I’ve only been a missionary for seven months, but my dad and stepmom have taught me for years about the power of food, hospitality, and the gospel. They witnessed firsthand the door of the gospel close in someone’s eyes when a missionary is picky or refuses the food that is offered to him or her. This is the main reason why the Holliman policy regarding food is “You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it!”
The point of this practice isn’t to be torturous, but to help all of us gain a perspective beyond our own desires for the good of someone else.
In my short experience in both Uganda and Kenya, I can testify that food is an area where everyone involved—both host and missionary—is paying attention at the beginning of a relationship. What I can promise you is that your ministry will not be far reaching if you come into a culture picky and demanding.
The door to the gospel is the kitchen door. I’m taking a few liberties here, but Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the [kitchen] door and knock” (Revelation 3:20). Hospitality literally means to love strangers, and a stranger is simply anyone who is different than you.
Hospitality and evangelism go hand in hand because hospitality is an attitude of the heart. It’s an understanding that while we were far away from God, strangers to Him, He called us close. We are invited to be friends of God even when we’re not lovely or lovable.
Discipleship is an invitation to friendship with Jesus, and that invitation is often extended over a meal.
Peter was the disciple who first came to understand that the Gentiles were welcomed into God’s kingdom. How did he make this discovery? He was praying and had vision about a picnic blanket—once again, I’m taking a few liberties here—full of all the animals Jews were not permitted to eat. Father God said, “Take and eat” to the astonishment of Peter. Of course, Peter was a good Jew and refused! Father God challenged Peter by saying not to call unclean what He has cleansed (Acts 10).
What Peter learned that day was that refusing to eat, being inhospitable, was keeping the gospel from reaching the nations.
Father God’s desire was and is for all men to know Him. If His disciples refused to gather around a table, to be in fellowship with outsiders, then the gospel message would never spread.
Food and hospitality are a big deal in the kingdom of God because food is a unifier of people. It’s hard to stay mad at someone with whom you’ve shared a meal because differences are resolved around the table. Friendships are forged around the table. In order for any sort of relationship to be built, you need to be in proximity and to be intentional, and the table provides a set time and place.
Gathering at the table also brings awareness to the sad fact that not everyone has an endless budget for groceries. Most missionaries live in countries where the people, if they are doing well, eat one big meal a day. They might or might not take tea and refreshment in the early afternoon. Some families are unable to send their kids to school because the choice is to educate their children or to eat dinner.
Food scarcity is real! It’s not just a ploy of nonprofit organizations to get donations.
You quickly learn on the mission field that whoever hosts you is sacrificing to provide for you. They are giving you their absolute best and they are serving you first. Everyone else in the home will eat after you. They will be happy with what remains once you’re satisfied, and they want you to enjoy a second helping. You cannot be picky as a missionary. You just can’t.
I’m not advocating suffering at every meal to eat what you hate. How does God get glory in that situation? If you’re called to the mission field, get a hold of these truths fast! Determine before you board the plane that you will eat like those you serve. Declare over yourself that you adjust to the food and culture quickly. God’s called you to a culture, right? So have fun exploring and enjoying the area and its food!
My experience when it comes to food has been incredible. Doors have opened to me and I’m gaining a reputation as the mzungu (white person) who eats like an African. I can eat with my hands now. I love ugali, which is a staple dish in Kenya. Allowing myself to explore and have fun makes every meal fun. My body is adjusting to my new environment.
You can’t be a missionary if you aren’t willing to be an explorer. Maybe that’s an extreme statement, but I just don’t see how it’s possible to live in a country and not eat the food. This is why training yourself and your family to not be picky and demanding is such a big deal.
Hospitality is much like gift giving. You must learn to be hospitable and how to be a good recipient of someone else’s hospitality.