Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Health or Hospitality?

Stateside, if you came to visit my home I'd cook you one of my favorites, a special version of flat iron steak fajitas.

I'd marinate the steak in Dr Pepper first, then massage in a rub of brown sugar, kosher salt, and fresh cracked black pepper, then pan fry it leaving a juicy red center. I'd cut it thin across the grain and serve over warm and lightly toasted corn torillas spread with a smooth and tart goat cheese. Garnish that goodness with a sweet and tangy red bell pepper and cilantro coleslaw and serve with a bottle of cold beer or cider or Dr Pepper if you don't drink.

I'd watch you take your first mouthful. And when you look up at me and I can see in your eyes how you've never had fajitas quite like this before and with a full mouth you manage a, "Wow! This is really good! How did you learn to make this?" I'll start to tell you about Texas. 

If you don't like red meat, or perhaps you don't eat it for health or personal conviction, you are still welcome at my table. I'll respect that you don't eat red meat and make you my favorite oven baked macaroni or homemade pizza instead. It'll be good. I'll be pleased you like it and we'll have a nice time together. But I probably won't tell you about Texas.

I won't tell you about how beef in Texas is more about culture than it is about dinner. I won't tell you about Go Texan Day or the world's largest rodeo or wagon trail rides from hundreds of miles away or my Grandfather's mouthwatering steaks or Christmas brisket.

It's not that I won't share on purpose, it would just be weird if as you took your first mouthful of ham and pineapple pizza I started in with, "Let me tell you about beef in Texas."

We can still be friends, even good friends. I won't hold your beef aversion against you, but the truth is you've missed learning about a part of who I am.

It's the same here in Papua. When I eat Ubi, friends tell me about their farming community in the mountains. When I eat Ikan Bakar, friends tell me about their fishing community with houses built over lakes with stilts made of a special kind of wood so they don't rot in the water. Whatever I eat, whenever we share a meal, they in turn share stories about their culture and history.

I won't give up these special moments lightly. I don't want to ever give them up. 

So when I'm sick again with some bacteria that feels like it's ripping my stomach to pieces and I can't eat for days, what am I to do? What do I do when the nurse tells me the reason I am so sick again is that I'm getting into some dicey food?

Do I choose my health or do I choose my friend's hospitality?

Maybe not forever but at least for today, as my stomach heals from yet another bout of the bacteria onslaught, I'm still choosing hospitality.

Perhaps it's foolish. "They'll still like you even if you don't eat their food and they certainly won't want you to be sick because of it", you'll say to me. I know that's true.

I also know what I'll miss when I say, "Sorry. I can't eat that." And I'm not yet willing to miss it.

So you don't think I'm too foolhardy, here's what we've come up with as a plan. It's not much, but hopefully it will help:
Increasing hand washing.
Using an antibacterial hand sanitizer before I eat.
Using a spoon or fork instead of my hands as much as possible. 
Yep, that's it. So if you have suggestions feel free share them!

Hey! This post is a link up with Velvet Ashes where others are sharing their perspectives on hospitality this week too.

Food from Padang, some of my favorites.


  1. Awesome! I totally admire your heart for the people you serve! I am not that brave. But you've inspired me! Blessings on your ministry.

    1. Thanks Kelly! Well, I feel fortunate that food here is really wonderful. Sometimes weird from an American view, but mostly wonderful!

  2. Loved this thought. Thanks for sharing!

  3. You draw me in with your words. I feel your heart and can nearly taste your steak fajitas. :) You're right, there is a connection, a piece of each other that is shared at a meal. This makes me think of when my students in Vietnam proudly took me out to their special "Dog Restaurant." I'll never forget the look on their expectant faces as they watched me take my first bite of dog... So glad you shared this thought provoking post!

    1. Oh Danielle this cracked me up! You definitely 'get' my point of view. Hope you were able to 'enjoy' the dog and well done for trying it!

  4. Hi there! Came across your blog through Velvet Ashes. I'm your neighbor to the other side of the country, living in rural Sumatra. I don't actually like the food here (I'm glad you do!), probably from being scarred too many times with sickness. But I always give it my best shot. :) Thanks for this post!

    1. Hey there neighbor! Thanks for stopping by. I definitely recognize it's hard when served something you don't like, but bravo for doing your best!