Monday, April 11, 2022

John Walter Ngoy: The Power of Food in People’s Lives

Today's post is by Rev. John Walter Ngoy. Rev. Ngoy is the head of the North Katanga Episcopal Area Disaster Management Office. This post is part of a series on food and mission.

There is an unrecognized power in the food that we use daily. Once thoughtfully considered and purposefully used, one can discover a revealing, gathering and constructive power that food possesses intrinsically and, therefore, exercises in the life of many people. When properly used or given out, food reveals the inner feelings or secrets from those who receive it. Not only does food reveal feelings and secrets of its consumers, but it also tends to bring together people and build their relationships.

In Katanga’s Luba culture, there is a saying literally translated as “Once a mouth eats well, it starts speaking well.” In the same culture, there is, in the wedding process, a step – the second phase of wedding – that requires food for the process of marriage to continue. The lady’s parents oblige what is culturally known as “Opening mouth.” This is a kind of food that the future parents-in-laws demand from their son-in-law to be given them after he has closed the door to other young men who could seek for their daughter in marriage. The in-laws have to eat their requested food, after that they open their mouth to tell their son-in-law what the present could be that they need for them to give him their daughter. The son-in-law should keep in mind “Once a mouth eats well, it starts speaking well” for him to make the following steps easier and lighter by offering the in-laws the food they would really like.

This food power of revealing secrets is observed in the Bible as well. Abraham saw three men by his home. He welcomed them and gave them food. At their departure, the visitors revealed to Abraham what is going to happen in his life and what they were going to do ahead (Genesis 18). The same is also observed with Isaac who, willing to bless his son, Esau, requested some food before he opened his mouth (Genesis 27:1-4). In both contexts, one can explicitly notice the power that food exercises upon people’s intentions. So, it looks like food compels people to speak out what they intend to do.

In addition, in case of conflict, Katanga’s Luba culture calls its people to unite through another saying that literally states, “Talk together and kill an animal.” That is, people in conflict should sit around a reconciliation table and, once they are truly reconciled with one another, they have to share food together at the end of their reconciliation process. They will also be encouraged to share their food together often in order to strengthen their relationship. Thus, food plays a very important role in Katanga’s Luba culture by not only allowing people to express overtly their feelings but also bringing them together and building their community.

In spite of what it is in our communities, food influence receives less consideration among many people until these days. It is looked upon as the solar energy was in the past few years. The sun emitted its energy for a very long period of time. People were not interested in using it in other ways as it is used today through solar panels. Thanks to solar panels, the sun is useful in our homes, even during the time it is not available. If we invest in the power of food the way they invested in the sun’s power, especially in the Christian mission context, we are likely to revitalize the spread of the gospel in this period of the angel of Revelation 14:8.

It was easier to proclaim the gospel during the first angel’s period. During this time, the angel was at work using human beings as tools for proclamation. Now, as the proclaimer is no more, there is an urgent need to revitalize the Christian mission through the use of new tools like food.

For food proclaims the gospel without using any kind of theology or methodology. It draws people to Christ without coercion or explanation. Since it is part of our daily life, it helps the receivers to discover the source of their life while enabling them to confess their affiliation to that source of life.

As an illustration, the Church in the district of Mitwaba had, for a long time of its existence, very few fervent members. They were not attending to their Sunday worship regularly. We were only receiving complaints in every gathering we held with its leaders.

But, since the population was assisted by UMCOR with food, after the area was affected by flood and storm, we heard that the churches in Mitwaba were now flooded by participants during Sunday worships. The same increase of Sunday worship participation has been also noted in the districts of Kinkondja and Malemba, where the same action took place.

Yet during the distribution of food, no recommendation to attend church services was said, by respect of our code of conduct, point 3, stipulating that, ‘Aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint.’ Thus, we need to further invest in studying the power of food and the way to use it if we want to revitalize our Christian mission.

However, in the same culture of Luba Katanga people, there is another saying in connection with food. It is literally translated as “People follow the word; they do not follow fatty food.” This saying has to draw our attention on ways we need to use food in our mission. For, there are people who are not blindly influenced by the power of food. They prefer such food shared in peace with dignity and respect toward its beneficiary. Consequently, when food is given out to denigrate others, it loses its influential power.

Therefore, based on Luba Katanga culture and on biblical experiences of food influencing or exerting power, food can be used successfully as a tool in Christian mission today. Its power of making people to speak well can be utilized in leading the food beneficiaries to confess their faith in Christ, to bring them together and build their communities. Such a powerful tool needs to be exploited in the context of Christian mission to spread the gospel during this critical period.

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