“What race are you?” she asked suddenly. We had exchanged names only moments before. I assumed next we would talk about — well, anything else. Home, perhaps. Isn’t that the rule? After you give your name, you claim a state.
Not so for us. We would talk race.
We sat alone. Hotdog runs and bathroom breaks had emptied every seat at the table save ours, including those of my husband, cousin, and cousin’s girlfriend. I wondered how long I’d be left alone with the girl who liked to ask strangers, “What race are you?”
Nevertheless, I responded. “Well, my mom comes from a Hispanic family,” I said. “Her side is a mix of Native American, Spanish, and European blood. My dad is almost entirely European, so he’s pretty much wh—”
“No,” she said, cutting me off.
My mouth hung ajar. Did she dislike my word choice? Maybe I should have said “caucasian” instead of “white.” Was she expressing surprise? Her response could be a more serious, more terse way to say, “No way! You — white?”
Both wrong. As I closed then hastily reopened my mouth only to find it still empty, she clarified: “I mean, what race are you.”
I raised one eyebrow, squinted the other eye, and tilted my head. I knew I was a picture of confusion, but I couldn’t help it. What other kind of race can humans be? I thought.
Finally she ended my agony. “I mean, what race are you in the game,” she said. “You know, dwarf, elf, human. What race are you?”
Called to Evangelize
That day my husband, T. J., and I had driven for over an hour to meet my teenage cousin and his friends to play an afternoon’s worth of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). If you know us, you know that roleplaying a board-less game that exists in the fantasy world of the Dungeon Master’s creation is perhaps the furthest you can get from “us.”
Our desire to play D&D did not drive us to Fantasy Flight Games Center. The Great Commission did. In Matthew’s gospel, Christ commands Christians to “make disciples of all nations” (28:18). While we often (and rightly) quote Matthew to foreground the importance of missions, which put passports into Christian hands, we often (and wrongly) forget Mark’s emphasis: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (16:15). The day I played an elf, T. J. a dwarf, we sought to be faithful evangelists to one part of the world God put within our reach.
We sought to be faithful — yet twitched with awkwardness. Though within our familial and geographic reach, my unbelieving cousin lived far outside our comfort zone. As John Stott puts it, “This is obvious when Christian people move as messengers of the gospel from one country or continent to another. But even if we remain in our own country, Christians and non-Christians are often widely separated from one another by social subcultures and lifestyles.” I learned this lesson firsthand from the girl who asked me, “What race are you?”
Playing D&D taught us that people who neighbor (or even mirror!) us in body are often foreign to us in mind-set, values, interests, and even language. Different people are hard to spend time around — let alone sincerely love, consistently invest in, and faithfully evangelize. And yet Christ’s words resound: “First go. Then proclaim.” What family member, let alone acquaintance, will even listen to his Christian cousins as they describe gospel reality if they cannot be bothered to spend a single afternoon immersed in his? Not many.
Called to Emulate
And so we went as elf and dwarf. More than this, we went as redeemed sinners, hearts desperate to share the grace that had saved us with the cousin we love. We went as needy sinners, minds dependent on this same grace to humble us enough to seat us, happily, within his imaginary world.
Perhaps most of all, we went as Christ-ward sinners, eyes set on his perfect example: “Jesus first took our flesh, then bore our sin. This was a depth of penetration into our world in order to reach us, in comparison with which our little attempts to reach people seem amateur and shallow. The cross calls us to a much more radical and costly kind of evangelism than most churches have begun to consider, let alone experience” (Stott).
Jesus descended from his heavenly throne to our fallen world. Fully God, he likewise became man. He befriended deceitful tax collectors, wanton prostitutes, outcast lepers. On a cross he bore our sin and its penalty, the full wrath of God. In no fuller sense could Christ have entered and took on our wretched lives. In doing so, he gave us his perfect life. In Christ we now belong to another world: God’s heavenly kingdom. In his presence “there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
T. J. and I — we could play D&D. Christians enter the real lives and thought-worlds of unbelievers because Christ entered ours. In love we stay there, despite the differences and difficulties, as Love himself did for us when he hung upon the cross. If we want to see those we love in the new creation one day, we need to go to the ends of this creation to make them see that Christ is theirs and our only hope in life and death (Romans 14:7–8).
Sometimes this may require you to be an elf on a Saturday afternoon. Lord willing, on Saturday night your extended family will ask you, “So, how does Christianity make sense of suffering?” Of course our story is not your story, but Christ’s story belongs to us both. So like him, may we all go. May we all proclaim. As God appoints, may we enjoy him forever with the people we neighbor and love now — whom we pray he will save through faithful and awkward evangelists like you and me.
I’m grateful to Marshall Segal not just for this article idea, but for its very title. Thank you!