When a Tree is Not Just a Tree

A few weeks ago in a sermon at Central I told about a small tree that we saw growing in a large pothole in Natal, Brazil. I made the point that the infrastructure in Brazil is very different from that of the United States. Basically, I was saying that potholes go so long without repair that trees start to sprout.

I found out how wrong I was! When I was talking to prospective readers at our information meeting Tuesday night, one of the readers asked me what I thought of Natal. I retold the tree story.

One of the people said, “Oh, that is not why the little tree was there. When a pothole gets that huge, someone will put a tree [or, as we observed, an umbrella] in the hole so people won’t hit the pothole. The hole is so deep and dangerous that you can ruin your car if you hit it directly.” He said further, “That is not uncommon at all in our country.”

This conversation reminded me of how we view things differently in cultures not our own. Other customs that are different in Natal include the rudeness of eating any food with your fingers. In a restaurant yesterday I chose a chicken leg to eat, as did Lanita. Then she realized and reminded me that it is very rude to eat any food with my fingers. You use a fork or, in the case of sandwich or hamburger, a napkin to put the food into your mouth.

The Apostle Paul dealt with different customs in writing to the church at Rome in Romans 14:1-15. He was concerned that we should respect each other in our different customs about eating and special days.

We should respect other nationalities’ customs and traditions as long as they don’t contradict God’s Word. We can even apply this, I think, to other regions of the country where we live. Be willing to eat foods of a region that might not specifically appeal to you. I learned this lesson in adjusting to Lanita’s Southern cooking and especially in eating in the homes of her relatives when we first started dating. I’m still working on eating cooked turnip greens, however.

So I am trying hard here in Natal to avoid insulting any of my readers or hosts in my actions and deeds.  As Paul said, “…I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (I Corinthians 9:22.)

Remember, a tree is not always just a tree. It may be another country’s orange barrels.

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