In the main cathedral in Cusco, Peru, there is a scene from the last supper. Jesus and his disciples are sitting down to eat. The disciples’ heads incline towards the Lord, seated in the center. One disciple (Peter?) folds his hands in prayer. Another (John?) waits for Jesus to speak, hands together in expectation. And yet another gestures towards the main course . . . guinea pig.

Um…what?

Well, guinea pig has been the national dish of Peru for centuries. When missionaries arrived in Peru, they realized this penchant for guinea pig might be a bridge to faith.

Initially, the people in Peru had been very resistant to faith. There were lots of reasons. One of those was that missionaries at that time equated becoming a Christian with becoming a Spaniard. Converts were expected to speak a new language (Spanish). Read the Bible in Spanish (or Latin), dress a new way (lots more clothing, starch, and less color), even eat “civilized” foods (guinea pig was off the menu) in order to believe in Jesus. We, of course, can see that they weren’t just sharing Jesus. They were sharing their Spanish culture and making those cultural trappings (language, dress, food) as important as faith.

Eventually, the Catholic priests realized their mistake and helped Jesus be “incarnate” in Peru. They realized that language, dress, and food could stay Peruvian. After all, the change that faith brings is of the heart and life, not of externals like clothing or food or language.

And so, we have one of my favorite last supper pictures- the one with a main course of guinea pig. After all, if Jesus had come to Peru, not Israel, I bet he would have eaten guinea pig!

It’s lovely to see Jesus depicted by believers around the world. He Qi, a Chinese artist, paints Jesus looking distinctly Asian. African-American churches, picture the Holy Family with dark skin. And most of Anglo churches show Jesus with pale skin. Jesus was, in fact, middle-eastern in complexion, but he likely enjoys all these depictions equally. One of the names he’s called is Emmanuel: “God with us,” as one of us. How beautiful that every culture can picture Jesus incarnate among them, whether that’s a change in skin tone or a new food on the table at the last supper.

The heart of our faith is that we, broken sinful people, have a God who came to be one of us, who lived, taught, and died for us. Our Savior sends us out to tell new people of his love. To help them find forgiveness and restoration and grow in their relationship with him. That’s the heart of our faith. There is room for guinea pig on the table in Peru. For changes in skin tone in Africa, China, and the US.

As you seek to share good news with new people, don’t change the core of the message, but don’t be afraid to use words, music, and other symbols that help those folks approach our amazing Savior on familiar ground.

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