Over the past few days, it has been brought to our attention that we have unknowingly committed a few (or several) cultural faux pas since arriving in Korea. Because we are the "new Americans," these slip-ups have been overlooked, but since we are going into our fifth month here, the powers that be have decided it's time that we know about them.
Criticism is never easy to take, especially when the offense was one of ignorance and not rebellion. I won't lie. It has been so difficult not to become defensive, to feel the need to explain our side or talk about how we were wronged.
But through it all, there has been a verse quietly echoing in my spirit:
You can trust a friend who corrects you, but kisses from an enemy are nothing but lies.
I have read this verse before and have always done the wise "mm hmm" and nod-of-the-head because, sure, of course I want a friend to tell me when I have lipstick on my teeth or tell me whether those jeans make my butt look big!
It isn't until this recent situation that I realize this verse isn't just a wise description of a good friendship. This verse gives us a criteria, a definition by which we choose our friends. It's as if the Lord is saying, "If you're looking for a few good friends, here is measuring stick to see if they're really trustworthy."
Once the defense mechanism switched to the "off" position and I began to allow this verse to really soak into my spirit, I suddenly have a new perspective on the people here.
You see, Korean culture is quite non-confrontational. If an individual becomes embarrassed or angry, they smile and laugh so as not to let on that they are upset. Many times, when asked a direct (but uncomfortable) question, a Korean will only laugh or say "yes," even if those responses don't make sense. Sometimes they will simply smile and change the subject, as if the question had never been asked. Their entire perspective is one of peace and harmony. Typically, they will go out of their way to avoid upsetting those around them, even if it means terrible inconvenience to themselves.
In light of that knowledge, I now realize how difficult it must be for them to come to us and tell us we were wrong.
But despite their cultural desire to steer clear of confrontation, they have proven themselves trustworthy, according to scripture. I now can see that they really must love us because they are willing to risk a terribly uncomfortable scenario in order to correct us. I realize they're not just being nit-picky or difficult; they are trying to protect us from "losing face," which is so very important in Korean society.
They, in essence, are treating us like family.
This has suddenly changed my entire perspective on how to approach my relationships with them (particularly with the Samonims). If they are willing to go so against their own cultural tendencies in order to protect me, I should be more than willing to step WAY out of my comfort zone and embrace the cultural requirements that come with Korean friendships and ministry.
I won't say this realization has been an easy one. I still sort of want to whine about how it's not our fault, we didn't know.
But if I can let go of those selfish emotions, I see what a true jewel I have found in the relationships here. We are truly loved by these people, and that is something I don't think I realized before now.
And so I am grateful to the Lord for this new revelation because, once I got over myself, I found a "hidden" treasure of friendship with which I have been entrusted. I intend to steward this treasure wisely from now on.