By: Scott Armstrong
Los Angeles, California. I was 20 years old. I was with 100+ other university students preparing to dedicate our summer to cross-cultural ministry. But first, the Church of the Nazarene and the Youth in Mission leaders had invited us to five days of training.
On one afternoon, they were drilling into us the need to adapt and be flexible in other cultures, a pretty important characteristic of any effective missionary. They taught us a saying that we would need to remember and sometimes even whisper out loud to ourselves when things got strange: “That’s different, but it’s OK.”
If you are served food that looks gross, what should your attitude be? “That’s different, but it’s ok.”
If you take a bite of said food and it tastes even grosser than you thought it would? “That’s different, but it’s OK.”
If you are asked to lead an activity with no preparation or forewarning? “That’s different, but it’s OK.”
For the medical students going to India (one of whom was my future wife), if you are supposed to operate on someone in the hospital but find that the tools and technology for doing so would never be used in an operating room in your country? You got it – “That’s different, but it’s OK.”
It became a running joke throughout the training. We would quote it when someone messed up a chorus during the praise and worship set. We would faux chant the mantra when someone would trip over their feet. That girl can’t sing? That guy is clumsy? All together now, in monotone: “That’s different, but it’s ok.”
Surely I would not need this silly saying when I was in Australia doing ministry all summer, right?
I literally thought or said that phrase more than a hundred times that summer.
Vegemite on all my sandwiches? That’s different, but it’s OK. (If you don’t know what Vegemite is, I strongly suggest that you have a drink handy when you try it.)
Told that tomorrow we’d be in charge of an entire children’s camp, and we just found out this afternoon? Whew, that’s different, but it’s OK. (And also, let’s get to work!)
I could keep going, but the examples aren’t important. What is important is the fact that one crazy little saying not only got me through a summer of culture shock but also helped me gain an appreciation for other cultures. Instead of judging food before I ate it, why not try it? Instead of thinking mine was the best or even only way to do things, why not listen to others? Instead of saying, “There’s no way we could plan an entire children’s camp in 8 hours,” we gathered together as a team and did it.
I found out I liked a ton of new “weird” cuisine. Meat pies? Fish and chips? Barramundi? Yes, please. A buddy from Australia brought me Tim Tams last year, and I almost cried for joy.
I found out we could depend on God, and he would empower us to organize an entire camp and actually do it well. Many children came to know the Lord and we found out we were capable of way more than we had thought.
I found out people from other cultures who speak and think different aren’t wrong. In fact, their perspective makes me a better Christian – and human.
Whether you are a short-term or long-term missionary (or never go overseas), these are vital realizations. Our world would be a lot better if we all regularly recited – and believed – the mantra:
“That’s different, but it’s OK.”
“Even though I am free…I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people…I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!” (1 Cor. 9:19-23, TM)