cambodian culture

In Western cultures, most people have a tight schedule. Breakfast at 8 a.m., work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a lunch break at noon, dinner at 6 p.m., meet with Jim at 8:30 p.m., bed by 11 p.m., and repeat. For the most part we run on an organized day using what is called “clock-time,” where everything is, as it sounds, scheduled on an external clock. Our days are thought out, planned, and prepared for “making the most” of our day and being as productive with our time as possible. Western culture is very future-oriented, constantly focused on what needs to be done and by when, in order to keep moving on and to be the most productive.

In Cambodia, along with many other countries, people run on what is called “event-time.” In event-time, a schedule would look much more like this: when breakfast ends, work begins. When one feels that he has accomplished enough for the day, it is time for dinner. When dinner is done and he feels ready, he can go meet with Jim, and once he is tired, he will go to bed.66 People run their days by an internal clock; they are focused on one task at a time and the present.

In clock-time cultures, showing up five to ten minutes after the set time is considered permissibly late, 15 to 20 minutes after is late, and 30 minutes and beyond after the set time is considered insultingly late. But in event cultures it is considered permissibly late if someone is thirty to 45 minutes after the set time. One to two hours after the set time is considered late, and two to three hours after the set time is considered insultingly late.

For many who are accustomed to running on clock-time, this concept of running by an internal clock is frustrating. It may seem that people do not care, are being disrespectful, or that they are being unproductive with their time, but that is not the case. Though event-time may not seem to be the most productive, studies suggest that both event- and clock-time have to potential to perform well.67

If people are showing up “late” or your schedule is not happening when you exactly planned it out, don’t freak out. Take a deep breath. You are going to be okay! Realize that you are not on a mission trip just to accomplish a list of tasks. You are on God’s time in a new culture and if you are focused on the ultimate thought of just bringing glory to Him and showing His love, then He will use you wherever you are and through whatever you are doing.

Read John 4. How does Jesus manage His time? Does He run by clock-time or event-time? Jesus and His disciples were on their way to Galilee and stopped to rest. While sitting at the well, He built a relationship with the woman and stayed at the well waiting on His disciples and then again waiting for the woman to come back. Who knows how long that could have been! He was presented with a choice: keep with His plans and go to Galilee or stay for a bit longer and minister to the Samaritans. What does Jesus do? He postpones His plans for TWO DAYS! Jesus knew that, yes, plans are important, but if you are doing the will of God and obeying His commands, then God gives you the time you need to accomplish what He wants you to do, just as in Joshua 10 when God literally stopped the sun for the Israelites to have the time they needed to defeat their adversaries.

Take a moment to consider these questions:

  • How will being in an event-time culture challenge me?
  • How can I be preparing myself for those challenges?

About a week ago, you looked at the difference between making your “results” people- and process-focused rather than projects- and products-oriented. Remember that your goal on this trip is not to create specific quantifiable results and that transformation happens along relational lines that take time to develop. Just as Jesus operated based on the relational needs of the Samaritan woman and community, be prepared to operate based on the relational needs of the AIM staff, a community member, child, or one of your teammates.

Spend some time in prayer asking God to prepare you for what might change, that when and if the time comes that your plans do not go exactly as you expected, He will give you a peace and be your firm ground.

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66 Tamar Avnet and Anne-Laure Sellier, “Clock Time versus Event Time: Temporal Culture or Self-Regulation?,” Social Science Research Network, (2010): 4, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1665936 (accessed October 5, 2012).
67 Ibid.

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