Friday, July 12, 2013

Who's the Better God?

While Josh and I enjoyed our final free breakfast today at the Bodhi Tree in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, a young girl came into the open outdoor restaurant area where we were seated. She asked, "Lady, do you need a bracelet?"

I answered her honestly by saying, "No, I don't need a bracelet."

With a slightly annoyed and dramatically dejected expression on her face, the girl asked, "Why?" (Imagine her holding out the word "why" with a low, complaining sort of drawl.)

Now, this same girl had come by a few days earlier with her basket of trinkets to sell, and we went through the exact same verbal exchange at that time. Before I had tried to explain why I didn't need a bracelet, but it was obvious that she was not amused by my excuses for not buying something from her. This time, my husband interrupted the routine by engaging the girl on a more personal level. "What is your favorite thing to do?" he asked.


"What do you like to study?"


He continued to draw her out, and she began to talk about all sorts of things. My husband decided to give her a dollar, and she was very grateful. The conversation continued, and after a few more minutes of dialogue, the girl began to talk about Jesus and Buddha. She concluded by saying, "I believe in Buddha, but not Jesus." I asked her why. She continued to explain how sometimes people are mean and sometimes they are nice (and she pointed at how before I was mean by not buying a bracelet, but now I was nice by giving her money), and then she made a very simple statement: "All the people liked Buddha, but lots of people didn't like Jesus. So I think that Buddha is the better god."

This little girl's simple argument made my mental gears start turning. I had never heard such an argument. And I had never before realized how much I took the background assumption of Jesus's significance for granted. I was obviously not in the U.S. anymore, and the simple reasoning of this Cambodia girl pushed me face-to-face with the Buddhist culture of the country I was in. In an effort to defend Jesus, I explained to the girl that Jesus had to suffer so that he could pay the consequences of our sin and make us right with God. The girl was obviously uninterested in my explanation, and the conversation moved on to other things. Before we parted ways, I gave the girl one of my necklaces as token of our love to her. My husband and I loaded our luggage onto a tuk tuk outside the restaurant, and I saw the girl as we drove away. I thought, "Lord, how can we effectively communicate your love and truth to a girl like this?"

While in the tuk tuk, my husband leaned over and whispered to me, "I think it would have been best to say that Jesus suffered so that he could know what it was like for us when we suffer."

In Cambodian culture, authority is respected and feared. The society is structured hierarchically. It is expected that those with a superior hierarchical status will deal harshly with those below them, as it is their right to do so. It is cultural for husbands to abuse their wives; it is culturally acceptable that the older of two people never apologizes to the younger. It is cultural for leaders and authority figures to run off of bribes and to promote their own agendas without considering the affects on those they rule. So, it is natural on this system that those who are subjected to suffering are not very high on the totem pole of society, and therefore, they are despised. The appearance of beauty and riches immediately draws awe, honor, and respect from the "common" people, which is a big reason that foreigners are highly adored in Cambodia. All of these things reveal deeply ingrained values of Cambodian culture, and they also help me to see why the little girl would naturally think that Buddha was a better god then Jesus.

I never before realized how important it is to speak the gospel message to people within the context of their cultural values. And I never really saw into the all factors that would make one presentation better than another. My encounter with starkly different reasoning about the greatness of Jesus and Buddha shaped me and changed me. The simplicity of one school girl's reasoning portrayed a deep clash of cultural values between Cambodia and my home country. What a lesson. This interaction with the Cambodian girl at the Bodhi Tree will stay with me forever.

1 comment:

  1. Rachel, why did you stop? Please email