My family and I were missionaries to Central and South America for almost 15 years. We lived in San Jose, Costa Rica, for one year studying Spanish. We moved to Ecuador for the remainder of our time as missionaries. You would think that living in a different culture, we would recognize differences and be less surprised when we find them. That’s what you would think. Well, the truth is that we still get caught totally off guard from time to time. I know I did. We had been living in Quito, Ecuador for about three years when the following happened.
Daniel was a Shuar Indian from the Eastern Amazon jungles of Ecuador. I had been going out to his village of Kasutka for some months when I received a phone call from him. He had traveled out of his village and taken a bus to the capitol city, Quito, to see us. It was only the fourth time in his 28 years that he had ever left the jungle and his first time to Quito. I found out which bus station he was in and arranged for him to get to my office in the heart of the city of 1.2 million people. His village had 170 adults plus children.
When Daniel arrived at my office it was lunch time. I knew that in the jungle when I was his guest, he had always provided for my meals, some very different meals I might add. So, I invited him out to eat. I was not sure what to offer him to eat, as there was no jungle eating establishment in the city. So like a shot in the dark, I asked him if he had ever eaten Pizza and did he like it? Much to my surprise his face lit up in affirmation, as he stated that he really liked pizza.
We went to a local pizza place and I ordered us a pizza. I asked if he would like a salad. He asked me what it was, as he had never heard of that before. I explained it to him and he said, “Oh that sounds good, I’d love to try it.” Daniel’s face screwed up into one of confusion when the waitress brought out our salads and placed them on the table in front of us. He looked at the salad and then looked at me and asked, “What is that?” I told him it was our salad. He quickly said, “Oh, I can’t eat that, it hasn’t been cooked!” I had not remembered that the jungle Indians wouldn’t eat anything that had not been cooked except fresh fruit. Then the waitress brought the pizza out and placed it on the table, Daniel looked at it and then at me and asked, “What’s that?” At that point I knew I was in trouble again. I replied, “That’s pizza.” At which point he looked at me and smiled and said, “Oh no, that’s not pitsa, pitsa is a small bird that lives in the hills around my village. We hunt them for food and they are very tasty.”
Once again, I was suddenly reminded of the danger of assumption. I had assumed that Daniel knew the foods that I knew. Things grow complicated when two very distinct food items are confused by a similarity in their pronunciation. Later I learned that they were spelled differently, just as I had learned they were two entirely different food items. Daniel’s was a pitsa, a small jungle parrot. Pronounced just like pizza.
We humans know many things and assume we know more than we do, not necessarily intentionally. Sometimes we just don’t recognize that maybe we don’t know everything that we think we do. It can be embarrassing when we find out that we don’t know what we thought we did know. Romans 12:3 says, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think [of himself] more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”
I had been reminded again that there were things I did not know. By the way, Daniel did eat the pizza and he liked it. Later, I also was able to eat pitsa. It sure tasted better than crow!
Brad Morris, a retired minister, originally from Georgetown, served as a pastor and missionary in Costa Rica and Ecuador, can be reached at DrBrad@sccctv.net. He has been in ministry for 48 years and a columnist for 15 years, 10 of which were for the Times.