“What actually is that meat?” I asked Tan, my Thai host, having not seen anything like it before.
“Just eat it Adjarn Jim, it’s tasty,” came the ambiguous reply, which actually made me more nervous. So I prayed my standard grace: “Lord where you lead me I will follow, what you feed me I will swallow”, and tucked into this simple meal while sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor.
The Thai, like most people groups in the East, know how to do hospitality better than those of us in the West. The local Christians take literally the admonition in 1 Peter 4:9, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling….”
Whether it’s eating a field rat in a Thai village after a church service (it actually tasted like chicken), or walking in a park to the calls of “Come and eat rice with us” from other people having a picnic, the opportunities to engage personally with people abound every day.
If you really want to get their attention, then work at eating their spicy food or Durian fruit. If you can do that without choking, then you’re keng mak and have earned the right to tell your story. It shows you’re willing to become as they are, by speaking their language, living as they do and eating their food. (I personally think Thai food is the best in the world and could eat it every day for ever.)
However, one has to learn the culture surrounding hospitality; otherwise, rather than engaging with them more closely, it can actually become a barrier. “That farang just doesn’t know the stories (culture)”, is what they’re thinking, if you’ve not followed the right cues.
Jesus said, “Go and sit in the lower place and wait until you are called up higher”. Not till you’ve lived in the East does that become vividly clear. There is a hierarchy and you need to show humility and wait your turn to be seated. The foreigner is often elevated, but if you can sit where the less recognised folk are, that speaks louder than what you may say during an event.
Even the little things, like taking one spoonful at a time from the central dishes and not piling it all up at once, shows you know their stories. Learning how to eat with your fingers (and only your right hand) and using chopsticks are basic, but it’s those little things that can open big conversations.
Jim Dawson and his wife Lyn were involved in a church planting ministry in Thailand for many years.