Breaking bread together
And what does that have to do with mission? Well, everything!
From “Let’s meet for coffee” to welcoming new people into the community with a meal, to significant milestones such as weddings being celebrated with a generous spread, or food given when people are bereaved, around the world giving hospitality is a special part of showing willingness to take time and be present with people, and above all cementing relationships
Many stories in the Bible involve meals. You can probably think of 10 right now. Jesus himself instituted the communion meal as the centrepiece to the new covenant and remembering him until he comes again – and then, Revelation says, there will be “the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
So hospitality is at the heart of community for God’s people. It’s not optional for us. A generous welcome without concern for benefit to the host reflects God’s greater hospitality. According to blogger Leslie Verner, true hospitality is not about having a perfect table or well-appointed living room. “…It is not clean, comfortable, or controlled. It’s an invitation to enter a sacred space together with friends and strangers.”
It’s less about entertaining and more about becoming a good neighbour. Through stories, Leslie Verner’s new book, Invited, explores the power of a simple invitation. A meal (or meeting for coffee) may well be the focal point, but it’s much wider — for example, providing a space to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn” [Romans 12:15]. Breaking bread together is not just about the food.
Our mission partners here and overseas talk about ways hospitality is used in their host cultures, or how they use it as a bridge to build relationships with those they have come to serve. Sharing a meal is also something multi-cultural ministry teams do as a way of bonding. It can be tricky, when different food items and customs are involved, but the effort is made, and people learn about each other.
We have posted a story about Kiwi mission partners John and Jackie Paine who lead Tauranga’s Good Neighbour food impact section. Their team collects produce and other food items that supermarkets can’t sell because of damage or ‘best-before’ expiry and distributes them to 60 local community groups. They are constantly expanding the scope of what sharing the food means, and have recently opened a new training kitchen. They get what hospitality is about.
Many cultures of the world have an intrinsic understanding of hospitality deeper than what we know in our country and eating together can have profound cultural roots, where nourishment is offered as a tangible sign of acceptance, honouring the stranger. Sometimes we might shy away from cross-cultural hospitality because it’s easier not to; it might be awkward for us and them; they might not like our food. I’m just thankful that when I’ve been the stranger in a strange land, my local hosts had no such qualms! Meals they shared were simply offered with the assumption that it’s a good thing to do, and resulted in friendship – and thereby opportunities to bond and share good news.
So how can we each embody kingdom relationships with regard to food?