“Identify the culture to use the culture to reach the culture” is a phrase that comes up often at both Youth Ministry International and the youth ministry classes at the Mexican Baptist Theological Seminary. Today it was something that slipped my mind.

I was in the airport with Jon and Nicolle awaiting their flight back to the United States, and we saw the Japanese guy who has been living in the Mexico City airport for a few months. Since he’s pretty much a celebrity, we decided to ask if we could have our picture taken with him. But we went about it completely wrong.

Jon and I approached the guy and asked him if he spoke Spanish. He just stared at us. Then we asked about English. We thought that surely he would speak English. Again we were met with a blank stare. Finally I motioned like I was taking a picture and he nodded in approval. We finally got what we wanted, but things could gave gone so much better.

As we returned to our table in the food court, we started talking about what we should have done differently.

For starters, we should not have assumed he would speak English. How ethnocentric of us! We looked up a few Japanese phrases after the fact that would have been useful in our quest. Basic phrases like good morning and how are you would have helped greatly. It’s always a good idea to speak people’s language.

We also should have treated him as a person. We really just wanted to say we had seen him, so we didn’t try to ask how he was or engage in small talk. People are much more open if you treat them like people and not like objects.

No wonder he’s looking at me funny in the picture.

I’m sure there are other things that we did wrong today, but reflecting on these two big mistakes will hopefully help me in the future.