Last week, Awe Star Ministries held its annual missions conference at Owasso, First. We brought in special speakers from around the world. One of these, Pastor Mony, came all the way from Cambodia. This incredible man lived through the era of the Killing Fields. Today, he serves as pastor of 12 churches. His father, a general in the army, was executed for siding with the Americans.
Pastor Mony preaches every day. When he finishes at one church, he hops on his little scooter and drives across the rough, pitted roads to the next one. Nothing stops him. During the rainy season, he rides on the dikes built between the rice paddies, his scooter slipping and sliding through the mud. Sometimes, it drops off the dike and down into the rice paddies. He climbs back on, soaking wet, to arrive at the next church in time to preach. To keep his ministry going, his wife works as an attendant at a public toilet selling individual sheets of toilet paper.
In a country where poverty is the norm and death has been the standard, Pastor Mony is full of joy and life. We couldn’t get him to come to our conference last year because he was worried about the new churches lacking discipleship while he was gone. This year, we finally convinced him to come.
The day after the conference ended, I picked him up in the Awe Star van to show him around Tulsa. I took him to Sam’s Warehouse, where he was amazed and sometimes overwhelmed by the abundance of food. In his country, food is scarce or nonexistent. I gave him a tour of our office and introduced him to our staff. Every time we stopped, he tried to get in the back seat of the van, but I would have nothing to do with that. I made him sit up in the front next to me.
When we got back, his interpreter laughed. There was a reason Pastor Mony wasn’t comfortable sitting in the front seat. In his country, special guests get the seat farthest in the back. They consider this the seat of honor. In Cambodia, the lowest of the low sits in the front next to the driver. The interpreter had to explain that in our culture, riding next to the driver was the place of honor. This gave us all an “Ah-ha!” moment.
Throughout our lives, we’re taught that certain behaviors are right or wrong. Is it right or wrong to burp at a meal or put your elbows on the table? In America, we learn that both these things are wrong. But in truth, they’re not right or wrong, just different. In France, it’s customary to put your elbows on the table, but the French would never think of putting their hands on their laps and reaching up to handle food. This makes sense, so I’ve decided to adopt this part of French culture. I only wish I’d known about it when I was a small child. Whenever my mom told me to get my elbows off the table, I could have said, “Maman, j’ai adopté les manières des Français.”
The Chinese consider it proper to burp at a meal. They want to honor the labor of the cook who is slaving away in the kitchen. If they burp, the chef knows he’s done a good job. I also wish I’d known this cultural tidbit as a kid. Whenever my parents got on to me for burping, I could have told them, “我想告诉煮他的食物是不错的.”
We need to teach our children four things: what is right, what is wrong, what is different and what is biblical. I hear people in England drive on the wrong side of the road. No, they drive on a different side of the road. Many of the things we’ve identified as right or wrong are neither; they are just different. A true knowledge of right and wrong comes from understanding what is biblical.
The Bible is a book of absolutes. It isn’t a book that teaches right or wrong, but a book that defines right or wrong. We need to ask if our lives line up with it. For example, I don’t have to decide whether or not I should honor my father and mother. The Bible has already spoken that doing so is good and right. The question is whether or not my values align with the Word and the will of God.
So is putting the guest of honor in the front seat of the car right or wrong? It all depends on where you are. The next time you define a behavior as wrong, check with the Bible first. You may find out it’s just . . . different.