Stories about eating bugs have historically topped the charts of classic missionary tales to recite to friends and family back home. When we first moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo a year ago to serve as missionaries with Mission Aviation Fellowship, I knew we were likely to have a few run-ins with bugs in our food. “I ate a few ants as a child. How bad can it be?” I thought.
I had a chance to test my nonchalant confidence shortly after arriving in the country. We initially landed in a teammate’s home that had sat vacant for a couple of months. Let me tell you, there is something vastly different about “eating a few ants as a child,” and staring wide-eyed into a bucket of rice, teeming with large, unidentifiable insects. I couldn’t do it. I shuddered, slammed the lid on tight and shoved it quickly back in the cupboard.
For weeks afterward, I absolutely could not bring myself to open that cupboard.
But what was to be done with it? I couldn’t just leave it lurking in my kitchen forever! The way I saw it, I had two choices. I could throw it out, and bear the shame of having our national workers know that I was wasting food that they would have gladly eaten (so I was told). Or, I could give it to our workers, and bear the shame of knowing that I had just given a bucket of bug infested food to another human being as a GIFT. I reluctantly concluded that in this poverty-stricken country, giving it away was perhaps slightly more appropriate than wasting it.
Shamefaced and utterly mortified, I awkwardly explained to my workers in bumbling French that this bucket of rice and its crawling insects was more than I could take, and did they want to divide it up amongst themselves? They were thrilled, and did their best to relieve my obvious embarrassment about the bugs. “It’s our way,” they said, smiling.
I realized in that moment how profoundly my North American upbringing contrasted with the realities of daily life for the Congolese people. How much of what I had previously considered, “normal and right,” was in reality, “affluence and privilege”? How do I learn to understand and embrace this new culture without developing feelings of contempt and disdain for my old culture? Perhaps there are parts of my home culture that I should be rejecting. What was the heart of Jesus in all of this? I knew I had a lot to learn. And not just about eating bugs.
As the months passed, I began to wonder if I was indeed learning to cultivate healthy cross-cultural values. Am I succeeding in this area? How do I know if I’m growing, learning and adapting? A friend gave me some advice. “The changes that you notice in your actions are a reflection of the changes happening in your heart,” she said. If this is indeed true, my friends, I am happy to report that I have graduated! Perhaps only from Kindergarten to Grade 1, but still, I was encouraged to see how I responded to another situation that came up a few weeks ago.
I had just come home from a shopping trip. Since oatmeal and homemade granola are staples around here, and the bags of oats only come in one small size, we often buy upwards of ten at a time. One of the bags also contained a generous serving of bugs. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until AFTER I had added it to my entire stock container of oats.
“Now what?!” I muttered as I shoved the container in the freezer to kill the bugs.
I considered my options. I could cook it like oatmeal and skim off the bugs when they floated to the top… I shuddered. Not quite ready for that option. I could give it away like I did with the rice. Hmmmm… Wait! My house helper was coming the next day. Maybe there was a different option. I could ask my house helper to make it into granola, and that way I wouldn’t have to SEE it being made into my food. By the time we ate them, the bugs would be baked and covered in sugar, coconut, vanilla, butter and peanuts. “Not a bad way to eat bugs,” I conceded. So that’s what I did. And now my family is eating granola with bugs in it, and I’m revelling in the evidence of how much we’ve learned and grown since arriving here.
Only please don’t tell them. We haven’t graduated THAT much.