The l-o-n-g period of tense relationships seemed to be over. Major mission activities had been committed to church oversight and fellowship restored. A very congenial meeting with local church leadership in the Mwanza area had been held and a missionary had invited the church council out to their home for an evening meal. Other missionaries were also invited. “Be here at about 5 p.m.”, all were told. An outdoor picnic was planned.
Most of the guests showed up in time. Chairs and benches were set out in the front yard and arrivals were greeted and served cups of hot tea. Next to come was the picnic meal itself.
With an invitation from the host, all were directed to tables for the meal. I guess it was a “picnic” but the meal itself was well planned and served – a salad first, then the entré followed with desert and coffee or tea (again!). I am sure all were sated.
But, there was a “grumbling” undertone to conversation. The leader of the church delegation started it off by saying, “You make us eat outside when you have a good house over there. Who do you think we are? Don’t you want us in your house? ” and, “You offer us rabbit food (salad greens) to eat.“We will need to go home to eat properly”.
The host missionary did a double take. His genuine offer of hospitality and desire to build relationships had flopped. His quip that, “I guess we all eat rabbit food when we eat outside since that is what rabbits do”, fell flat.
Everyone stayed for the full meal (picnic). All drank copious amounts of sweet tea. Thanks and good-byes were spoken and everyone disbursed. But the host missionary and his wife had a hard time accepting what had been said.
Cultural morés; cultural understandings and niceties are often hard to come by. But, “…the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,… .” (2 Tim. 2:24) That last word is sometime the hardest!