For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” -Jeremiah 29:11
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” -Hosea 11:1
One of the greatest joys of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany is the feeling and promise of expectations that become realized. Every year we look forward to the divine cycle of remembering and celebrating the anticipated birth and re-birth of Jesus coming into our lives anew. But this promise, foretold for centuries by prophets like Hosea, did not come easily.
The struggles that accompanied Jesus’ arrival were perilous — just as they are today for so many affected by hunger, poverty, and historic inequities. Jesus and his parents found refuge in Egypt on the continent of Africa when the government of King Herold ruled Palestine and sought to take and kill baby Jesus. After Herod died, the Holy Family returned to Nazareth. In so doing the prophecy and season of expectation was fulfilled as recorded in Matthew 2:1-15, “And so it was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”
For people of African descent, the struggles to find a formal place of refuge and authentic sharing — while systematically addressing their struggles and hopes — have also been going on for an exceptionally long time. After centuries of being divided by colonialism, war, racism and many other inequities, we now have a new global space for multilateral engagement with the nations of the world at the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent. Through this advisory body, their voices will be heard, and perspectives will be shared.
This renaissance of renewed Pan African identities and celebration of our diversities will occur without the limitations of nation state perspectives where these voices have been often muted or marginal. Just like the UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Peoples, the UN Permanent Forum of People of African Descent will provide leadership in civil and UN member spaces when it comes to Pan-African issues. It launches this year during the Advent season, Dec. 5-8.
Africa, Jesus’ place of refuge, is also a critical refuge for those who share African roots. The UN can now play a stronger role of engaging with people of African descent alongside the African Union, which welcomes the African Diaspora as the sixth region of the Union. May the vision of people of African lineage — who have been advocating for this moment for so long — find this new consultative mechanism impactful “as a platform for improving the safety and quality of life and livelihoods of people of African descent.”
Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church engagement at Bread for the World.