Every Monday I hope to make this a regular slot where we can bring mission to the front of our minds.
To get us started here is a short article I was asked to write reflecting on some of the simple difficulties of cross cultural work which we saw in S.E.Asia.
Picture the scene with me. After a long days work in the heat of Thailand all you want is a nice drink. Patiently you wait for your order of earl grey tea to arrive only to discover that what you have instead is a green tea latte. Disappointment and frustration quickly take over and you begin to ask “why am I even here? I know how to get tea in Britain”. It all seems so futile because you can’t even order a cup of the earl’s finest.
The language barrier is tough. All cross cultural workers find it difficult. Brit’s in particular have a great problem in this regard. We are socialised in a mono-linguistic culture compared to most other nations in the world and expect people to understand English. This only went so far for us in Malaysia and it did not even get off the ground in Thailand.
Speaking louder is not the answer either. It still doesn’t make sense and just comes across as aggressive. For this reason Hudson Taylor, the founder of OMF, radically shifted the norms of missional engagement. He suggested that in order to win the people of China he and his team had to become like them. Famously he stated “let us in every way not sinful, become like the Chinese, so that we may save some.” This meant learning language, developing cultural awareness and wearing the same clothes as those around him.
We were only in Asia for a short time and therefore barely scratched the surface of understanding language and culture. But we did have to enter into a wide range of situations where such skills were required. Take for example being invited to a post Ramadan feast hosted by illegal Filipino Muslims. What do you do? The smart thing; follow the example of the missionaries you are with.
I think it is also important for me to stress the differences between both of the nations we were placed. Malaysia is an Islamic nation. Early in the morning you would hear the Muezzin calling people to prayer from the minaret. However it is a melting pot of many different people groups which has the potential to boil over. Thailand is a Buddhist country and its footprint is seen everywhere. Temples are ornate and beautifully decorated. Yet the message of the monks is one of despair and continuous cycles of suffering.
A great blessing of cross cultural work is seeing how God reveals his glory through all peoples and all nations, because they are all his creation. That is why they need to know of God’s free gift of redemption and why believing people have always had the task of announcing this glorious hope. How do you personally advance God’s saving message to the nations? It has been wisely summed up that we will either go, send or disobey this command of God’s good news.
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come buy and eat!…Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon”. (Isaiah 55:1,6-7)
This is why not being able to order earl grey tea is worth it! Because God pardons all people, everywhere, who turn to him.