A recent post was about 'converted, always converting' and related some of the areas where I have changed my mind in recent years. I want to pick this theme up again, but this time in a more practical area.
But first I need to explain something both about my past and my personality. I am a missionary-kid from India. Through my teenage years our home was an international guesthouse with missionaries coming and going. I remember laughing at the heavily accented (be it British, or American) Hindi that we used to hear - not to mention the stumbling pronounciation of the newer recruits. Then there was the mocking of people making very average attempts to dress 'like the natives'.
There has been a bit of hangover in my life ever since. 'Unless you can embrace a new culture with both authenticity and accuracy, don't bother'. That has been a mistake.
And the mistake becomes complicated when it conspires with my personality. I am more introvert than extrovert, more timid than adventuresome. This means that when I move across cultures I am more likely to freeze up than I am to step out. That is a real shame. I envy extroverts, I really do. They just waltz into these situations. I can't.
In my current role with Langham Preaching I move from country to country at a dizzying speed and often find myself immersing deeply, if only briefly, in a new culture. I love the peoples of the world. I long to hear all those languages around the throne. Indeed I am writing this in the middle of an intensive weeklong training seminar with pastors from that big country above Hong Kong. I am the only white face and there are only a handful of people (if that) who speak English. But I have a deep sense of privilege to be here.
Often I have another training colleague with me (usually an Aussie, so far) and on more than one occasion I have learnt from them in this area. This is what I've observed. You can be wildly inaccurate but if you are authentic, with a love in your eyes and a warmth in your face and prepared to have a go, they'll love you all the way home. We give out 2-3 books at the end of the training week, often calling people forward name by name to receive them. On one occasion my fellow trainer (in his words), "butchered every name on the list" as he read them out - but in that very moment he bonded himself with the people in a special way. I saw it happening with my own eyes.
I think I knew all this already. Actually I know I did. But for the reasons stated above I am so slow to put it into practise.
So here I am having a fork-free week in Hong Kong. I wonder if the chopstick is a pointer to this new conversion which I'd like to embrace. Putting my past to one side - together with the timidity and the introversion - I'd like to step out and into new cultures more freely, more fully and less fearfully - putting away the fork and picking up the chopsticks in all sorts of ways.
One area of regret for me has to do with my time as Principal at Carey Baptist College and my engagement with Te Reo Maori (the Maori language). I don't doubt my commitment to it. I only need to recall the disappointment I felt when a training initiative was closed down! Plus I'd love to have learned Te Reo Maori to signal that commitment but the demands of the job just did not make it possible. Nevertheless, in retrospect, I wish that I had taken the opportunity to speak and use Maori more often. Whether it was opening the Carey year with a powhiri (which I often did) or routinely starting a speech with a greeting in Maori (which I seldom did), I could have embraced Te Reo more fully. But the stakes were high - being inaccurate and inauthentic was not a good look and there was huge pressure to get it right. Then when the timidity (or, more accurately, the flat-out fear I felt in these settings) and introversion took over, I just didn't do what I should have done.