At my nephew’s Nigerian rite of passage ceremony my dad gave him a beautifully carved Swiss knife. He explained that the knife had been given to him 60 years earlier by an army chaplain who had discipled him while he was stationed in Italy. I, along with my brothers, were surprised at the gift because we had no knowledge of its existence nor did we any knowledge of this army chaplain who we now know as Colonel Newell E. Taylor.
This experience disturbed me as I realized for the first time how little I knew about my spiritual ancestry. I immediately began to explore my spiritual heritage by interviewing my parents, Taylor Gardner, and his wife Jimmye who had discipled me 35 years ago. As they introduced me to these ancestors the more I understood God’s direction in my life and I saw the significant role they had played in the development of my faith.
Americans have little awareness of ancestry because it is not a value of an individualistic culture. There is little attempt on the part of parents or grandparents to connect children to their physical or spiritual ancestors. (Illustrated by the fact that I did not know of Newell Taylor who had a large impact on my dad’s spiritual life.)
In contrast, my Jewish friends and my Nigerian brother-in-law have a strong connection to their ancestry passed on to their descendants through name selection, ceremonies, symbols, and story telling which forms a sense of belonging and identity in a child. Paul thought spiritual ancestry significant enough to remind Timothy of the faith that had been passed down to him through his grandmother and mother.
“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” 2 Timothy 1:5
Steps I am taking:
- Exploring the work of God in the life of my disciples through their spiritual ancestors.
- I continue to get to seek and find those who are in my spiritual family tree.
- I am introducing my disciples to my spiritual ancestors.
- I am more aware of my role in the life my spiritual descendants. (My spiritual grandchildren and great-grandchildren.)