Food is culturally defined. There is not a firm list of what we eat or how we prepare it. Japanese cuisine is famous for eating raw fish. My family made Hamburger Helper at least once a week growing up. One I consider food the other I don’t and I love sushi.
In the US, we love our animals. We love them so much that we spend upwards of $60 billion on our animals. Every country is not so, many do not have an extra $60 billion laying around and/or they view animals very different. They view them differently because they view them as food.
I now live in Ecuador. In Ecuador, food is a fluid thing. Bugs, grubs, and worms are food in the jungle parts. Whereas seafood is cooked with the acid from limes on the coast in a delicious soupy dish called ceviche. However, things get really interesting in the mountains. In the cold and harsh climate of the Andes, food is whatever you can get. Potatoes are good but meat is necessary. Cows are prized because they give milk. Chickens give eggs. Therefore, they indigenous of the mountains have turned to other food sources. Their food sources are what we in the US call pets. Two are very common, dogs and guinea pigs. Nothing is more prized than a guinea pig. To the shock of many, pictures of Jesus at the Last Supper have guinea pigs laying on a platter in front of him. For the indigenous, it represents the very best they have to offer.
Usually at the end of our weeks of training, the host pastor will honor us with a meal of guinea pigs. For the pastors in attendance, it is a feast. They look forward to it all week. The challenging part is having US people here for a week and prepping them all week to eat their childhood pet. I explain to them the cultural differences as well as the cost of a guinea pig, usually the meal represents several months work for one of the pastors if they were to pay for all that was provided. The problem for us is food is not just food.
Food is a sacred thing for us all. We love our comfort foods, our delicacies, and Chick-fil-a. There are some, who for the sake of eating strange cuisine find missions impossible. This is not new, even Israel while walking in the wilderness longed for Egyptian food. They were in the desert, things were hard, and they just wanted some comfort food (Ex 16). Are we not just the same? Food seems strange, things are hard, and we just want to have a chicken sandwich and waffle fries. Oh yeah, throw in a milkshake.
We share the story of Israel and prep our teams all week long. We warn them about the differences of food. Here they not only eat guinea pigs but dogs too. Some how, black dogs have a reputation to help cure asthma but as I was told by a taxi driver, “You need to drink the blood too but make sure and put a little alcohol in it.” I’ve been assured that when prepared properly it is delicious. I’ll pass, unless it is placed before me. Jesus commissioned his disciples to go out and share the gospel. He gave several instructions on entering a town one of them was to eat whatever is placed before you (Luke 10:8). Normally, we just breeze through this passage that is until the line between food and pets becomes blurred.
Now enter those faithful short term mission trippers. They come for a week. They take vacation, save up money, fly internationally, sleep in less than luxurious conditions, serve people, and they do it all in the name of Jesus. When they are not really keen on eating their pets, I understand. I live here. My life is serving these people. I have to eat it, I don’t have to like it, but I have to eat it. They are here for a week and usually the final meal is just before their flight home. How does a short termer make the most of their time here? They do their best, take a bite, and eat it. This is the norm however, this last week was special. We had some who took part in every stage of the preparing, cooking, and cleaning of the kitchen. Then came Friday. Friday is THE day. It happened. The pets came but this time they were food. These short term missionaries jumped right in and offended every seven year old with a guinea pig but their indigenous hosts loved it. They loved it because they were willing to set aside their preconceived notions of food and be one with their host culture. Later, the short termers ate it. Guinea pig is not nearly as good as the indigenous say it is but it is not that bad.
For you short term missionaries out there that eat grub worms, guinea pigs, and other things that have never been in your culturally defined box of food, thank you. Thank you for stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a bite. Eating weird food is not what mission trips are all about but it sure does make for great stories. However, when we eat this weird food it breaks down barriers and opens up ministry opportunities.
Ministry opportunities come when we break down barriers. Barriers can be language, culture, food, economic status, etc. We can break down one of these barriers by eating what they eat. We don’t need to like it as much as them but we should try. We do not want to come all this way, give up vacation time, and refuse food just for the sake of comfort. The gospel is not about comfort. It is about eternity. What you eat or don’t eat does not determine your eternity but it can allow you a greater audience when you eat what is placed before you, even if it is your pet.