About a year ago, my husband and I attended a ceremony to remember the atrocities occurring in the Congo. While there, we learned what courage looks like.
We also experienced African hospitality. We were served a bounty of traditional African food.
It would have been delicious.
Except it was cold.
As I struggled to swallow the cold food, I found myself muttering a mantra from the Duane Elmer book, Cross-Cultural Connections, “It's not right or wrong, it's just different.” This allowed me to quickly excuse the cold food, knowing a cultural difference was at play.
Then, last weekend, we attended another remembrance ceremony. The day before, we went to a Congolese worship service with our friend, Emile. Afterward, we wanted to find out some details regarding the ceremony. So we asked Emile a few questions about it's location.
Emile proceeded to inform us that he'd reserved a “very nice” room for us that featured air conditioning and a kitchen. Thanks to the kitchen, Emile assured us that this year we'd have hot food rather than the cold food we'd been served last year.
In that instant, I realized Emile was deeply embarrassed by last year's cold food. As it turns out, my Congolese friends don't actually like cold food any more than I do.
Huh. So much for my cultural sensitivity.
As it turns out, not everything you encounter in cross-cultural ministry is actually a cultural difference.
Sometimes, stuff happens unexpectedly and you're forced to make the most of it. You can't get into the kitchen you planned on using so you're forced to serve cold food - not because you're a certain ethnicity, but because you have no other choice.
Those things happen.
And when they do, don't excuse everything as a cultural difference. Instead, ask questions.
After all, excusing everything doesn't actually deepen relationships but asking questions does.
It also increases your understanding and allows you to bond...
Even over things like cold food.