From Molé to Maklube: The Power of Food and Hospitality in Missions

Academic Convocation – Fall 2011 – Dr. Eddie Pate, Jr.

“My earliest memory of church is the McLean Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, sometime before 1967,” recalled Dr. Edsel D. Pate, Associate Professor of Missions, Director of The David and Faith Kim School of Global Missions, and Chair of the Intercultural Department of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Someone stands and begins to tap a spoon on an iced tea glass – the universal symbol that an announcement needs to be made. Talking and laughter would cease and the fried chicken leg held in place until the speaker had finished. After the interruption and pause, we continued laughing, talking, and eating. Food seemed to always be a part of the church. That’s what we did.”

“I want you to be aware of the potential power of food and hospitality in the local church and on the mission field,” said Pate to students, faculty and staff at Golden Gate Seminary’s fall 2011 Academic Convocation. “I propose that Christians need to celebrate, embrace, and practice the benefits possible related to our mission through food and hospitality,” he continued. “Eating together and the receiving and giving of hospitality help us to create and sustain community, bond with the target people group (whether across the street or around the world), understand and go deeper in the culture, and can serve as an avenue to express the kindness of Christ and spread the Gospel,” he explained.

Pate noted the biblical definition of hospitality as primarily providing food and shelter to strangers. He recalled the Old Testament example of Abraham demonstrating hospitality in Genesis 18, and in the New Testament, Peter urging the church to be hospitable to one another without complaint. Pate explained “Throughout the Scriptures there are references to hospitality, food, meals, and dining. Banquets are found in Daniel and Esther. Meals and food are mentioned throughout the Psalms. The mission of Jesus involved food and hospitality.” Pate quoted a scholar saying that in the New Testament, “Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.” Even after the resurrection, Jesus, in the Gospels, is around food each and every time that he appears to the disciples, noted Pate.

He pointed out that the early church liked to eat together, just as we do today. “Sharing meals and hospitality was a source of community, a tool for evangelism, and this act created space for encouragement of the body,” he said. “Eating together, visiting, laughing, and sharing together, is essential to building and sustaining community.”

But not only does hospitality create community, said Pate, “it also acts to sustain it, to hold it together when it’s fragile and falling apart. Sharing a meal together has a bonding effect, uniting people from different cultures and people groups,” he said. “A shared meal, showing hospitality or connecting around food will take us into the culture faster and deeper than any other vehicle.” It could be argued that food is more important than learning the language, he noted. “Being a missionary and not eating the food is like being in Memphis and not eating barbeque,” said Pate. Missionaries who go to countries with preset ideas of what they will and will not eat automatically disqualify themselves from reaching deep into that community, he added.

“Eating together and learning and sharing cultural insights about food pave the way to bond with the people we wish to reach, wherever that may be,” summarized Pate. “It builds and sustains community. It bonds us and takes us into culture and worldview further and faster, and prepares us for when our language skills catch up.”

“Sharing a meal is an act of kindness, and can be an effective part of church planting,” said Pate, citing the story of feeding the 5,000 in Mathew 14:14-21 and Mark 6:34-44, and feeding the 4,000 in Matthew 15:31-38 and Mark 8:1-10.
“In America and around the world, Christians take care of the needs of people because they are people,” said Pate, referring to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers. He also noted in Southern California a “Motel Ministry” which focuses on starting churches in local inner city budget motels. “Bible study and preaching are always preceded by a breakfast that small group members prepare on site for the residents of the motels. Several Golden Gate Seminary students are involved in this ministry.”

Pate shared his extensive experience in the Middle East and Muslim countries with his listeners. “Knowing about food and customs of hospitality can open the door for evangelism and spiritual conversations. Understanding the significance behind local festivals and celebrations can also open the door to witness and evangelism.”

Pate offered several applications his listeners could do locally to begin to experience the power of food and hospitality. “Try using food and hospitality in your own neighborhood as a means to show kindness and share the Gospel.” He suggested bringing baked goods to neighbors, perhaps tying it into a holiday or season. Another idea was to plan a neighborhood cookout, or block party.

“Find ways for your local church to connect over food,” Pate said, suggesting reviving the church potluck or hiring an ethnic food truck to serve in the church parking lot.

“Find creative ways to show kindness and compassion through the giving of food.” Pate referred to inner city missions which feed the homeless, or church pantries which offer food basics, but suggested a more empowering model that some churches are using is a “pay-as-you-can restaurant.”

“Take students to ‘different countries’ for lunch and branch out yourself,” Pate told his fellow faculty members. He referred to a colleague who is committed to taking his students to lunch or dinner during class, to restaurants that do not serve American food and are not a chain. This builds community and teaches culture. “Having access to such a diverse group of peoples and cultures is one reason teaching missions here at Golden Gate is so much fun,” Pate exclaimed. “You could even try this as a church, perhaps with your small group or Sunday school class. Remember, sharing a meal together helps you to understand culture and worldview, and bond. Doing this might even result in a spiritual conversation.”

“Intentionally shop at ethnic grocery stores and encourage your friends, students, and church members to do so as well,” encouraged Pate. “You will meet people from other people groups, and conversations will begin. The Lord has brought the nations of the world to us, and their grocery stores are a great place to meet them and begin to carry out the Great Commission.”

Pate suggested his listeners “have an international food fair at your church, where you invite members of the community to come and share their food.” Most communities in or near urban areas have large community groups of internationals – what a potluck this would be!

Pate concluded by reminding his listeners “A shared meal and hospitality, whether extended or received, holds incredible power. There is keen insight into culture and worldview gained from the food and hospitality practices of the world. A shared meal builds and sustains community. Food is a window into the culture and worldview of the people you want to reach. Experiencing food bonds you to your people group deeper and faster than any other means, and hospitality should be a key component in evangelism and church planting efforts.”