Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cultural Faux Pas

When we were preparing to move overseas, we went through a lot of training. We had classes on raising support, language acquisition, international travel options, safety, basic medical, cultural adjustment and cultural sensitivity among other things. Adjusting to the host culture as much as possible without sin or marginalizing the Gospel was a common topic of discussion. We spent a lot of time reading case studies and leaning ways to observe and learn the “cultural rules” of our future community. Our goal is always to be a student of our new culture. Who do people have these customs, what is the history, what is the meaning, what does it mean to participate, what does it mean not to participate? These are the question constantly confronting us. The same way Jesus took on flesh and became incarnate so that He could seek and save that which was lost, we try to become incarnate in our culture…but without sin. We do our best to avoid cultural faux pas and blunders. However, in January, I had the pleasure of observing a significant cultural faux pas and it was surprisingly heartwarming.

Grace church, a larger church in our area, invited children from nearby schools to come to the church midweek and enjoy a special presentation of the Christmas story. There was a great response. About 500 children and their teachers came to the church on a Wednesday after second Christmas. They enjoyed a puppet theater, Christmas musical and heard the Gospel. The church prepared a small gift of candy and some Children’s literature for each student. The schools then ask if we could do something for the youth also (about ages 10-16). There was really no budget left but how can you turn a request like that down? The next Saturday, about 400 youth with their teachers came to the church to see the program (minus the puppet theater) and hear the Gospel!

My favorite part was during the musical presentation of the Christmas story. The Baptist culture here is very conservative in many ways. In the church building women wear skirts (past the knees), married women wear head coverings when they pray, men ware ties when they preach, children don’t run and you never, never clap. If you like a special song or poem you respectfully show appreciation by saying either “Praise God” or “We are grateful.” However, on this Saturday, every time a song was sung, there was loud applause. This is a significant faux pas in a Baptist church but it warmed my heart. The meaning was clear. The audience didn’t know the cultural rules. Why, because they don’t go to church. This exposure to the Gospel and the birth of the Messiah was new to most of them. Further, they were touched by it. They didn’t know not to clap. They just wanted to express their appreciation. They each heard the Gospel, the Christmas story and received a pocket size New Testament. When the audience was asked if they thought it was worth spending a few minutes a day reading their new New Testament, more than half enthusiastically raised their hands. Our earnest hope is that many of these students and teachers will enter into the ultimate culture of the Kingdom!