Saving Face: Asking in Shame-Based Cultures

By on September 4, 2018   /   Leave a comment
“The real decision we have to make when confronted with cultural
shame in support raising is this:
are people’s opinions more important than Christ’s?”


“Tonight, I want all of you to call 10 of your closest friends, share about your situation and invite them to pray about giving to your outreach.”

I vividly remember thinking my leader must be joking.

Except he wasn’t. And that’s when I started freaking out.

Is he serious? Does he know how awkward that is?

What are they going to think of me? And what if they say no?

If you come from a high-context, face-oriented culture like myself (I am Singaporean Chinese), I’m sure you have experienced something similar while navigating this “thing” called support raising. We cringe at the thought of making someone else cringe.

The unavoidable truth is this: there is a degree of shame attached to the idea of asking others for support, and how we respond is critical.

The root of shame is a lordship issue. The real decision we have to make when confronted with cultural shame in support raising is this: are people’s opinions more important than Christ’s?

When we see it for what it is, there isn’t much left to debate. All of us will see Jesus face to face someday, and He will ask us to account for the life we chose to live. He will be looking at us and asking if we lived our life in obedience according to His will.

When that time comes, no excuse of “but I come from a shame-based culture” will hold water. We are responsible for our own choices – we either obey or we do not. As James Hudson Taylor said, “Christ is either Lord of all, or is not Lord at all.”

In my journey as a support raiser, I have offended, shocked, affronted and simply annoyed a number of friends and family. Not intentionally of course, but as you know sometimes there’s just no “smooth” way to make “The Ask.”

The first few rejections were hard, but harder still were the annual shaming events where all my relatives would take turns telling me how stupid and irresponsible my life decisions were. It’s one thing to ruin your future by choosing a missions career, but to “live by faith” is simply absurd. I was constantly reminded of the shame I’m bringing not only to myself, but also to my widowed mother and extended family.

Thirteen years later, those days seem like the distant past. I’ve now become what our culture calls “thick-skinned.” In the good sense this means I’m someone who’s not easily affected by other’s opinions. I’ve learned that no matter how important you think you are, your “face” isn’t really worth all that much–especially when it comes to following God. In the tragic story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18, he valued his wealth more than the invitation to follow the living Christ. In a similar way, we often attach a greater importance to our perceived face or social standing than to obedience when asked to follow Christ outside our comfort zone.

My biggest encouragement when dealing with shame is this–it only affects you as much as you allow it to. We can actually make a choice to not let it affect our decisions. In my work as a mobilizer/recruiter, the most common question I get asked is, “Does your agency provide a salary?” People don’t have a problem with the missions part–it’s the shame associated with support raising that they have to wrestle with.

If you are from a shame-based culture, I hope my story gives you hope and also challenges you. Don’t let shame rob you of your calling from God. The shame from people pales in comparison to the shame you will feel if you stand before Jesus knowing you let “saving face” keep you from saving souls. Scorn the shame as you honor Christ as Lord over all in your life and ministry.

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” Hebrews 12:2.


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