This is a great example of everyday mission from my friend Lee Williams who is a missionary with his wife Dori in southern Argentina. Lee and Dori recently moved to Neuquén and are finding ways to build relationships with new friends and neighbors. His story below is a beautiful picture of taking everyday activities that come natural to a culture or place and allow the Holy Spirit to fill them with new meaning and life.
Here in Argentina they have a national habit, or maybe more accurately, an addiction, to a drink called yerba mate. Yerba is the tea-like substance, and mate – pronounced ma-tay – is the small cup usually made out of a gourd, or wood, or ceramic. They drink it like Americans drink coffee – all the time. And when you go to visit people, or when they come to your house, it is expected that sooner or later someone will break out the mate and pass it around. Not that mate is just enjoyed at home. No, you’ll see people driving down the road sucking on the straw (called a bombilla), sitting under a tree, at the office, at the hospital lab…
Sharing mate in the Argentinean culture is a natural invite into conversation about meaningful subjects like Christ and the kingdom (and of course they can degrade into themes like who won last night’s soccer match – a more common topic :). There is one cup, one straw, and one thermos of hot water from which all share. It is a ritual that invites openness and sharing, and we’ve been able to build relationships around the mate with a number of different families in Neuquén. Here you have to always be ready for folks to just stop by, unannounced, to say hello and, of course, pass around the mate. This is a cultural adjustment for us, and one we are gladly embracing. It was not a custom in Peru, and is defiantly against the grain of what we Americans generally consider neighborly propriety.
Some of our richest times thus far have been with another couple, or two, passing around the mate while seated at our kitchen table and sharing our histories, our struggles, and our hopes for what’s to come. This is the place that we believe our most lasting ministry can happen – in a simple arena, as jars of clay, releasing a power that comes not from us but from above. We can impart truth without ourselves being poured out, but that just doesn’t seem the Jesus way. May the Lord use these times of spontaneous communion to shake us from our overdeveloped sense of “personal space” and have our eyes opened to the depth of the riches that belong to us as members of the Body of Christ (Romans 12, I Corinthians 12-14)!