A Monkey Stole My Dignity (And a Few Other Things): How to Cross Cultures Gracefully

20 Jun

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I seem to have a knack for finding the most difficult path when it comes to learning life lessons. Maybe you don’t have this problem and have the ability to avoid the difficulties I tend to find myself facing. Honestly, I never do it on purpose, but I always end up in the craziest situations. That’s true of my life in general. Add going overseas and crossing cultures, and you can’t imagine the types of predicaments I find myself in. For example, the time a monkey stole my underwear in Thailand.

In January 2014, I went on a mission trip to Thailand. I was working with missionaries I had met through a friend at my university. For the majority of the trip, I taught english at local schools and helped with an after school volleyball camp.

Toward the end of my time there, we were going to head to an island for a sort of “spiritual retreat.” I was so excited! After all, it was January, and while my friends back home were freezing, I would be spending some much needed time with Jesus on this beautiful, tropical island. It was only a 24-hour trip, but it was going to be wonderful. I packed my backpack with the essentials, and we headed out.

When we arrived at Ko Tarutao, I was surprised to find that not many people were on the island. In fact, the only people who weren’t paid to be there were the missionaries I was with, a French couple on their honeymoon, and myself. I checked into my bungalow, and the man who handed me my key snapped his fingers. “Lock your door,” he said, in very broken english. I smiled and told him, “Thank you,” then headed to put my stuff away.

When I reached my bungalow, I got out my keys and unlocked the door. Above the door handle was a sign that read, “Please lock your door.” I got inside, and placed my stuff on my bed. I looked over to the door, and there was another “Please lock your door” sign. I’m not always the smartest person in the room, but it seemed the staff here really wanted me to lock my door.

Our group was going to head down to the beach to look around a little before we ate dinner. I grabbed my camera and headed out. As I walked through the doorway, I saw the sign telling me to lock my door.

Now in my American mindset, I thought they were concerned about someone taking my things. I remembered there were literally five people on this island who didn’t work there, so narrowing down the guilty party would be a breeze. I left with the door unlocked, and my keys on the table.

Fast-forward 45 minutes. I’m heading back to my bungalow to grab my money for dinner and notice my door is open. I push the door open a bit to see if anyone is inside, and at that exact moment realize why they said to lock our doors. What I saw wasn’t a person going through my things; it was a monkey. An actual monkey had my backpack open and was throwing my things out of the bag.

I instantly backed away from the door and walked around the bungalow to the window closest to my bed. I started banging on the window, shouting at the monkey to leave. At that time it was holding the one pair of underwear I had packed for the trip. Did she put the underwear down? Of course not. She ran right out the door with my pink underwear in her left hand and my dignity in her right.

Why do I share this story? Beyond its simple “Amy’s most embarrassing moment” appeal, there is a lesson here to be learned: when stepping into a new culture, we need to have a posture of learning, and not a posture of knowing.

If I would have simply listened to the instructions given to me, and not assumed I knew the reasoning behind the instructions, I wouldn’t have found myself on a trip with a monkey who now owned a pair of underwear—my underwear.

The implications of our mistakes when crossing cultures aren’t always as humorous as my story. These mistakes can sometimes hurt relationships we are trying to build, and have a lasting impact on people Jesus wants to reach through us. That is why when we are entering these places, we have to posture ourselves as learners first. We do this by listening to the voices of the culture—listening to the people who live in and love the cultures we cross into. We are in a learning posture when we ask questions and truly listen to the answers we receive.

Learning isn’t always easy, and it can definitely be uncomfortable to be in a position of not knowing. But this place of humility has potential to yield real spiritual fruit—both in us and for others—when we are willing to embrace it. When we are crossing cultures for the purpose of mission, yielding fruit is exactly what we’re after, right? 

And hey, locking the door when you're in monkey country is probably a pretty good idea too.
 

What About You?

  1. Have you ever been in a situation where the setting or rules were unfamiliar? Did you find yourself questioning why things were the way they were or thinking you knew better?
  2. Do you typically find yourself taking the position of a learner, or the position of a knower or assumer? Can you think of a setting or relationship in your life where becoming a learner—being curious and asking questions—might result in spiritual fruit?

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Amy Benton lives in Fullerton, California. Born and raised on a pig farm in Oklahoma, God called her to the West Coast, where she now serves on CRM’s Communications Team as the Communications Coordinator and “Resident Millennial.” She is passionate about worship, prayer, and changing how the world views her generation.


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