Codes of Honor

Ifraim and Scr

Distributing Bibles in a city north of Islamabad

My rule of thumb for handling cross-cultural differences is to get to the point where I can say that the difference makes perfect sense to me. This allows me to show respect and honor to their culture and that I understand what they are doing.

To show them this respect does not mean that I agree with what they do. I may find some behavior distasteful and immoral and would never replicate it. But the people know that I have made the effort to understand them.

The natural temptation, when faced with something we disagree with, is to hasten to let them know that we find it wrong. That ends the conversation. Most of the time they don’t need to be shown that. What they really want is understanding.

Last week I posted on the theme of “Danger!”  This difficult exercise—and I fully acknowledge that it is that—takes on deeper challenge when we come up against codes of honor with dangerous people. These codes may not ever be written or in a manual, but they teach each person how to live.

These codes are found in the proverbs, the sayings, the legends of the tribes. The men know these proverbs, and they pass them on to their children. Among them these customs rule with unchallenged power.

One missionary working with one of the dangerous tribes spent years collecting their aphorism and proverbs. By doing that, he became intimately aware of their culture. This achieved a deep acceptance in an otherwise closed society.

I would like to look at the proverbs and codes of the Pushtun of Pakistan, a people usually not friendly Christian messengers. They have lived in Northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1000 years before Christ. That would be about the time of King David. Their code, well shaped over these millennia, is known as Pushtunwali. Within this are twelve primary virtues:

Hospitality—This first one carries great weight and expects respect to visitors, regardless of origins or clan.

Forgiveness or asylum—This extends to protection from enemies, at all costs and is granted until the full dispute is known.

Justice and revenge—And there is no time limit to this. The revenge often extends through generations.

Bravery—This defense comes out for land, family, and the honor of the name.

Loyalty—First of all loyalty, and at great sacrifice, to family, to friends, to neighbors. Not to show this brings great shame to the family.

Righteousness—As in striving for what is good in thought, word, and deed, this applies to the environment, to the cattle, and to people.

Faith—The object is the one God of Islam: Allah in Arabic, and Khudai in Pushtun.

Respect or pride and courage—If one does not have these qualities, he is not considered a Pushtun. This is of paramount importance, for it would be shown in bravery, loyalty, and revenge.

Protection of their women—This includes physical and vocal abuse.

Honor—This particular quality is seen towards the poor and weak.

Country—The land of the Pushtuns is sacred to them. It is to be defended for honor and for name.

To be sure, there are facets of these that we find startling. But that is not the point. Reading these shows how much of their culture is taught through these primary virtues. We should respect what they represent and appreciate those things that are honorable in the structures of their cultural life.

On a visit to Pakistan when I was a guest of a Christian evangelist, I joined him and his team on a trip into cities north of Islamabad. We carried with us Bibles in Urdu and gave them to whomever expressed interest. The picture above shows our leader with courage from the Holy Spirit offering the Word of God to the Muslims.

On our way home and at several other times he and the team offered free copies of the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs? Not the Gospel of John, or something similar?

Proverbs.  He explained that is what shows the culture of God, the code of Christians, what they can see of the God and Father of Jesus Christ through our code of life. Brilliant move.

A sampling of proverbs from the Yoruba Tribe of Nigeria (Not a dangerous people):
A great affair covers up a small matter.
A man with a cough cannot conceal himself.
A proverb is the horse that can carry one swiftly to the discovery of ideas.
After we fry the fat, we see what is left.
Anyone who sees beauty and does not look at it will soon be poor.
As long as there are lice in the seams of the garment there must be bloodstains on the fingernails.
Ashes always fly back in the face of him who throws them.
Because friendship is pleasant, we partake of our friend’s entertainment; not because we have not enough to eat in our own house.
Covetousness is the father of unfulfilled desires.
Fear a silent man. He has lips like a drum.
Gossips always suspect that others are talking about them.
He who eats well speaks well or it is a question of insanity.
He who throws a stone in the market will hit his relative.

About Tad

After 25 years in parish ministry and 15 years with Anglican Frontier Missions, I have had enough reflection time to sort out responses from churches to the Lord's call to the least evangelized. This series addresses the nine most frequent rationales for leaving fields that are white for harvest without harvesters.
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