Flowers And Chum Chum


I remember my friend telling me that in his company’s foreign employee procedure documentation, they give foreign employees working with or visiting the U.S. the following protocol for traditional American greetings:

“The standard greeting in the U.S. is: ‘How are you?’ To which the only appropriate response is: ‘Good, how are you?’ The first person will not usually answer the second question, and in fact, both parties will likely have left each other at this point. Though the greeting may appear personal and inquisitive, they rarely are intended to solicit a truly personal response.”

How sad, but how true this is!

In the church in Ethiopia, it is not this way. Hospitality in general and greetings in particular are acts of worship. They’re sacrificial, they’re genuine, they’re personal, and they’re for God.

We received two formal greetings during our time in Ethiopia and we would do well to learn from them.

Picture this: You pull up in a rented bus that you are not very impressed with, but it got you from A to B (while most of the people greeting you walked there to be with you). You approach a half circle of men and women clapping their hands and singing praises to God. You feel like a celebrity, except it’s more like red clay than red carpet. The first person you meet is a woman who hands you a freshly picked bouquet, which consists of roses, baby’s breath, and other colorful varieties. She places the flowers in your left hand, then extends her right hand to you. You take her hand and she pulls you in and turns her head to the side so that your right shoulder and her left shoulder briefly touch. Through a brilliant smile she says, “Shalom,” and you can tell she means it with all her heart. It’s as if she is greeting someone far greater than yourself, as if she is greeting Christ himself in you. Smiling back at her you try to say the same but understandably fumble with the right accent. Then you move to the next person. No flowers this time, but the same sincere greeting. Then repeat this 50–60 times until everyone there has personally greeted you!

But their planned reception is not over yet. It’s time for chum chum.

Chum chum is like a sweet snack. Usually a sweet cake (baked in a charcoal stove, mind you) and soda pop. The eldest in the room eats first. It’s a beautiful honoring of the elders.

Finally, hugged, stuffed, and welcomed, you sit back and relax together telling stories and getting to know one another. Now that says hello!

Another greeting we received was at a local church. We rolled up and an entourage of adorable children (which is a huge understatement) in a large herd came around a corner of the church building. They were singing and the front row was holding flower bouquets to give us. They were all competing to be in the very front row to hand off the first flower bouquet. The light from their eyes and the brilliance of their smiles outshone the African sun. It was overwhelming.

While you might normally only see a bunch of dudes from Mars Hill with flowers in their hands as gifts for their wives, we carried these personal gifts from these little ones triumphantly.

But of course, no proper Ethiopian greeting is complete without chum chum. So we were escorted to a separate indoor room with a table and chairs. This time it was a full-on meal with traditional Ethiopian dishes, sweet cake, coffee, and soda pop. But that wasn’t the most impactful part. You later find out that one woman prepared this one meal for you, a woman you have not met, and that she spent the equivalent of one month’s income to provide it. Of course you wish she had not done that, but she did not give you the choice. Yet again, you sense that it’s not you they are intending to serve, but Christ the Lord in you.

One can tell from spending time with them that their hospitality is derived from their understanding of the radical, sacrificial, and generous truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:5–11

I know that when these saints pass on, Jesus will be there to greet them, and they are going to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

By: Pastor Tim Patton

This post is republished material from Mars Hill Church for teaching and archive purposes only.