Exercise humility because you are there to serve.
While most of the world likes America, not all of the world likes Americans (i.e. just because we do something one way in America doesn’t make it the best way.) Be humble. You are there to serve. The way to do that is to really understand the people, their culture, and their worldview.
Much of the world, (friendly nations included) view Americans as being arrogant. Perhaps this is because we live in a really good country and this knowledge just oozes out of us without knowing it. Americans certainly are proud of their country, but what may be good for America may not be good for others.
I lived in China when the largest city in the province where I lived got their very first traffic light. Like every other light, it had red, green and yellow lights; green on top, then yellow then red on bottom. It was opposite of lights in the USA. The first weekend they turned it on, there was massive confusion and traffic jams at the intersection. When the light turned green, some people stopped and others went. Likewise when it turned red: some stopped and others went. After one day of this, they took the light out of service and studied the problem. What they found out stemmed from the old communist liberation days. During the war against the Japanese, the red army would raise a red flag which meant “charge”. A green flag meant “stop.” The older people who knew this would go when they saw the red light. They younger generation who did not understand the old ways would do the opposite. The governor of the province had a television campaign to educate the people on the international operation of a traffic light. Afterwards it was turned on again with no confusion at all.
People do things differently in other countries. The missionary will always do himself a service to understand this and look for the logic instead of trying to correct the people for their way of doing things. The temptation might be to laugh at the way things are done there and criticize the way things happened, but don’t forget that we were once there ourselves.
As with the life of Christ, humility will constantly remind you of it’s presence and call to be adopted, but it can be forgotten. My first night in China as a missionary was one that I will never forget. Our host took us to an American food restaurant. This was designed on his part to “ease” us into the culture. It was a nice place in a large 4 star hotel. The fact that we were the only people in the restaurant testifies to the quality of the food, but I would say it was okay. But my story on humility does not begin there. It begins when I needed to use the restroom.
I rather urgently needed to use the facilities so I got up from the table telling the others, “I need to use the restroom. I’ll be right back.” Off I went out of the restaurant into one wing of the hotel. When I got there I did like most other people, I began looking for the signs on the door indicating it was a restroom. This is when panic set in. All of the signs where in Chinese and I didn’t read Chinese. There was a hotel worker passing by so I asked, “Could you please tell me where the restroom is?” She looked at me in bewilderment and spoke something in Chinese, but the expression on her face was panic as well. She began to call other Chinese hotel workers to assist her in understand the dancing foreigner. Now, 6 or 7 Chinese were all chatting to each other as my need got more urgent. I didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know what to do. I did the only thing I could think of under the circumstances. Humility had won out. I began to pantomime using the restroom. They were all staring at me, wide eyed and curious. I do believe they were the worst people in the world at playing charades. I won’t tell you what I had to finally pantomime, but suffice it to say, it was embarrassing and humbling, but they clearly got that message. Finally one of them grabbed me by the arm and dragged me off to the men’s room. I was dancing all the way.
Never forget humility. Pride will almost certainly lead to many awkward failures.