Saving Face Doesn’t Save Time

 
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Photo by Tokyo Times
 
 
 
It is amazing how long it takes to “settle in” to a new place. I think the process time increases when you are in another country. It is not only the issue of language, but various cultural expectations and values do not help in the speed of getting settled. So, we have been developing patience, and God is giving us the grace to have greater understanding.

I think due to all my travels, living out of a suitcase does not faze me as much. But for Christina, whose personality is completely different from mine, needs to have everything in order before she can feel “settled.” But I am so proud of her because in the midst of chaos, she has been an incredible trooper. Her attitude and outlook on life have caused me to keep my heart in check.

After 3.5 weeks of being in Indonesia, I would say we are about 85% settled in to our new place. One of the last hurdles has been the kitchen. Yesterday, we were all set and ready to go with the gas stove so that we can start cooking, but we ran into some snags.

We met an expat family who has been an incredible blessing to us. In fact the woman that we have met does an orientation for all the new expat teachers at the kids’ school. Therefore, she was helping us, along her worker to get our gas stove working. The process was a bit long because we had to order the tank of gas (just think of the gas grills in the States) and then install it. Through the help of the worker, they helped purchase some of the specific parts needed to get everything hooked up.

But when we tried to put things together, it was not working. Therefore, we had to call someone from the gas company to come and assist us (more delays). When the person came there was some extensive dialogue going back and forth in Bahasa. The expat translated and told us that her worker got the wrong parts therefore it was not operational.

So we had to wait again and try tomorrow.

Well, today is tomorrow and then I found out from Christina that the reason why the gas stove was not working was because we had a different type of stove. Some homes just use a match to light their stoves but our stove uses an electrical starter. I think the more frustrating part was the fact that the worker knew this but did not want to say it yesterday.

At first I was thinking, “WHY NOT?!” If she just told us from the beginning, then we would not have wasted time purchasing the various materials… we would not have wasted time waiting around for them to fix it… we would have not wasted time in waiting for the gas company person! We could have easily found another option.

In the midst of my mental ramblings, Christina said that the expat friend explained to her that the worker wanted to help so much that she could not gain enough courage to tell us that it would not work.

Then it dawned upon me.

This is the Indonesian (Asian for that matter) culture of saving face. The worker would rather not tell us the truth about not being able to (or not knowing how to) get the stove working than to tell us that she could not help us.

If I just see this from a Western perspective, then it will drive me up the wall. But the more I see it from the Indonesian culture, it gives me more understanding. In her heart, the helper wanted to assist us so much that she was probably buying some time to think of another solution.

Well, I think when the conclusion was clear that this situation was beyond her league, she confessed it to the expat family. Then, the expat woman told us today of the situation very apologetically.

Self-preservation is a tricky thing. When it is so embedded into a culture, we, the foreigners need to learn to adjust. But from a biblical perspective, Jesus, in almost every account in the Gospels addressed it pretty strongly – not to humiliate people (or shame them) but to help them to see the need for forgiveness and a Savior. When people put up “masks” or “walls” to preserve themselves then it fuels pride and hinders people from experiencing grace and mercy. In actuality it makes us more self-sufficient and self-centered.

There is something about knowing that we are loved and accepted regardless of who we are or what we have done that is freeing to the soul. Is this not the Gospel?

As I preach the Gospel to myself first, then I will be able to live it out more passionately and love people around me.