There are cultural differences between California and New York. If you have ever been to NYC & San Diego, you know that for starters, people dress differently. If you are driving in both places, you realize that in NYC, your horn is almost important as your breaks. San Diego on the other hand, driving is a little more relaxed. Maybe it is the ocean air or the temperatures that influence people. Whatever causes it, it is obvious that the two cultures are different.
As a missionary, one of our jobs is to learn the culture in which we live and minister in. That is something people tend to understand and have a decent handle on by the time they go home for their first furlough. As we have returned from our first furlough, it is somewhat safe to assume we have the culture understood. And the fact that Mihaela was born and raised in Romania, lived here until after we were married, you would assume she has it down. If there is ever a doubt, I tend to let her set me straight – she is the expert.
We took 8 hours to travel across Romania to attend Mihaela’s little sister’s baptism (which is actually a dangerous journey to some degree – last year they labeled the route we take one of the most dangerous in Europe). I have been driving the roads of Romania for the past 17 years, so I am somewhat familiar with them. I have a fairly good record of driving here – I have only hit (and unfortunately killed) one horse over the course of those 17 years.
Back to the topic at hand… Before we left on the journey, I asked Mihaela if I needed to wear a suit or just the typical Sunday church close that I wear when I preach here in Bucuresti. She said the latter, and even told me to take my nice new Vans shoes. I pushed back a little but defaulted to her judgment as she is the cultural expert.
We arrived at the church, and the whole family including the extended family was ushered to the front row of the church. Most churches in Romania have an hour of prayer (from 9am-10am), a Sunday School hour (10am-11am), and then the service (11am-past noon, sometimes a lot past noon). We arrived at 10am, but they had combined their Sunday School hour and the main service. A man whom I assumed was the pastor walked over to me as I sat in the front row right on the center aisle. He whispered in my ear to follow him. So I walked behind him as we left the sanctuary. I was greeted by two older men.
I find out that the man who whispered to me and the oldest of the two men waiting for us are father and son, and they co-pastor this church and one other. The third man is a visiting pastor from a village far away. “How do you want to be addressed?” I respectfully asked for a little more insight into this question. “What do you want us to call you when we introduce you? What are you doing in Romania? Have you been ordained?”
Once I explained that I was an ordained pastor from the States, but living in Romania, they told me to follow them. We marched back toward my seat in the front row, but by the time we arrived at it, I knew I wasn’t getting a front-row view of the service from the pews. No, we march right up on stage where they had 4 chairs nicely placed behind the pulpit. I had the best view in the place for the whole service.
In the corner of my eye, I saw that they had an order of service printed. They had 21 items listed and I was number 8. After the song which was listed at number 7, the oldest pastor stood and began to introduce me. “We are blessed today to have with us…” He spent the next couple minutes explaining that our “brothers from America” enjoy more liberty than most in Romania, and dress a little different when they preach from the pulpit. I looked right at my culture expert wife, this was all her fault. He finished introducing me by saying that it was a privilege to have me there to preach (thankfully I had prepared a baptism sermon just in case).
After the service, he came and apologized and wanted to make sure he didn’t offend me. He followed up by saying that I was welcome back in his pulpit anytime because I preached Christ straight from the Word of God. I respectfully told him I would make sure to wear a tie. He told me not to. Turns out, he is trying to get his church to move from being legalistic in a number of things, and my clothes were helping him do that. I guess Mihaela is off the hook this time, but it was still a good reminder for us: when we travel to the west, always expect to be asked to preach – which means I need a suit, and she should be prepared to wear her head covering if it is needed.