Enter the Dog

Written by Karl Dahlfred on .

This past Wednesday I went out to Chaat & Mui's home in Nong Doan to teach Ephesians to them as I do every week. Pastor Jarun and I are hoping that this Christian family will be the core of a new church in Nong Doan. This particular week we were studying Ephesians 2:11-22. Usually it is just Chaat, Mui, and myself (and sometimes Sun & Joshua) but this week Chaat decided to bring along Yong, another guy who lives in Nong Doan. Yong is not yet a believer, has shown some interest in the Gospel, but is still not yet decided whether he wants to become a Christian or not. Since Yong doesn't know much of Scripture (at all), I needed to make sure I gave enough background info as we got into our study. Eph. 2:11 starts off, "Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called 'the uncircumcision' by what is called the circumcision..." and Paul goes on to describe the enmity between Jews and Gentiles that was destroyed by the reconciliation brought about by Christ's work on the cross. I made sure that I went through thoroughly who the Jews are, and who the Gentiles are and why circumcision was such a big deal.

On the whole, my Thai language ability is not stupendous and needs work but I can manage my way through teaching a Bible study or preaching a sermon well enough to be understood and a blessing to others. I mention that because after I had been explaining about circumcision, Jews, and Gentiles for a few minutes, Mui quietly says across the table to Yong, "That's 'sunat' not 'sunak', ok? You understand?" "Sunat" is the Thai religious word for "to be circumcised". "Sunak", on the other hand, is a formal word for "dog". I suddenly became aware that I must have been mispronouncing "sunat" often enough in my explanation that Mui thought Yong might be confused as to why I was talking about "entering the dog". In Thai grammar, you enter circumcision. That's the way the phrase is constructed, to enter "sunat".

So, what did my explanation of circumcision sound like to Thai ears? Probably something like, "Jews entered the dog but Gentiles didn't enter the dog and this caused a lot of problems between them. Entering the dog was the sign of God's promise that he gave to the Jews, marking them out as the people of God. The Jews looked down on the Gentiles because they did not enter the dog, and thus were not worshipers of the true God. And the Gentiles hated the Jews because they prided themselves on entering the dog and thus looked down on the Gentiles." I find it hilarious to think of what I must have sounded like although it is always disappointing to see how deficient my language still is. It is all the more reason we need to depend upon Christ to build his church, and not my ability to speak or persuade, especially in a language not my own. I know that my language will improve over time but the linguistic and cultural blunders of missionaries illustrate the reason why the Thai church needs to be led by Thai people, not by outsiders. As a missionary, I am just here for the interim until a church of sufficient maturity and numbers can be established and carried on by the Thai themselves. In the meantime, I am grateful that so many Thai believers are very gracious when missionaries say things like, "Entering the dog was a great source of tension between the Jews and Gentiles."
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