"What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet."
-Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
The Swahili word for ‘white person’ is mzungu. While I've never heard it used in a derogatory way, I long ago grew weary of its use to greet me or to get my attention. I’m obviously a white person… but I don’t like being defined by my skin color. Most particularly, I do not like having all the assumptions that go with my skin color arbitrarily applied to me as a unique individual.
In my early years in Kenya, I made a couple t-shirts and this bag. Although making a strong statement, they also drew a lot of smiles and lighthearted conversation.
Similarly, I haven’t cared for what people do in Kenya to my very simple name – Deb. My given name is Debra and I went by Debbie during my childhood and teens. But for many decades now, I have much preferred to simply be called Deb.
Many of my British friends call me Debs. That seems rather odd to me; after all, I’m only one person!
Kenyans struggle to pronounce ‘Deb’ correctly, with it usually sounding like ‘dob’. Some call me Debu (pronounced Deb-oo). And of course, people always want to call me Debbie or insist on calling me Debra or Deborah - none of which I particularly care for.
However, I gained a new appreciation for the name Deborah when I recently re-read the story of Deborah in Judges four and five.
Deborah was an amazing woman. She was a prophet, a judge, and a spiritual leader for Israel. She sat under a palm tree, making decisions and settling disputes for her people. She desired to draw the Israelites back to following God and she knew action lay in her hands. As a woman, she boldly took initiative in a patriarchal society.
When she summoned Barak (Israel’s military commander), he was afraid to go to battle against Sisera (the general of their enemies) without Deborah by his side.
Deborah had no fear of going into battle and agreed to do so. But she proclaimed that the glory of the victory would not go to Barak… but to a woman.
God used another woman, Jael, to kill Sisera when he fearfully entered her tent. After the battle was over and the general of the enemy army was dead, Deborah composed a song praising God. In this victory song, she likewise praised Jael, calling her ‘most blessed of women’. Deborah also rejoiced that her people once again worshiped God.
Deborah was faithful to God and obedient to her calling. She modeled willing cooperation with God, offering all of herself – her gifts and her passion – for him to use.
Deborah boldly and fearlessly proclaimed the battle cry of ‘charge’, confidently knowing that God himself marched ahead of them. She rose up with abandon, while many Israelite men stayed back and played it safe… afraid to leave their comfort zones and the safety of their campfires and caves. When Deborah followed God’s plan for her life, even the stars in the sky joined in to bring her success.
Both Deborah and Jael were agents used by God for his purposes of justice and righteousness in the world. They were both heroines! After this incredible victory, brought about by two women, Israel had peace for forty years.
Like Deborah, I desire to offer my gifts and passion to God. I want to guide and encourage people to also offer themselves wholly to God.
Like Deborah, I desire to rise up and take my position in the world, obediently following God’s call on my life.
Like Deborah, I desire to be fearless in the battles of life.
And from now on, if someone wants to call me Deborah… it’s very okay with me!