There is a story about trying to bring the gospel to indigenous people in Indonesia. Every day the missionaries came into the village and tried to gather the people to preach the good news. Not many of the villagers would listen. Most paid no attention at all.
This went on for months until they noticed that every time the chief of the tribe wanted to speak to the crowd or announce news, he would stand and speak around a smoke pit, where they had been cooking sweet potatoes (yams) for hours.
The people would gather around the fire and eat yams while listening to their leader speak. Noticing a trend, the missionaries gathered up some yams themselves and had them prepared around the fire. Then with great authority and surrounded by sweet potatoes, Don Gibbson and Gordon Larson approached the circle of fire and began to preach the gospel. The villagers listened intently over the meal, hearts were changed, and it wasn’t long before the chief himself called for the destruction of all their sacred ancestral idols.
The Simplicity of Sustenance
How simple is that! It wasn’t a fresh exegesis of the text, or a miraculous sign from the heavens, or some secret cross-cultural tactic, but a simple sweet potato. You can buy a yam for less than a dollar at the grocery store.
Eating is one of our most basic needs. Everyone needs to eat to live. Food has a unique ability to draw people in because we can’t avoid it. For this reason, food is the simplest form of hospitality. Gathering around food isn’t a new concept. It’s been close to the center of our lives together going back to the first church in history. Our Savior himself fed the masses, not just with good teaching, but with actual, physical bread. And on the evening before his death — the most important day in history — he introduced the new-covenant meal the church has eaten together ever since.
An Edible and Effective Love Language
When we share food with someone, we’re sharing life with them. Everybody’s got to eat. Food puts everyone on the same level. From the blue-collar man who works the construction site, to the businessman who wears a three-piece suit making multimillion-dollar deals, to the homeless man who stands on the corner — we all need food. Food has the power as a medium to break down walls of division and build up bonds of love and unity.
What Gibbson and Larson did was not revolutionary. It was simple. They saw that yams were a catalyst for conversation. And the same kinds of life-changing interactions could start with offering to buy lunch for a friend. A sandwich or salad or burrito could be the currency that opens a door to someone’s heart, and with that door open we have the opportunity to offer them the true Bread of life.
Find the smoke pits in your life, invite your friends, neighbors, or co-workers to come with you, and be bold to speak the gospel over your meal together. Meals shared with intentionality will have their place in the fulfilling of the Great Commission.