On just about any mission trip, one thing can be assured, there are going to be some interesting stories. Recently, while in Panama, I had the opportunity to participate in a youth camp for a few days. Around 4:00 AM, Thursday, February 1st, 2007, I awoke to embark upon such a camp. We did so via the pick-up truck of one of the good brothers from David, Panama. During the ride, I met one of the more colorful persons that I have ever come in contact with on a mission trip, Edelma. Edelma was seated on the opposite side of the back seat with Rolando Rovira, my Panamanian contact, between. The first thing that Edelma did was offer me something to eat. As it was 4:30 in the morning, I was hungry and so I took the potato like substance that she offered and ate it. She then gave me some chicken and that too I ate. This had this surprising (to me) effect of amazing my hosts. They were not used to a foreign missionary eating the local food. Most all others who have visited have refused to do so claiming that they would become ill. (I’ve never become ill due to eating food in Central or South America, though I’ve gotten ill after returning to the states and recommencing eating our food!) I soon became their fast friends all because I ate what was put before me.
A few years ago Randal Matheny was recalling a lecture he had given mission students at one of our colleges. He told them that they wouldn’t be good missionaries unless they ate the local cuisine. There is just something about doing this that bonds the missionary to the locals. In their country, the missionary is the foreigner, but he becomes one of them when he eats what they eat and drinks what they drink. This is sound Biblical doctrine! Long before we were studying missions in our country, Jesus, the Master Missionary, said, “And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you” (Luke 10:8). Jesus knew what He was talking about!
As a result of my eating Edelma’s food, she became my fast friend. On the journey, when we were visiting the local markets for food for the camp, she would talk about this food and that. She asked me, “What kind of foods do you like?” As we drove through the countryside, she would point at all the flowers and say, “Look at this flower, Kebin!” “Look at that one!” And when we arrived at the camp, she treated me as a special guest seemingly catering to my every culinary need.
I learned later that this lady was a very special lady indeed. One of the members where she attends told me that when she comes to the services she always blows kisses to everyone whether she is early or late. Even when the men are preparing for the worship hour, she will go out of her way to make sure that they have been greeted by her holy kiss. Her behavior has garnered for her the nickname, “Corazon” or “heart.” Upon returning to the camp with this knowledge, I soon put it to use and after she had offered me a taste of what the cooks were preparing for supper, I said, “Gracias, Corazon!” The effervescence from my comment almost lifted the ceiling as all who knew her bubbled with glee at my discovery of her special name and from that time on, she was no longer known in the camp as Edelma, but simply “Corazon!”
Who would have thought that such a relationship would have developed simply because I ate a bit of “potato” and some chicken? It just goes to show that a little love and care can go a long way, can bridge the barriers of culture, and can pave the way for a great relationship. “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed.” “eat such things as are set before you.”