Last week I learned the Zulu word sawubona. It’s a way that people greet one like you and I say hello.

However, having shared that word during my message yesterday, a friend sent me a link that describes the deeper meaning of sawubona. It literally means I see you.

It’s a way of recognizing someone’s worth and showing respect for all of their experiences, pain, strengths, and weaknesses. The word sawubona is infused with the idea that when you and I are “seen” by others, our existence is validated.

I experienced several examples of sawubona in South Africa.

For instance, when we arrived for worship with a small church outside of Johannesburg, we were greeted with a song that echoed over and over, “You are welcome…you are welcome…you are welcome.” I have never felt welcomed like that in any church before. We felt truly invited in and seen by our hosts.

When we met with a local pastor named Muse a few days later, he shared with us from his heart about the struggles of ministry. As he opened himself in a very vulnerable way, we not only were enabled to “see” him, but we also felt seen as trusted brothers and sisters in Christ.

There was also a strong sense of sawubona as our team shared meals over seven days. We listened to one another, encouraged each other in our various ministries, and demonstrated value for these new friends from churches in Tennessee and Georgia.

How wonderful it is to be seen and to see others as they are. But how common is that experience?

Do We See One Another?


I have been reading a book recently by David Brooks called How to Know a Person. He describes in the book how important it is for infants to be “seen” by their parents. Facial expressions and constant attention help a child know that they are loved and safe.


Likewise, adults need to be seen. So many people feel invisible. They may feel separate from others based on the color of their skin, through an emotional state that keeps someone anxious or depressed, or by the way no one notices them or sees their value.


Sometimes when people visit churches, they feel unseen. No one speaks to them or barely notices they are there. No one makes an effort to extend a handshake or take the time to ask questions about these important guests.


In contrast, Jesus always saw people. He noticed the ones on the side of the road who needed healing. He saw men and women alike. He welcomed children, even though they were considered to be little more than property in that day.


Jesus once told a story about a man who was attacked by thieves and left for dead on the side of the road. Two religious leaders passed by on the other side, but a Samaritan foreigner noticed the man and moved in his direction to help him. The first act of compassion was not bandaging the beaten man’s wounds, but seeing him.


To see someone in their anguish and respond with concern, you’re communicating, “I am with you. I want to help.”


I hope that the people of First Baptist Knoxville will always seek to see people as the beloved children of God that they are. I hope that we will always take the time to not only see the ways that people are hurting, but also to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) with genuine care.


How to Improve Your Vision


I recently went to the eye doctor. I suspected that my vision had changed a bit in the last year and that I needed an adjustment in my eye prescription.


Surely enough, it had changed just a little bit — enough to make a difference. After a series of “this one or that one?” questions, I was able to get a new prescription for better vision.


Similarly, you and I sometimes need a correction in the way that we see people. We can lapse into critical and judgmental thinking. Or we can simply be too busy with our own lives to notice the needs of others.


How can we practice sawubona with others? Here are a few suggestions.


Slow down. If you’re so busy rushing from one thing to the next, you’ll never see what’s beside you. When was the last time you paused long enough to truly look at the person checking out your groceries, took the time to listen to a neighbor, or gave a morning to help someone in need? Those who are always in a hurry to get things done often miss the treasure in front of them.


Put the phone down. You can’t look at your phone and look at a fellow human being at the same time. When you’re at the restaurant with a friend, having coffee with a colleague, or simply walking down the street, set your phone aside so that you can see other people and perceive what God is saying to you.


Serve someone who is different from you. Most of us have a tendency to see people who are like and ignore others who aren’t. Who can you serve who sees the world differently from you? When you stoop to serve someone, you start to see them in a different way — through the lens of love.


I’m so glad to be part of the First Baptist family. I love you and love being on the journey with you. I also want you to know that I see you — in your beauty, flaws, longings, and hopes.


Together, let’s do more than greet one another with a friendly hello. Let’s practice sawubona.


Have a wonderful week.


Pastor Brent McDougal