What do Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year, and Filipinos have in common?   Food, Family, and Feasting!!  This is the time of year when the food we present…and consume…is, at times, at its finest…with the most variety.  Why that is, I’m not so sure, but I can’t help but draw some connections from my cultural heritage with my life’s lessons.  While I can’t vouch for all Filipino-ness…please allow me to share with you what I’ve been able to discover of my own culture….especially along the lines of Food and Feasting…and Feeding others.

When I was a young missionary visiting homes in the lowlands of Pangasinan or the mountains in Baguio in the Philippines, I noticed a simple cultural practice that intrigued me:  the merienda.  The merienda is just an afternoon snack, not a full meal, although, sometimes, it was a small, simple meal if that at all.  It would usually end up like this:

As my missionary companion and I would visit the individual or family of that home, whether teaching them or checking up on things, a signal would be given to a child to go to fetch a soft drink, a package of crackers, a little cake, a little cheese sandwich, a plate of fruit, or something similar.  Then, as our visit came to an end, our host would present what the child was able to  go and get and invite us to stay a little longer and have a merienda.  “Something to refresh yourself,” they’d say.  It was their gesture of graciousness, generosity, and an offering of gratitude for our visit.   It was always offered, no matter if they were of humble circumstances or had more to offer.

One day, a thought came to me about these meriendas we were having:  They never let us leave… hungry.  We always left their home refreshed, strengthened for another appointment, grateful to be fed even a little something before we set off on our way.

Somehow, that stuck with me.   It affected how I wanted to “feed” others…on a more intrinsic level.

As a missionary, I wanted to make sure that I never left someone’s home without leaving them with an uplifting message from the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I wanted to leave them filled, spiritually fed.  I wanted to make sure that for whatever they were hungering for…whether it was a question of uncertainty in their heart, a desire to improve, or even a need for a change in perspective…I was able to provide them with something, albeit a little thing, from my own stash of life’s experiences mixed with the impressions the Lord has given me to teach me.  I wanted to leave them refreshed, strengthened for other experiences.  I desired that they would be grateful for our moment together once we parted ways.

After the mission, I reflected on how I could continue this idea of a spiritual merienda.

I could do it whenever I visited with individuals and families as a Home Teacher….to leave them with a gospel message, and leave them filled and uplifted.

I could do the same thing with my casual conversations with others by leaving them uplifted, strengthened, productive after each conversation.  It’s not always “preaching”…but my words could always be filled with love, with patience, with kindness, always building others up, helping them see differently, letting them leave you better than before.

My blogs could also be filled with teaching, with a gospel perspective, with ways to draw the reader closer to God, or to just plain be better.

…Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you… with meekness and fear…(link, emphasis added)

This tells me to know what I claim to know, and be ready to share it when someone asks why I do what I do and believe what I believe…not to preach to them, but to just simply share what’s in my heart…no bravado, no boasting, no one-upmanship.

…be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (link, emphasis added)

Again, the conversation merienda…one that uplifts, builds, shares, and invites.

At home, we counsel our kids.  We have conversations with them.  We lecture them.  We teach each other and explain the scriptures and teachings to them.  Why?  Because they are spiritual sponges, ready to absorb what we teach them.  And they’re curious.  They want to know how things work…not just earthly, physical things.  They want to know Faith, Forgiveness, Repentance, Penitence, Love, God, and all the promises that He has extended towards us.

And [the Lord] shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.  (link)

Our children (and we) have these promises planted deep within their hearts.  They were placed there, and so, as they grow, they ask us questions.  They want to know what these promises are.  They want that assurance that God is there.  They want to know that He does answer us when we pray to Him.  They want to know that He loves them…and how He loves them.  They want to know…so they turn their hearts towards us, their fathers and mothers, to help them make sense of those promises that we, too, need to know for ourselves.  They are hungry to know…just as we are and as we once were.

So we feed them what we know….in these spiritual meriendas.  They’re not full banquets.  They’re not sermons.  No.  Spiritual meriendas are our simple declarations of what we know are true.  They are what we share from our life’s little lessons.  They are our simple conversations that build, that uplift, that teach…that leave someone else refreshed, unhungry, strengthened, filled enough to get them through.

I love the merienda of my Filipino heritage…and the spiritual gift God showed me so that I may “feed his sheep”.