Beyond Culture

I attended a fantastic cross-cultural training session last week.  I hadn’t realized how important it is for me to embrace my role as a guest here in a foreign country, and to recognize my cultural biases.  One of the most interesting questions we were asked was, “What norms go beyond culture?”  For example, most societies value honesty, fairness, and generosity (although those would be defined differently by culture).  Another question was, “What norms are universally unacceptable? ”  That is, what is “not okay” for most people, regardless of culture?  Our speaker proposed the following:

  • Complete nakedness (with the exception of some tribal groups and French beaches, most societies agree that some parts should be covered in public- although they disagree as to which parts).
  • To cause harm to another.
  • To degrade another (take away human dignity).
  • Violence.

We could, of course, discuss and debate this list for days.  What strikes me about it is that much of mainstream pornography (and certainly child pornography) contains- indeed, promotes- all four elements.  That makes porn both universally unacceptable and universally widespread.  Interesting.

In January of this year, a former British Monk was arrested on charges of creating and distributing child pornography from Northern Thailand.  Hundreds of images were found on his computer.  Last week he was given a suspended sentence (for pleading guilty) and basically will provide 48 hours of community service.

As long as there is a disconnect between what we affirm and what we allow, the innocent will continue to suffer.

There are some values that transcend culture- like justice, mercy, freedom, love.

Lessons Learned in the Going- Part 5

I cannot maintain an attitude of “us” and “them”.

I recently viewed an anti-human trafficking documentary in which one of the ‘rescuers’ declared, “I hope there is a special place in hell for (traffickers of children).”  The statement simultaneously resonated with me and made me cringe.

I think that having a heart for justice is completely consistent with- even flows from- being a child of God.  After all, Jesus reserved some of his harshest words for anyone who would harm a child: it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Matthew 18:6).

At the same time, I find it tempting to cross over the fine line between caring and condemnation.  A line over which only a Holy God is qualified to step.  The danger for me is to allow my indignation at “heinous sin” to justify, rationalize, and minimize my own “mini-rebellions”.

I have to constantly remind myself that, as Ravi Zacharias says, “We may not all be as bad, but we are all as bad off”.  That is, I have the same potential for evil in my heart, and also the same inability to forgive/save myself.



Lessons Learned in the Going- Part 4

I cannot complete my calling in my strength.

When my oldest daughter was about five, she liked to “help” me cook dinner.  She would place her little hand on my Pampered Chef chopper and lightly press it down a few times (sometimes the blade would even touch the vegetables).  Then I would place my hand on top of hers, whack the veggies hard and fast, and viola- results!  She would look up at me with a satisfied smile, “I did it!”

Recently I heard someone say that every day is “Take Your Child to Work Day” for God.  I love that.  He doesn’t need me.  But sometimes, if I am willing, He lets me put my hand on the chopper and play some small part in what He is accomplishing.


Lessons Learned in the Going- Part 3

I cannot stay stuck in approval addiction.

Two of the first (and most impactful) lessons I learned from running a business for 25 years:

  1. It is impossible to please all of the people all of the time.
  2. It is my choice to frustrate and exhaust myself striving to do so.

In actuality, I have spent a lifetime trying to manage what other people think of me.  And I have paid a price for that effort- namely a deep feeling of insecurity, and a nagging sense of fraudulence.  I have spent the better part of the last 15 years trying- through God’s grace- to undo those destructive patterns.

That’s why I have been surprised to find myself falling back into those attitudes and behaviors in preparation to serve in Thailand.  In the going, I have discovered a strong temptation to believe that everyone has to like me.  A lot.  Somehow, dependence on others for prayer and financial support has translated into dependence on others for approval.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1

Slavery comes in many forms.

Lessons Learned in the Going- Part 2

I cannot be surrendered to God but cling to outcomes.

I have a prayer habit of asking for God’s will to be done, while simultaneously insisting on what I want, how I want it, when I want it.

True surrender means letting go of my expectations.

This requires trust.  Trust in God’s character and His intentions toward me and others.

Questions I’ve been asked about the year ahead:

  • Will you be safe (physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially)?
  • How will you be able to learn a new (difficult) language quickly?
  • How do you expect to be effective on the ground (you do not have formal training in education, law enforcement, ministry, or counseling)?
  • Have you heard the statistics on how many restored victims of sexual exploitation/trafficking return to elements of their former lifestyle?

Questions I have to ask myself:

  • Who is in charge?
  • Is God good?  Is He faithful?  Does He equip those He calls?
  • Does He have a plan and a purpose for every life on earth?
  • Can I trust Him with outcomes?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  – Romans 8:28


Lessons Learned in the Going- Part 1

I cannot separate my past from my present and future.

In a sense, leaving a home, business, family, and friends to embark on a new adventure half way around the world seems like the perfect way cleanly divide the first 50 years from “the rest of my life”.  Surprisingly, this move has connected the pain of my past to the reality of the present in ways I did not predict.

I am reminded of a Beth Moore play on words:  God is the I AM of my WAS.  When He uses my WAS for my IS and IS TO COME-  that is the very definition of redemption.  In other words, when God can use the pain of my past to offer strength in the present, and hope for the future- He has truly brought me full circle.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

What a humbling privilege.