Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

What “Tribe” are You In?

Written by: on June 22, 2017


In 2000, I invited a young South African, Brendon, to live with us and work for our church.  Together, we worked from New York and he from Johannesburg, to get a “religious workers visa”.  I had met this young man through Youth for Christ.  He was traveling with a South African YFC group that was visiting schools during the week and churches on Sunday talking about apartheid and the power of racial reconciliation.  Little did I know this young man would become my son-n-law, marrying my oldest daughter.

My knowledge of South Africa was greatly enhanced from a personal level.  He, being white, living in and near some of the neighborhoods that Mark Mathabane describes in his book, Kaffir Boy:  The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa.  When you read Mathabane, you want to believe that there was a great deal of poetic license…the truth can sting!



Kaffir Boy, is the journey of a young man from the shanties of Alexandra to attending a university in the United States.   The book stems the tide from extreme poverty to racism to the redemptive power of Christ.  The challenge, for those of us detached from ap artheid, is the violence, rancor, and hostility that ruled South Africa.

You want to question how could it have gotten to the degradation that it did.  Degradation of extreme poverty, hatred, the lack of respect for human life, and systems that promoted it, seem to be expected and even embraced.  The difference of your outcome was the distinction of what “tribe” you came from.  The word “tribe” began to jump out at me throughout the book.

Mathabane’s mother offers insight, “Your father grew up in tribes, as you know.  He didn’t come to the city until he was quite old.  It’s hard to stop doing things when you’re old.  I, too, do rituals because I was raised in the tribes.  Their meaning, will become clear as you grow up.  Have patience.”[1]  For Mark Mathabane, it never did make sense even though his father attempted to force feed it to him.

God was not divorced from the South African mindset.  God just happened to be you’re your individual interpretation made Him out to be.  Mathabane’s mother said it best, “Christianity is essentially the religion of white people, therefore it makes sense that the Christian God should be thought of as a white person.  Just like we, in our religions, have our black God.”[2]



The “tribe” analogy was daunting and haunting at the same time.  I, as well as the other seven billion residences of the planet Earth, come from and are influenced by a “tribe”.  That “tribe” can manifest itself in a multitude of facets from socio-economic to the “flavor” of the year spiritually.  Why is it that we think our “tribe” is the best and only one on the planet?

Over the years, when I have mentioned to others that my son-n-law is from South Africa, you sense people wanting to ask “the question”.  Would it make a difference in their interpretation of my family if he did not meet their “tribe” criteria?  Where did our “lenses” originate and what perpetuates this ongoing division?

I don’t mean to spiritualize the book too much, but there is a strong message to be gleaned about our personal interaction, respectability, and understanding of our transcendent God that needs to be brought in to the conversation of how we interact and treat others.  There also needs to be a rekindling of a love for the impact and power of Scripture.  Mathabane, when speaking of his mother said, “Because she could not read, my mother always requested that I read her several verses every night before she went to sleep.  I gladly obliged; that was the least I could do at the moment to show appreciation for all she had done and was doing for me.”[3]  Eventually, his mother’s conversion and compassion caused Mathabane to reassess his view of God.


I encourage all of us to check our “tribe” and to know why we belong and how we should treat others around us.  Who knows, our “tribes” may come into conflict.

[1] Mark Mathabane, Kaffir Boy:  The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa, (New York:  Free Press, 1986), 33.

[2] Ibid., 61.

[3] Ibid., 217.

About the Author

Phil Goldsberry

11 responses to “What “Tribe” are You In?”

  1. Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Phil for your perspective of the story of Kaffir Boy. It has been interesting reading the many blogs and how each cohort shares their experiences, denote worldview.

    It has been a privilege and honor to have been in the cohort with you, the learning experience has been invaluable to me. I admired and consider you as one of top leaders in our cohort.

    Blessing & Peace in writing your dissertation. See you in Cape Town in September, if the Lord will. Thanks Rose Maria

  2. Phil Goldsberry says:

    Thank you! It is hard to believe that we are at this place in our journey, yet it sure is a good feeling. We have all truly influenced each other in various ways that will impact our lives for years to come.


  3. Thanks for this Phil. I don’t have a problem with spiritualizing the book either. Well done! I think your suggestion to look at our tribes is a good one. It seems to me that the generation after us has a plethora of tribal affiliations. This is very interesting to me. Looking forward to SA with you!

    • Phil Goldsberry says:

      Thanks for the comments and the journey that we’ve had together. Looking forward to this last “stop” on our journey. Stay focused on your dissertation, you are almost there!

  4. Marc Andresen says:


    Has your son in law offered comment about the church’s complicity in Apartheid? Has he shared any thoughts about Apartheid in general?

    A young white South African man, named Trevor, came to study at Oregon State. While he was here and involved in Inter Varsity, he met Christy, an African-American (Jamaican) young woman. They married and moved to Johannesburg for ministry among the poor. I have thought that this is either a call from God or just plain crazy. Perhaps both.

    Will you try to see your son in law’s family while we’re in South Africa?

    • Phil Goldsberry says:

      He has talked some about it….I’m presently in NJ with him and asked him some questions. He remembers the raids on his dad’s farms looking for workers without papers.
      I probably will not be meeting up with any of his family. His family was not involved in church life and relationship with God when he was little.


  5. Pablo Morales says:

    Phil, in the documentary Race: The Power of an Illusion, the producers summarize the narrative of race in America. You bring up this imagery with the word “tribe,” which can represent either our race, ethnicity, culture, denomination, or even political affiliation. We tend to connect only with the ones that are like us and think like us. Thank you for bringing up the need to rethink how hard we mark those boundaries. I love the concept of Ephesians about the church. We are now a new humanity in Christ. When Christ becomes the center, the lines of racial division begin to fade.

    I look forward to seeing you again. Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I know we will learn important lessons in South Africa that will continue to enrich our leadership.


    • Phil Goldsberry says:

      Thank you for your comments. I am in agreement with you on Ephesians…we sometimes embrace the “wrong” thing and miss the “main” thing.

      I have enjoyed the journey with you. Your insight has been so welcoming on this journey. Looking forward to SA and our time together.


  6. Claire Appiah says:

    I think we often feel our “tribe” is the best and only one on the planet because perhaps as a legacy we tend to embrace it uncritically. It is the one we have the most familiarity with, understand the best, and believe has the best potential for quality of life outcomes for us in this world.

    No need to apologize for spiritualizing this book. I regret posting my blog without exploring its spiritual and theological implications. I like how Pablo handled this in his blog. He quotes Micah 6:8 and James 2:10 to emphasize God’s mandate to His people. Pablo states, “This quote makes me realize that what Johannes needed was a gospel that did not only address the afterlife, but the current life. He needed a loving hand, not just a loving message.”

    Phil, I have always depended upon you to offer unique insights and challenges to our thinking and perspectives at the Advances, in your blogs/replies, and in the ZOOM chats. Thanks for that. I think the feeling is unanimous among us that we have had an amazing cohort experience and what we have learned in our Dmin program will reverberate down the corridors of time. Looking forward to our final official meeting in SA.

    • Phil Goldsberry says:

      Thank you! You have been a star in our cohort with your excellent writing ability and insights. You have been my “go to source” for our posts. You have always been insightful, filled with compassion, and abounding with wisdom.

      Our journey has been quite fulfilling. Our cohort has shared life in many various ways, yet encouraging us to go forward.

      Thank you,


  7. Phil

    Tribe is the latest buzz word in the youth culture. It is amazing how the word is taken now as being inclusive not as a divisive or label induced word.

    I have a lot of people in my tribe. I am always trying to include others into our youth ministry tribe because it bring a texture and flavour that is very broad and wide.

    Looking forward to Cape Town.

    God Bless


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