Redeeming Culture


Almost all missionaries leave their own home and culture because of a realization that many places in the world have not yet had the opportunity to taste the culture of God’s Kingdom – His forgiveness, His love, His joy, His mercy. This was true for me as well. When God called me, these desires developed in my heart also. Thus launching me into the field, understanding that I had something they did not. Unfortunately, this same thing worked against me subconsciously, as I began to collide with an Eastern culture foreign to anything I knew. It became easy to feel frustrated or proud that I knew better than them. I entered into a culture who refused to say, “I’m sorry,” would cut in line at the grocery store, or give me wrong directions even when they knew they were the wrong directions. Regardless of these disturbances, it’s amazing when we come to realize “in humility we are to value others above our self,” and heaven’s culture is not usurping another culture, but redeeming it. It is true that Cambodians are slow to and very rarely say, “I’m sorry,” much to the dismay of many westerners like myself, an American. If you do meet a Cambodian who says I’m sorry, most likely they have lived in close contact with westerners. As I learned the language, I found the word for sorry (“som dtoh”) literally translates to “beg/ask for punishment”. Wow, the difference was stark! I certainly wouldn’t beg for punishment from someone I bumped into in the grocery store. I simply say, “I’m sorry.” As I began to learn more from my friends here, they told me that in a Cambodian home people never say, “I’m sorry.” Firstly, it would be publicly declaring they deserve punishment which would bring much shame. Instead, if one did the dishes for their mother or made a special meal for her, it would be very clear the child was saying, “I’m sorry.” Being married to a Cambodian, it didn’t long for me to realize how much I desired to here the words, “I’m sorry,” but when I demanded it, it brought hurt. When Jesus ministered to the woman who was caught in adultery, He did not demand her to say, “I’m sorry,” rather He said, “go and sin no more.” He did not demand the spoken, but the action. Maybe Cambodian culture represents Kingdom culture better than my culture.

Coming to a realization that the place you serve may actually do things better than you that is truly a humble place. Realizing that the culture you serve in may represent the Kingdom Culture better than you, yet still not know the Kingdom that is a place where kindness, gentleness, humility, and self-control must have their place.  I’m so thankful for the opportunity to serve the Lord cross culturally, because not only does it expand his Kingdom in the world, but when we can find the humility to receive, it refines His Kingdom in us as well.

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