Home Outreach Leaders Articles for Outreach & Missions An Extra Thumb, Chess and Choosing Compassion

An Extra Thumb, Chess and Choosing Compassion

“No, no, 40 dollar is good price,” she said.

“Fifteen dollars is my final offer,” I replied, which I knew was a lie.

But that’s how the bartering goes in third-world countries—you just keep telling lies until someone gets tired of it. It’s an understood street secret.

I was trying to buy a chess set for my oldest son, Noah, in a hot, crowded market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The lady with whom I was dickering was young and had a light jacket on. I couldn’t believe it—a jacket! I was sweating barrels wearing just my thin white T-shirt. I guess it could be a weight thing, but seriously, a jacket?

“You pay 40-dollar, it’s handcrafted,” she said, turning the chess set over, “See, many detail.”

“Twenty, no more, just 20,” I said.

The flight was ruthlessly long, some 14 hours on a plane out of Seoul. I was headed to Cambodia with a group from our church.

The previous year our church started an orphanage outside of Phnom Penh. We were traveling to bring gifts to the children and to get a better understanding of the Cambodian culture and how we could partner in some of their greatest needs.

I’ve been on many mission trips through the years, but I’m really trying to change my mindset about them.

I don’t want to be the take-charge American missionary that acts like he or she is swooping into third-world countries to save the day. I guess I’m trying to go into this trip with a little more humility—knowing my brothers and sisters in Cambodia have a great deal to teach me about God.

More listening and less swooping, you could say.

The lady in the market with the jacket was tough on her price, but I wasn’t budging either.

“I’m gonna look around at other shops,” I said. Threatening to buy somewhere else is the trump card of bartering.

The lady jumped from behind the counter and touched my arm, “You stay here, find fair price,” she said while handing me a wooden chess set. And that’s when I saw it. I stared. I was mesmerized. I know it wasn’t polite, but I couldn’t help it.