As a Kenyan immigrant to the U.S., Mercy Langat sometimes felt she belonged in two cultures, but sometimes not at all. While studying at Asbury Seminary, she learned the language to express, understand and integrate her multi-cultural heritage and experiences, helping her to continue to discover her identity both in Christ and as an immigrant. Now, through her doctoral research, she is helping other African women immigrants find their own identity as they learn the challenges, opportunities and transformation that occurs in liminality.
“[Immigrants are] in between two cultures, like you have your feet planted in two places at the same time,” Mercy said. “You might feel like you belong in both of them, but you might feel like you don’t [truly] belong in either of them.”
As Mercy approached her college graduation, she began a discernment process to discover her next step. She applied to three graduate schools, asking God to make it very clear which one to attend. She applied and was accepted to Asbury Seminary and returned to Kalas Village where her parents lived as Seminary students.
As she prayed for a scholarship, she also prayed that God would make a way for her to return to Kenya to reconnect with family, friends and home. While she waited, she decided to enroll in a summer course the week of her birthday. She received an extra special gift that year. On her birthday, she opened her email to find a message from the Seminary’s financial aid office, granting her a scholarship that included travel to Kenya as part of her education.
Whether writing papers, sitting in classes or reading textbooks, she’s experienced life-changing God moments. One semester she had two classes that discussed liminality and hyphenated identity, such as Kenyan-American or Korean-American, that comes with increased globalization, making the question of where you’re from complicated. This moment was pivotal as Mercy discovered that life’s middle places offer space for teaching, learning and transformation.
“[Discovering liminality] took me back to the reality that I am a child of God, and I am His daughter,” she said. “It really just took me back to my identity in Christ, and so when everything else around me is shaking and when I’m trying to make sense, when I’m trying to see, where do I belong? At the end of the day, I fit in His plan. Everything else might change, but He will always remain. And it’s such a firm reassurance for me.”
As Mercy embraced her global heritage, she found peace and transformation. Through her master’s and now Ph.D. work, she seeks to help immigrant women in liminality find the gift of confidence, expression and belonging. After graduating with her master’s degree in Intercultural Studies in 2016, Mercy took a year off before returning to Asbury Seminary to pursue a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies with a concentration in contextualization. Her own study and growth have allowed her to be a change agent for others.
“My research is pretty much my story,” she said. “I’m trying to look at how immigrants, women in particular, form their identity amid liminality. Some of them don’t even know that they are in liminality, and that space can be very confusing and challenging.”
Even as she studies, Mercy connects with other African young adult women to allow them space to process and make sense of their experiences. Through her gift of hospitality, she has started a gathering that offers women the opportunity to fellowship, form deep friendships, find belonging, check in on each other, offer accountability, and grow together in Christ.
“There’s no place for young adult, African immigrant women to gather and to grow together, especially amid everything that life throws at us, and so, I feel like that’s where I come in,” Mercy said. “I gather people through my gift of hospitality, and I see that as my ministry.”
Two years ago, Mercy was invited to speak at a Kenyan community to talk to youth and young adults about liminality. African immigrants typically don’t talk about feelings or emotions, but the children of immigrants are influenced by the American culture and want a language to express themselves. As part of her presentation, she shared some of the emotions they might be feeling and experiencing. As Mercy talked, she watched their faces light up as they learned a language to express feelings they had but didn’t have words for.
“My research will hopefully benefit the immigrant population, particularly the African immigrant population in America,” Mercy said. “It falls under diaspora missiology, and I feel like now it is time to really focus on diaspora missiology because we’ve known that immigrants are so open in their vulnerability to the message of Christ. And if I can, in one way or another impact someone and share that, then I feel like that’s really the goal for me.”
While Mercy wants to work with the immigrant population in the U.S., her liminal heart is also with the women and girls in Kenya. She hopes to work to empower this population as well, not just financially, but in a holistic way that helps women learn skills, grow spiritually and network for lifelong mentoring.
“That’s something I really like about Asbury Seminary’s E. Stanley Jones Ph.D. Program,” Mercy said. “Our professors keep telling us to make sure whatever you’re writing about will end up helping people. My research will be something that I can offer to a church, community or organization, so that this research won’t just fall flat, but can be implemented somewhere.”
Mercy authored chapter three of Tri-Level Identity Crisis: Children of First-Generation Immigrants that was published in 2020 by Pickwick publications and edited by Dr. Chris Kiesling, Dr. Anne Gatobu, and Dr. Tapiwa Mucherera. This book acknowledges the crisis unique to first-generation immigrants, by virtue of being in between their parents’ culture of origin and their social experience in the U.S. Mercy expects to graduate in 2023.
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