Over the years I’ve been on several mission trips. The standard on a mission trip in regards to food is that if someone you are staying with, or the group you are ministering to, serves it, you eat it. If it appears that it might make you puke, you politely say, “Thank you so much, but this would be bad for my health.” That excuse is generally reserved for things like cow brains and liver. The only time I’ve ever been served liver was in Russia, and, lucky for me, I actually WAS sick that day.

Last month I was on a mini-mission trip of sorts to help with Bridging the Gap’s Single Moms Retreat. The food at the camp is great and it’s always served buffet style, so the only issue there is knowing when to stop!

It was on my way home that I encountered a bit of an eating dilemma.

I had a 3-1/2 hour drive ahead of me after we finished up on Saturday. I was hoping to find a quick dinner spot along the way, but I wasn’t exactly up for fast food. I got off the highway in a little place I’ll call Super Small Town, Minnesota. As I got to the end of the exit ramp, I spotted a brightly painted yellow building with blue trim sporting a sign that said, “Authentic Mexican Food.” I thought, Mexican restaurants can almost always get an enchilada out pretty quickly, but dare I eat Mexican food in Super Small Town, Minnesota? Before I even finished my thought, I decided that my desire for an enchilada superseded any concern I might have over potential gastrointestinal distress.

When I entered the restaurant, the owner greeted me, looked around the half-empty dining room, and asked if the table he was pointing at would be okay. Since I was alone, my main plan during dinner was to read a book, so any table would have worked. The owner accompanied me to the table and went to great lengths showing me the special and the different sections of the menu. At this point I probably should have told him I really just wanted one enchilada – no beans, no rice, just a little lettuce on the side and I’d be happy. But I didn’t. As I glanced over the menu trying to find the a la carte section, a woman (whom I assumed to be the owner’s wife) showed up with a basket of chips and two different kinds of salsa that would easily have served four people. I thanked her, and she just smiled, nodded, and left the table. Of course, it would have seemed wasteful not to eat just a few.

When the owner came back to take my order, I asked if it would be possible to get a single enchilada. “No beans or rice?” he asked. “Do you want anything on the side?” “Just a little bit of um, uh, um . . .” I struggled to find the word for lettuce. At this point I’m sure the owner was trying to decide if he should stand there patiently or call 911 to send help for the poor woman who was clearly having a stroke. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m really tired. Lettuce. Do you have some lettuce that you could put on the side?”

A few minutes after he put in the order, his wife was back delivering a little cup of soup. Again I thanked her (even though I hadn’t ordered soup), and again she nodded her head, smiled, and walked away. It was in that moment that I slipped into missionary mode. I just knew I couldn’t let this soup go to waste, despite the fact that I didn’t really want soup, it was filled with pasta I shouldn’t eat, AND I was paying for this meal – in a restaurant – in the United States! So I ate the soup, working around the pasta as I finished off the little pieces of carrots, celery, and potatoes. I kind of laughed at myself as I ate and wondered at my compulsion to exhibit a missionary style of graciousness. It must have been the sweet woman who, I assumed, didn’t speak English.

And then this arrived:

Eating Out Missionary Style

Does that look like ONE enchilada? Hmmm . . . But I ate half of it, and, despite the fact it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, I requested a box so I could take the rest home. I didn’t want them to think I didn’t like their food. I’ll probably never understand why, but it just seemed like the right thing to do.

It never hurts to be gracious, even when you’re more of a patron than a guest.

And on the bright side, the gastrointestinal distress passed me by.