As I was reading my Bible Study today, I came across 2 Samuel 10:1-5
1 And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead.
2 Then said David, I will shew kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father shewed kindness unto me. And David sent to comfort him by the hand of his servants for his father. And David’s servants came into the land of the children of Ammon.
3 And the princes of the children of Ammon said unto Hanun their lord, Thinkest thou that David doth honour thy father, that he hath sent comforters unto thee? hath not David rather sent his servants unto thee, to search the city, and to spy it out, and to overthrow it?
4 Wherefore Hanun took David’s servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away.
5 When they told it unto David, he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed: and the king said, Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return.
I thought this was a good example of the importance of how important culture is in communicating with people. It isn’t just about learning a language…you have to say things the right way too. Look at what happened:
David wanted to honor Hanun when he became king because the former king was good to David.
David sends his servants with gifts
Hanun’s advisers and friends tell him that David is really trying to dishonor him by not coming himself.
Hanun agrees and shaves off 1/2 the hair on David’s servant’s heads.
David wanted to do good but did it in a way that wasn’t “right.” (Right in the eyes of those he is trying to reach. I’d like to note that this is not a right/wrong truth thing but a perception/cultural right/wrong). The king ends up and doesn’t like it and so the gift doesn’t have the effect that David wanted/hoped for.
I just got done reading a good book on this topic several weeks ago. It is called Cross Cultural Servanthood and I would highly reccommend this book to anyone who wants to work cross culturally. The basic idea is that “help” and “serving” needs to look like those two things to the people who are being “helped” and “served” or it isn’t “help” or “service.”