(Slowly) Learning What it Means to “Please Everyone”

By Stacey

I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. –1 Corinthians 10:33 
I have read this verse of Paul over and over again since our arrival in Cameroon and have asked myself the question, “What does it mean to try to please everybody in this cultural context?”
I think I am slowly learning what this means, and it’s totally different than what I expected. I thought that pleasing everyone meant that I would live exactly like they do, but what I am discovering is that it is actually something much harder.
Welcoming the Unwelcoming as Christ has Welcomed Me
In the past when I thought of Africa, I thought of warm, smiling people dancing through the streets in brightly clothed clothes greeting one another. I thought they would be very boisterous and friendly and welcoming, both towards one another and towards us as visitors in their country.
This has absolutely not been my experience in the region where we are ministering. I am finding it very difficult to develop friendships and often wonder if my relationships will always be “give” with little “take.” I labor to construct a question in French or the tiny bit of Bakoum that I know only to consistently get the one word “yep” as a response. When I am with groups of women, they just talk to one another the whole time and I am just…there. Ever walk into a room when everyone is laughing and you missed the punch line and you are just…there? It is kind of like that. I do not think that they are trying to be unwelcoming; I just think they have no idea what to do with me. It is like I am from another planet. The babies do not even trust me.
Then the other day, we had our pastor and close friend Boris over for lunch and this difficulty came up. He looked us in the eye and said, “You guys have to do all the work because the people are not going to approach you. You need to keep going out and asking questions and it is going to take a long time for the people to warm up to you. It is not going to be easy but you need to do it for the sake of the Gospel.”
I think the Lord used his words to help me see that forcing myself to please everyone means to continue reaching out even when I feel rejected. I am sure this truth can apply to many regardless of the cultural context.  
Appealing to those in Authority
If there is anything that our American culture values, it is that of equality. We believe that all people, regardless of race, family lines, economic status or gender were created equal. All people thus can and should be heard. We also value a lack of formality in dealing with those who are in authority over us. We call our bosses by their first names and pride ourselves in casual Fridays at the office.
And this is not at all the culture that we have entered. This culture values hierarchy which manifests itself in the form of tribal chiefs, administrative officials, village elites, and the necessary protocol in addressing those in charge. When we enter the mud hut of the trial chief we address him as “your majesty.” The other day we had a meeting with the mayor and I looked at the floor for the bulk of the meeting as the “men” did the talking, only able to speak when spoken to. We have to iron our clothes, polish our shoes, use the formal “you” form in French and get counsel regularly from our Cameroonian friends as to how to address those who are influential in our people group.
Can I just say that this cuts against every American value in me?

And yet, I must force myself to please these powerful men to show honor to the God who put them in my life as authorities and for the success of the translation of the Bible. As one of our friends told us, “If you do not have the favor of those in authority, you might as well go back to the States because no one will listen to your message.” So this is just what we have to do for the sake of the Gospel. Overall, our meetings with the “higher-ups” have gone well, but there have been times where I have had to sit there, look at the ground with my mouth shut while absurd accusations were being hurled at me. I must force myself to please them in order for them to give me permission to develop their language and translate the Word. And when it is published, I trust that it will challenge the culture where it needs to be challenged.

For the Sake of the Gospel
From time to time people have commented on how hard it must have been for us to adopt kids (the waiting, paperwork, money, adoption drama, etc). When this happens we chuckle and say that those “challenges” do not compare to the day-in-day-out challenges of being parents.
I think it might be the same way with missions. The decision to become missionaries was not an easy one, but as difficult as it was to leave everything, this does not compare to the day-in-day-out forcing oneself to do what seems so unnatural.
And yet, it is all an act of worship to our Savior who “made himself nothing” for us. And I am sure we will not regret one minute of it when, Lord willing, we are worshipping at the throne of Jesus with Bakoum brothers and sisters around us.
But, until then we are slowly and imperfectly learning what Paul meant when he said that he made himself a servant of all.

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Author: Stacey Hare

Stacey is a servant of Jesus Christ as well as a wife, mom, linguist, and Bible translator. Right now she is working creating literacy materials so the Kwakum people can learn to read and write in their language. She is also working on translating Old Testament stories into Kwakum with her husband and local Kwakum colleagues.

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