This is me eating lunch with UMN friends, just not in the UMN garden

Lunchtime in United Mission to Nepal’s compound garden was not just a time to satisfy my appetite. It was a lesson in cultural values and it got me thinking about fellowship in the Bible.

Expatriates and Nepali staff did mingle at lunch, but not all the time. Understandably because of the language barriers, expatriate staff often ended up eating with other expatriates, and speaking in English, while Nepali staff ate with other Nepalis, and speaking Nepali.

But I noticed some real differences in the ways we ate lunch together. When I sat with other expats, we all had our individual lunches wrapped and packaged – maybe sandwiches, a salad, or leftover curry from the night before. Someone might share some grapes or muffins they’d baked the night before if they had extra. But on the whole, we shared conversation while individually consuming our own food.

When I sat with my Nepali friends, it was quite different. Whatever anyone had brought, or ordered from the UMN canteen, was put in the middle of the table for all to share. A meal might consist of a couple of momos, a spoonful of chow mein, a portion of cheesy omelette, half a roti, and a single segment of mandarin. Sharing food seemed to come as naturally as sharing conversation.

Both types of lunch were good times with great people. But one gathering was more individualistic and the other more communal. One generally kept conversational sharing and material sharing separate, while in the other gathering they were organically joined.

How did eating lunch in a garden change my understanding of Scripture? In two ways.

First, I was reminded that the Bible was written to and in cultures very different to the individualistic, Anglo-Australian culture in which I have been raised. The Bible’s teaching about sharing or fellowship is written in cultures much more like Nepal than contemporary Anglo-Australia.

So these lunches helped me learn that things I take for granted because of my cultural upbringing may need to be challenged in the name of Jesus. How to eat, what to share, when and how to share…

I learned so much from my Nepali friends (and even strangers) through their sense of community and family and their readiness to share and be hospitable. Of course my culture has its own ways of being hospitable and I can’t shed my culture (and wouldn’t even if that was possible) but I learned that to be a better disciple of Jesus I sometimes have to unlearn some of the habits I have adopted as a “disciple” of my culture.

Finally, I was reminded that when the Apostle Paul uses words we translate as “fellowship” (koinonia) in his letters, he almost always means a depth of sharing that goes beyond conversation, shared opinions, a half hour catch up over coffee, or a meeting of minds. He is referring to a practical fellowship that proves itself in a willingness to share in practical and material ways with our brothers and sisters.

When he invites the wealthy Corinthian church to share with the suffering church in Jerusalem, Paul rejoices in the grace of Christ, the abundant generosity of the much poorer Macedonian church, and in the example of God’s provision of manna in the wilderness. Through this miracle, God ensured that “the one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little” (2 Corinthians 8:15). He then invites the Corinthians to take the same attitude when they think about sharing “their” money to help others.

The Kingdom of God is  often described in the Bible as a feast where every single person has an abundance of food. Those lunches with friends in a Kathmandu garden gave me a small sense of what that heavenly fellowship will feel like.

Breathing the Bible is an INF Australia blog series, exploring how life and service in Nepal influenced the way people read and respond to Scripture.

Ben Thurley worked in Nepal as Advocacy Advisor with United Mission to Nepal 2008 – 2012.

Other posts in the series:
Breathing The Bible: Family
Breathing The Bible: Prayer
Breathing The Bible: Justice
Breathing The Bible: Story
Breathing The Bible: Sacrifice
Breathing The Bible: Wedding
Breathing The Bible: Gain

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