The Heart of the Matter

Some things in China just make no sense to westerners. It doesn’t matter how long you live here, how much of the language you speak, most westerners just aren’t going to understand all of the cultural nuances that surround daily life.

A friend went to Gina’s and ordered a set meal, which comes with fries and either a soft drink or iced tea. When the waiter asked which drink she wanted, my friend asked for water (which is free). The place was thrown into confusion. The conversation went something like this:

“Water? But water doesn’t come with the set.”

“I know,” said my friend, “but I don’t want tea or soda. Just bring me a glass of water.”

“Just a minute, please.” The first waiter goes to another waiter with the request and the second waiter approaches my friend.

“You ordered a set?” the second waiter asks.


The waiter explains, “The set comes with either a soda or tea.”

My friend takes a deep breath and says, “I know it comes with soda or tea. I know I am paying for soda and tea, but I only want water to drink. Can you bring me a glass of water?”

“But, the set doesn’t come with water,” the waiter repeats.

This is not an uncommon scenario at our restaurant. Placing an order that isn’t exactly the way they’ve been trained brings confusion. Yet, when a local costumer returns a dish because the color doesn’t match the photo in the menu, our kitchen finds it acceptable to add to a recipe (even if it is a strange ingredient) just to get the color to match. Believe me, some strange concoctions have been brewed up in our kitchen.

Because we make everything from scratch, there is a lot of prep work involved. Most chain restaurants in the states buy almost everything (meat, bread, vegetables, sauces, desserts) from a catalogue. They only have to open a package, mix or thaw, and cook. Our prep work includes, cutting and marinating all meat, making the hamburger patties, meatballs, barbecue sauce, salad dressings, tortillas, bread, and the list goes on. Between lunch and dinner time, the kitchen is often busy rolling out tortillas or slicing steak.

Over the past 5 years, we’ve purchased several time saving pieces of equipment, only to see them boxed up and back on the shelves a few days after being opened. The tortilla press was to hard to work, the warmers for the soup gave the food a “funny smell,” the hamburger patty press made the hamburgers too flat, and the list goes on.

When we first got our dishwasher, the workers refused to use it. It was too hot, too complicated, washing by hand was better, and so on. Our dishwasher is easier to operate than most home machines. You put the items on the tray, close the lid, push the button, and 60 to 90 seconds later the dishes are clean and sterilized.

Most westerners would assume our workers like to complain and are hard to please. But, in reality their upbringing, traditions, and lifestyle make it really hard for them to adjust and change direction. I have to be really careful about any method I teach, because that is the method they will use even if a better way is discovered.

Its easy to get frustrated and call the people here backward or unreasonable. To their thinking, we westerners are the strange ones. We come in trying to show kindness but disregard their deeply rooted traditions regarding age and position. We unintentionally cause distress because we ask things of them that are culturally offensive.

Every Christmas we host a party at our home for all our employees. The first year we did this, one of our sweetest ladies refused to come and was rather upset that we had invited her. Several months later we learned that when a Chinese boss invites employees out (especially to his home) gifts (expensive ones) are expected from those who attend the event. Our employee thought we were just like others who wanted to benefit from the poor workers. We’ve sorted this out and she has come to every party we’ve hosted since that time. She has also been one of our greatest links to understanding the hearts of our workers.

The heart. How do you get to the heart issues when cultural differences seem to block every path? How do you minister to anyone? I’m definitely no expert. I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded in this area. Here are a few things I have been learning.

I must clothe myself in humility daily. A person with a humble spirit is more likely to recognize the needs of others simply because his focus is not inward but outward. If I allow others think I know everything, I become unapproachable and lose opportunities to speak into their lives.

I must learn to view others as Christ views them. Not as backward, odd, or strange, but as His precious, unique creation in need of a Savior.

I need to love them where they are even if I don’t understand, or agree with, why they do what they do. I could laugh about the superstitions that guide their lives and complain about all the things I deem foolish or I could get involved in their lives and share Truth with them.

I need to hold more tightly to Biblical culture than to American culture (or family culture). I have to force myself to think, “What does God’s Word say about this?” rather than, “In America (or in my family) we do it this way.”

I need to learn to enjoy the differences that exist between us. One of my closest local friends gave me a ride on her back one night. She insisted that I climb on her back and allow her to carry me through the restaurant, crowded with customers. I was uncomfortable with the attention. I felt awkward being carried as if she were my beast of burden. But she wanted to honor me, to thank me. I was humbled. This woman deserved honor but it never occurred to me, to put her on my back and take a stroll in front of strangers or friends.

There is always something to separate us. Always an excuse for staying away from those heart issues with our neighbors. Misunderstandings, language, race, business, culture, high society, low society, political or religious views, on and on the list goes. But ministry is not an option for believers. We are called to minister where ever we are, regardless of our circumstances. All of us are called to be His witness, called to be a light, called to be salt, called to love our enemies, called to love one another, called to love God, called to serve. If I am doing these things, truly doing these things, I can’t help but get to the heart of the matter.

~ Regina

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