A young family was once called to serve as missionaries in a country in which peanut butter was not available. Since the family loved peanut butter, they asked some of their friends to send them a few jars from time to time. Soon after arriving on the field, the missionaries began receiving their supply of peanut butter, and their problems began.
The other missionaries in this country believed that this family should not eat peanut butter. Since God had called them to an area without peanut butter, true missionaries should give up this tasty snack. This argument might have been couched in terms of contextualization or incarnational ministry. However, the conflict was simple. This family’s peanut butter habit had gotten them into a sticky situation with their fellow missionaries.
The young family decided to continue eating their shipments of peanut butter in private. They thought the whole issue would just go away if they kept quite about their little supply. They were wrong. The other missionaries would not drop the issue, and the family’s ministry relationships suffered. As pressure and conflict intensified, the young family eventually decided to return home and give up missionary service.
Two lessons can be learned from this story. First, missionaries should avoid presenting their personal convictions as marks of spirituality. Perhaps some missionaries found that giving up certain Western amenities like peanut butter enabled them to better adapt to the culture and afforded them better ministry opportunities. Veteran missionaries should share such experience with their younger colleagues. Missionaries in supervisory roles should even mandate such expediencies in some cases. However, non-essentials like peanut butter should never become a source of spiritual pride.
Second, missionaries should be willing to give up personal habits for a greater cause. Does giving up peanut butter make someone a better missionary? The answer could be yes. If peanut butter causes conflict or is prohibited by an authority, missionaries should give it up. Forget who is right or wrong. Is peanut butter worth the distraction? In a world that desperately needs the gospel, peanut butter should be the least of our worries.
Source: Charles R. Swindoll, Grace Awakening (Thomas Nelson, 1990), pp. 85-86.