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Southland Christian Ministry Training

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Cross Cultural Differences

While on deployment I worked closely with the PTI (physical training instructor) in running a welfare store. This meant going to a nearby city to purchase a wide range of items, souvenirs, table cloths, toy camels, mosque clocks, prayer mats, personal needs as well as getting things like printed t-shirts. My friend the PTI was always in a hurry to get there and get back, but the more he tried to push, the slower things seemed to go. He came up with suggestions like faxing the order through so that less time would be wasted.

What we had to learn was that this was not done on purpose! Their concept of time is much ‘looser’. The Islamic concept of time is very different from ours. Their culture accepts as fact that ‘Haste makes waste’ and the Qur’an (I think) states that “too much planning tempts fate and the anger of Allah”. Thus the people we were dealing with were reluctant to make firm plans and added the overrider ‘Inshallah’ to everything, meaning literally ‘God willing’ which in practice means ‘seems ok at the moment but don’t hold me to it’. When they tell you it might be ready ‘tomorrow’, don’t bother to book the car – it will probably be ready in a week!

It might have had its moments of frustration but it was a good lesson to learn. What I found out was that lack of haste allowed time to build relationships. They were never in a hurry and went out of their way to offer hospitality, to really get to know us a friends and not just customers.

Yes, we all are confronted with deadlines and ‘to do’ lists we will need to finish, BUT we might enjoy life more if we adopted a looser approach to time. However, that is not just an Islamic idea, the Bible too speaks about the need to slow down – why not put it into practice this weekend!

Chaplain Ian Whitley

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