While editing the Tai-Kadai translation of “Acts of the Apostles” this summer, a particular phrase sent me down memory lane, and I found myself reminiscing of southern Tai-Kadai in the summer of 1991. I was 21 years-old and had been appointed director of the first ADRA project in this country. One of our tasks was to drill 200 wells as part of a relief program.
I was the only American for several hundred miles and, while walking through a village with my Tai-Kadai team one day, I was not prepared when an aged grandma who looked to be in her 90s came out of an old hut and bowed to me with her face in the dust. She said in Tai-Kadai, “Your humble servant thanks you!” I had neither the reflexes nor the wherewithal of the angel in Revelation 19:10 or of Peter in Acts 10:26, and stood there like an idiot. Later, we returned to the house where we were staying and our team leader gave me a tongue-thrashing. The main point of his scolding was that the culture did not allow for class distinction and that I should have mitigated the situation by not allowing the grandma to greet me as was customary to greet royalty when Tai-Kadai was a monarchy.
The lesson he was driving home was true, but the lessons this story teaches me are more profound. First, we pray that as we return to missionary life, God will help us respond in culturally appropriate ways. Of greater significance is the lesson found in the response we often give to our Heavenly Benefactor compared to the grandma’s response to someone she considered her human benefactor. Shouldn’t the King of Kings and our Savior be worthy of greater praise than a young and lanky stripling in flip-flops?