my birth culture too much! I thought, “If I become a Christian, I can’t be Serbian anymore.” For me, culture was a stumbling block. Once I did surrender, I could no longer base my faith on the traditions that were required. The Lord had called me to put traditions of men aside to follow Him. I am free to love my heritage now, but it no longer controls my decisions, because I choose to serve the Lord first. That’s what I hear in your heart. I did not hear that you are trying to please man and cater to “culture pleasing”. I do agree with those who are concerned that as Christians we not cater to please man. As Scripture tells us, pleasing man is a dangerous trap. I love that the Lord asks us to learn what pleases Him.

  10. Curious to hear what you think about the church in Revelation specifically mentioning “from every nation, tribe, people and language.” Seems like God is aware of these differences.

  11. We are the very body of the Bride of a Christ, an individual cell if you’d like that concept. Not every cell looks or functions in the same manner to make the body ‘work’ so that with Christ as the head; Will have a beautiful Bride without spot nor wrinkle when he comes for her. I agree there is only one “race”, the human race. May the GOD of the universe bless you & Grace you in all ways!

  12. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal.3:28 The different varieties God has created in humanity are delightful and intriguing. But in matters of how we regard or treat one another, they are un-important. Unimportant! We are to “owe no man anything, but to love one another.” Rom.13:8 I too am grieved to see stalwart ministries like Navigators and CRU take their cues from a world that is bent on inflaming differences. Thoreau said there were a thousand hacking at the branches, to the one chopping at the root.” In this world, sin abounds in every conceivable form. We have all been damaged, but we needn’t dwell in that defeat. For we know the
    cure… “He gives us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that we might be trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified!” Isa.61:1-3

  13. I agree. ‘the truth is that you are Mexican and you are American, but that doesn’t make you any less of a Mexican than someone who is born in Mexico or someone who speaks Spanish fluently.’ I read that and thought of how I don’t emphasize being a Scottish American nor has my family, church, or Navs tried to help me see the importance of it in my ministry to others. I AM almost completely less Scottish than someone born in Scotland who speaks their brogue. If that analogy doesn’t make sense then it is all boiling down to skin color as relevant for having special conferences and ministry focus. No one has ever tried to encourage me that I am particularly specially created by God to evangelize Scots. Anything that focuses on racial/ethnic separateness is oppositional to the Gospel. We will never cross the (sinful) divide of skin color when we promote anything that separates us that way.

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