“Will you require people to become vegetarians for their salvation?” a donor asked Emma and me. This question goes to the heart of mission.
I have ministered in Cambodia as a vegetarian for many years. When the people I ministered to—my English students, the poor and the sick—wanted to show me kindness and gratitude, often the best thing they could give me was a meal. They were relieved to learn that I wasn’t expecting meat, because meat is expensive. Vegetables from their garden were free. “Steamed squash greens and charcoal-roasted eggplant are some of my favorite foods,” I’d say. And they knew their gift was special to me.
When I shared my vegetarian food with my adopted grandmothers, they would comment, “Your food is perfect for us! It doesn’t have any bones, and we don’t have any teeth!”
At some point, of course, they would want to know why I was vegetarian. “Vegetables are my favorite food,” I told them. “In my country there are so many options available, it’s possible to go a whole month without using the same recipe twice. Grocery stores are so big they make your feet sore just walking through them. My parents used to eat meat, but before I was born they became vegetarians because they knew it was better food and God wants us to honor Him in all we do, including what we eat and drink. Your rice and vegetables with the fish you catch and the occasional chicken and beef are the best food available to you, so you don’t need to worry. The meat is clean according to the Prophet Moses. But when you take your rice to the mill, ask them not to polish it too much so it takes off all the bran. Brown rice is healthier for you! You will save money and be healthier.”
God’s church on earth should be careful to require only what heaven requires, and to prohibit only what heaven prohibits. We are to teach converts to “observe all things whatsoever” Christ has commanded or is revealed in Scripture – no more and no less.
Please pray for us, as Westerners used to so many healthy food choices that are readily available in our home country, that as we contextualize faith in the Son of God for salvation among the Great River People, we will faithfully teach God’s loving and perfect will and His principles for living God-fearing lives.