I decided to just sit quietly and let the students hash out this cultural dilemma amongst themselves. It was nearing the Mexican holiday of Day of the Dead, and our Christian university students were arguing about what was appropriate for a Christian to do or not to do during this holiday. Since I was still in the cultural learning phase and didn’t fully understand all the implications of the holiday for Mexicans, I decided to keep my mouth shut and see where this conversation goes.
“Yes,” said one guy in the group, “I know that we don’t want to glorify death, but what about eating the Pan de Muerto (the traditional Bread of the Dead was sold in all the stores this time of year.) My Grandmother makes it, and it’s SOOOOO good! Do I offend her? Do I NOT eat the bread? But I reeeeeally like it!” A hot debate burst open between the students who argued that the Pan de Muerto symbolizes everything they were wanting to avoid, and those students who felt that you can’t become corrupted by what you eat like Paul arguing about food sacrificed to idols. I could see both sides of the debate. Personally I was thinking about how shocked and offended our students would be if they knew that I had 3 carved pumpkins in my backyard as we spoke! Heathen!!
In the end, the Pan de Muerto issue was not resolved, but the students agreed to make their own “ofrenda” or display to show their campus how Christians view death. They constructed a cardboard coffin and painted it black. Inside the coffin they placed a mirror at head height. Around the mirror they wrote scripture verses, “It is appointed unto man once to die, then after that the Judgement,” and “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” I was impressed at what they came up with!
I was inspired by their solution. So at our own house we decorated for Halloween, which is just starting to catch on as a candy-centered bonus to Day of the Dead. I bought a ton of candy, pulled out a box of pocket sized Bibles in Spanish that a team had given us, and fired up my computer to print up some bookmarks with those verses on them in Spanish. That night as the Trick-or-Treaters rang my doorbell, I gave out 75 Bibles and 125 bookmarks with Bible verses on them!
Secretly, I also bought a loaf of Pan de Muerto just to taste it. I wasn’t impressed, so that detail no longer tempted me. But you can see that as a missionary, I had to decide how to handle a holiday that is based in the pagan culture. What does it look like from the perspective of the Christians in THIS culture? How do I go about becoming all things to all people so that I might win some? Can I use the base of a pagan holiday as a tool to do something good for the Kingdom of God? Heck yeah! The Devil is always trying to take our good stuff and twist it for his evil plans, so I just consider this and eye for an eye.