My first exposure to short term mission could not have been any more ideal. I had just moved from Brazil to the US at the age of 15. During those first months I accompanied a Spanish speaking church from Texas to do a few days of Vacation Bible school work with children in a small village in Mexico…Villa de Garcia. On the way there, I learned that we would be teaming up with another church from a nearby city…a “white” church.
I was exposed for the first time to American mono-cultural reactions to another culture. As much as it was eye opening, it was quite sickening. This also was the first time I realized the weight of importance food carries.
I wasn’t raised in Mexico, it was my first time there just the other Americans, yet I was offended and hurt by the comments such as, “Beans and rice again?” and the famous, “Uh, what’s that?”. I was even offended that they took big bags of M&M’s and chips and the girls brought a whole bunch of make-up. That was a “double whammy” because Brazilian girls never wore make-up like that (beginnings of culture shock).
It was the first time in my life I heard anyone complain about beans and rice.
All trauma aside…food is important to people and if properly utilized, can be a key to influence and long lasting friendships. Jesus obviously was well aware of this. Some of his most impactful moments occurred around food. In ancient times, dining together represented union and fellowship. I don’t believe times have changed so drastically. Jesus dined with sinners and Pharisees and we all know about the last supper. He also refers to Himself as the “Bread of Life”. In John 6 we read how Jesus teaches about “food that endures to eternal life”. In many ways Jesus used food to get the point across.
We can get the point across as well, just using food. There are two points that can be made:
I care and I am interested in you.
My comfort level supercedes my interest in being your friend.
Once point number 2 is made, regardless of how nice the host is, walls and barriers have been set into place. To tear down those barriers placed by point number 2, much time is needed, most of the time they’re impossible to eliminate. So, what not to do?
- I mention this in my article 5 Things Not to Do on a Missions Trip. This is…DO NOT stare at your food. A person can tell when you’re ready to eat and when you’re hesitant to eat. When a host or hostess prepares a meal, in any culture, they want to see people enjoying their food. Take the opportunity…enjoy. If the taste is too different, enjoy the company!
- DO NOT assume the hosts eat like this every day. In most cases, if you are a guest, people will go out of their way to feed you well, at the expense of their own budget and well-being. This is more the reason to eat what is being offered.
- If the hosts made such sacrifice to feed you well and make sure you enjoy their home and culture, DO NOT apologize. There’s another time and place for that.
- DO NOT assume you deserve such treatment. Keep your attitude in check. Throw your superiority complex out the window.
Now, let’s observe how we can use a simple meal to tear down wall and build bridges.
- Be thankful. Here you must assume the host went out of their way for you. Let them know you are thankful.
- Be complimentary. Notice the details. Compliment the cooks. Compliment the family who has you as a guest for that meal. Compliment them on the food itself!
- Ask questions. This is your opportunity to get to know your hosts. The pathway to friendship most often begins with a meal.
- Listen. Even if the occasion is about you…ultimately it isn’t about you. Listen to the people gathered at the table. You can learn a lot!!
During that first missions trip I had no idea my innate TCK adaptability kicked in. Only later in life did I realize what I was doing as I dissected each experience and reaction.
What I gathered from that was this: be self-aware, be an observer and be humble.
If we are to be effective in mission and humanitarian work, we need to follow the lead the one who loved us humans most of all…and not be afraid to dine with others.
I’m sure more can be added to this topic of food. I’d love to hear your comments!!