At an early age, I was almost always aware of my surroundings and my initial years of elementary schooling exposed me to an array of uncomfortable yet confronting situations that made me question my self-worth. I didn’t fit in my environment, as school bullies pointed out to me. I was ostracized because my features were distinctively different from the norm. I didn’t have long, flowing hair like the other girls. I had kinky, coarse hair that my mom often braided into unique styles so it would be more manageable. My skin tone was darker than everybody else, with a beautiful glow to it, something I so appreciate now but at the time despised because I believed my bullies. In essence, my differences were not celebrated and I began questioning my purpose because I was only one of the few African students who attended this particular private school.
One day I specifically remember going home in the third grade, and feeling defeated and crying my eyes out to my mom about how I didn't want to be the dark-skinned girl anymore. I was so lost in my pain and I wondered why God created me to look distinctively different from all of my other classmates. I longed at the time to trade places with my mom, who is lighter and fair-skinned with a softer hair texture. I voiced my frustrations and wishes to my mom as she held me and wiped the flood of tears that were gushing from my eyes. My mom, a Sunday school teacher and English teacher at the time, immediately sat me up and refused to let me think lowly about myself because I didn’t fit in. Instead, she told me a story that shifted and impacted my outlook on life from then on.
She told me about the true story of an Irish woman named Amy Wilson Carmichael who was born in 1867, a woman who helped revolutionize and rescue young girls and boys from being sex trafficked. However as a child she didn't know the greatness that lay ahead of her, because she felt like an outsider and didn’t feel she measured up to her society’s beauty standards. She longed for God to change her brown eyes to blue eyes. She prayed to God that he would change this trait so that she would fit in like her friends and younger siblings. However Amy's wavering self esteem was not the only plight that she would battle. By the age of 18, her beloved father passed away, and she soon began battling neuralgia, a nerve disorder that caused serious health implications to her body which often left her in a state of helplessness, pain and being bed ridden.
Despite the surmountable odds against her, a seed to serve others in the mission field was planted in her heart when she heard Hudson Taylor (also a missionary) preach his heart out about working as a missionary in Asia.
Amy expressed her interest to become a missionary to friends, who were not initially convinced that she would be a good fit for such a job and believed she would immediately return back to Ireland. However the course of Amy's life changed when she became a missionary to India. Not only was she one of the first missionary activists who stood firmly against sex slavery and child prostitution, she also went under cover by dying her hair color and wearing traditional Indian attire, to rescue young girls who were taken to Hindu temples and used as sex slaves. She daily risked her life and was a pioneer in standing up against the sex trafficking industry. Better yet, she fit in so well to the Indian surroundings because she had brown eyes, and would go undetectable once she was dressed in traditional Indian attire. Her courage and passion to serve young girls and help rehabilitate their lives eventually led to young boys being rescued from a similar plight, as well as public recognition and honor that Amy received from the Queen who assisted her in establishing a hospital for the girls and creating a safe haven for rescued young boys.
Her story was a great seed sown in my own life, as I have come to realize how so often we are consumed about why we don't fit in. When we are distinctly different from others, it's so easy to think, Maybe God missed the memo on me and my life. But the truth is: your story is still being written. I want to challenge you as a reader to embrace those differences about you. You know the very thing you are made fun of now? Do not be surprised how that will end up being your biggest gateway gift in life that will unveil, touch, inspire, impact and change even the course of history. As I look back on my own life, I actually consider my moments of great anguish as key marking points on my life’s map journey that set me up for greater things to come. I had to learn and in still many ways continue to learn to stay the course and focus on what lies ahead as Philippians 3 verse 13 says, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”
To you dear reader, please know that you are not a mistake; you serve a purpose that is far greater than just yourself. When God says in his word in Jeremiah 1 verse 5, "Before I formed you in your mother's womb I knew you." Take heed to that scripture. God knows you so well that he saw it fit for you to exist on this earth even if you feel that you do not fit in with society's beauty standards or you find yourself being the odd one out of social circles or being hated on because you have a unique style or gift in the way you see things or interact with others.
Just remember that if you feel “excluded” now it is an indication that your future destiny will lead you to greater opportunities of “inclusion.” Your destiny is far greater in comparison to your current predicament. My prayer for you is that this word will come alive to you and confirm to you what the Lord has already been saying to you, in those moments of silence, struggle and suffering.
The best is yet to come.
Valeriana Chikoti-Bandua is a former refugee from Angola, who was born in Zambia, but at the age of 3 years old alongside her family they fled from Zambia to Papua New Guinea due to series of serve life threatening circumstances. As a result she grew up PNG.
By the age of 18, her life took as her father, uncle and grandfather's deaths within a span of 2 months shifted the course of her livelihood. She went from being a high school grad to burying her loved ones, to experiencing homelessness with her mom and her younger sibling all while trying to manage her studies as a student at the local community college. During that season as difficult as her life had become, her family stood by their faith in Christ to continue to overcome turbulent circumstances. Upon graduation with her associates degree, she was awarded as the valedictorian of her class and was given an opportunity of a lifetime to move to the United States to pursue her further studies at ORU in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Today, she has since graduated with her masters degree and currently works as a diplomat advocating for human rights and women's rights for her nation of Angola, to the United Nations in New York. She is passionate about her faith and how it affects the state of human rights, social world issues and mainly the plights of displaced people groups, refugees, immigrants, women and children from all over the world as especially those who society has often forgotten. On November 16, Valeriana will be sharing at TED Talk about her story at TEDxFIU.