I was able to get in on a lecture by a Kenyan on Social Transformation in East Africa. It was an excellent work that mostly pointed to the power of an intentional small group Bible study, using Mezizzi (“Rooted”), a discipleship course which now is being used in the US also.
It became really remarkable when he was asked about corruption. He posited a specific: “Suppose you are elected mayor, and an old man asks for help in a civic issue, and you give it. The culture literally has no word for, ‘thanks.’ They have only responsive actions to express gratitude. The old man gives you a goat, since that is his most culturally appropriate way to express appreciation. What are you to do with the goat? Everything hangs on your definition of ‘corruption.’ What does corruption mean in a culture where you can only say thanks in actions, not words?”
With one quick question, he laid bare the difficulty of cross-cultural expectations.
When we pressed him for his answer, he spoke softly. Perhaps it is not graft unless you ask ahead of time for a specific gift back, he said, and then, if a gift comes afterward, unrequested, it is passed along to some charitable end, with proof offered of the transaction. He also said that even if that were passed as law today, it would be 50 years before it would be implemented!
Bill, our host, says that in Thailand (where they served for years as missionaries, and learned the language), there is no word for “integrity!” When the missionaries explained the concept, the best the locals could come up with was a word which meant pretty much, “stupidly naïve,” since to their minds, anyone with brains is going to cheat his way through life!
This is why missions work needs lifers, who pay their dues, and learn the language, and Spirit-led local believers, who find the mind of God to implement the Kingdom in a new place.