Jesus has given us a command to serve, and as Christians, that should be our focus and goal. I think that most missionaries that go to the mission field would agree that this is our mission. However, the problem is that we often don’t know how to serve others in their culture. The book Cross-Cultural Servanthood shows me that many times by not understanding how others need to be helped according to their culture, we cannot serve them or impact their lives.
The author in this book gives an example of when he bought snow chains as a present for his wife. In his mind, he thought that he was serving her by buying her something that would be useful and thoughtful. However, he did not realize that growing up in a rural snowy state made his mindset far different from her perspective from a warmer, more urban area. She did not think that he was being thoughtful at all and did not feel served. When we are serving on the mission field or with other people from a different background, it is very easy to misunderstand what others need. We must be willing to study the people and the culture to minister effectively and serve others in a way that genuinely meets their needs. We must be ready to serve them in a way that speaks to them.
Another example of this is that sometimes people from another culture feel served is by being able to serve. If you give them gifts, they might feel belittled, but if they can cook you a meal or have you over, they feel honored and served. My brother, a missionary in China, told me that people often show their gratitude and appreciation for you by taking you out to eat and paying for your meal. If you don’t let them pay, then they will be offended. You might be thinking that you are more of a servant if you pay for that meal, but the truth is they will be upset and offended if you do so. You are not truly serving because you are only thinking of what makes sense to you in your culture and not in their culture. It might sound a little strange, but it makes total sense after thinking about it. The goal is not for me to feel like I am serving but for others to feel like they are being served.
The Bible says in Mark 10:45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Jesus gave us an example of service through his life, and we should follow in his footsteps. Jesus left his throne in heaven to become man and live like one of us so that he could serve us and save us. We also should take the attitude of Jesus and look for ways to serve others according to their culture and needs.
This blog post is part of my book review series. If you would like to read an article about the best books for missionaries to read, you can click here.