I had breakfast with an amazingly good man. He’s been in pastoral ministry since he was 21. He has three amazing children, a loving and hospitable wife and a cool beard. Pastor Tom has traveled more widely than me and we both agreed that it is offensive when missionaries arrive in a different culture and ignorantly offend it.
When I arrived in Thailand the first time, I refused to take off my hat until I was asked twice. I got frustrated at the customs lady because I didn’t know the answer to her question and I expected her to understand my dodgy Australian-heavy English and when she didn’t, I arrogantly offended her. I showed people my feet many times. I said the worst word in Thai whilst a pastor walked by. In India I was in a room by myself with a woman, I touched things and ate with my left hand (the “poop” hand). I would leave food on my plate in Uganda after the village we were in slaughtered its prize pig (it had hair on it…. C’mon). And I bet I was arrogant in soo many other ways that I didn’t even pick up on.
I’ve been apart of teams that openly and vocally denounce parts of other peoples culture. My new pastor friend told of team members in muslim communities complaining about the absence of pork as food was being served to them. We walk into people groups who dress modestly in shorts and no shirt because we are “too hot”.
Are we trying to spread disunity on purpose? Are we proud of our dishonour?
But the thought came to us… Yes, some cultures don’t make any sense to us because we are looking at them from a different perspective. But what of our own cultures? The English language is such a dirty trade language, and yet we hold it up as this amazingly upper class thing. The greeks had at least four words for love. We have one. Our culture worships the 38 hour work week. Other cultures would look at that and think we were lazy. Others would denounce the fact that we don’t put more effort into hanging out with our kids. We throw away most of our dead animals, whilst other cultures innovatively use bits and pieces to do incredible things. Many of us live off starch and msg….. and we could pick apart our own culture for hours. But we don’t.
When we travel do we try to take on new cultures?
I was in Canada. One of the biggest time schedule language differences between there and Australia is “supper”. After 5pm the meal you have in Australia is always Dinner. But here it is supper. When I ask what’s for dinner, the question is understood but not used. If I used ‘supper’ the question would be a lot smoother – similar to if I drove on the right hand side here I would crash less then if I tried to drive like in Australia on the left.
I grew up with human hands being the only dishwasher. We would stack dishes on one side of the sink, and twice a day someone would wash it all and dry it. In a lot of North America it seems like dishwashers come with the house like bathrooms. So the culture isn’t to stack near the sink, but to stack in the dishwasher. I could bring my culture here and just stack where I want. But that would completely change how dish washing is done.
Churches and communities have cultures. It is second nature to us. We don’t think about it, like driving on the left. It’s instinct. So when we hang out with another Church or another group of Christians, we will unify a lot quicker, we will love a lot better if we mould and not try force them.
Like Christ becoming human – he took our shape. He came down where we were. He took on our aches and pains and our culture. The culture of Heaven is MUCH different. And he loved.
In the early 90’s the shape of evangelism was a little like this – you come to us, and look like us and then we will tell you about Jesus. Shouldn’t the Church internally and externally be – I would die for you, so I will also change my shape to accommodate you, to love you, to serve you?
Can we stack the dish washer instead of on the sink? Can we change our language, our volume, our food habits? YES we can.
Making others comfortable and giving them space needs to be held WAY higher than making ourselves comfortable.
How do we learn to be comfy with living in discomfort?
How do we learn other peoples culture and avoid burning and raping because we have the better weapons?
Do we sometimes oppress others because of an internal belief that we are better?