One of the joys of having Khmer staff is the opportunity to learn more about Cambodian culture and how Cambodians view foreigners. So the other day our accountant Sathya was telling Faith and I that there are benefits to being on the heavier side ie: not skinny but chubby. For it seems that if you are of the larger persuasion, you are considered wealthy and therefore, you are more likely to get better deals and discounts. Its such a far cry from how we in the West adore the thin and skinny look. The thinking over here is that if you are big in size the assumption is that you must be wealthy because obviously you can afford to eat well and therefore, there are advantages to treating you well because you will likely spend more and buy more, hence, you are more inclined to be offered better discounts. So for those who are concerned about being overweight on this side of the pond, it seems that you are far more cherished, valued and appreciated for your size. Moreover, you are more likely to be extended greater discounts! Thankfully in God's kingdom, size is irrelevant. All that matters is the heart!
Another interesting tidbit that we learned was the perception that can be created when Western Christians drink alcohol over here in the presence of Khmer Christians. According to our Khmer staff person, Christians are seen like the Buddhist monks except one would call us ''monks for Jesus.'' Since monks are revered here and are considered to be live a pure and clean life, so too there is a perception that Christians should walk with that same kind of purity. So when it comes to drinking, alcohol is often viewed here similarly as in some Christian circles as a vice and so if Christians are esteemed like the monks, then they too should be seen as refraining from drinking alcohol. For a Western Christian to drink alcohol in the presence of a Khmer Christian can potentially be a stumbling block because of the perception that alcohol over here is associated with drunken and lewd behavior, domestic violence and not being a Christian. While one does not want to be legalistic and this certainly gets into the whole debate we have in the West about whether Christians should drink alcohol, it was interesting to note that certain mission organizations here are mindful of the cultural perceptions that alcohol can create and so their members are asked to refrain from drinking alcohol in public places or in places where there are Khmer Christians present. These comments have been insightful especially for us who live and work here. We certainly do not want to be a stumbling block to our Khmer brothers and sisters. It reminds me so much of a conversation I had with my young Loak crew (language instructor) who before he was a Christian use to frequent the beer gardens and was part of a gang. When he became a believer, he stopped going drinking with his friends and now is totally sold out for Christ hoping one day to become a pastor. Recently he shared how his non-Christian friends kept calling him to go drinking with them but he refuses because for him those places and activities do not enhance his Christian walk but take a way from it. I admire his desire to walk blameless with a pure heart and clean hands.
I am thankful for these cultural nuggets as they serve as reminders that we are called to be in this world but not of this world. For as 2 Corinthians 6:3 says: We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.