A cup of missionalitea
We had one of bsmucalgary’s recent graduates at The Equation this past week to talk with us before heading off to Central Asia as a missionary for the next two years. You can join us in praying for the people of Central Asia, some of whom, I was interested to know, grow tea. The presence of tea in this mission field is fitting, because tea is the most missional drink in the world (unlike pizza, the least missional of foods). Here’s why.
Who drinks tea? Everybody. It’s served with mint in Morocco, milk in England, sugar in Russia, ice in America, a ceremony in Japan, everything in China, spices in India, and donuts in Canada (thanks Tim Horton). It is, with the single exception of water, the most drunk and least expensive drink in the whole world, and it takes on the shape of the culture of the people who drink it. In the mountains of Tibet they drink Yak Butter Tea, a strong black tea mixed with yak butter, salt, and milk: a hearty drink to end a long mountain trek, and not bad, I must say. In Britain they stick their pinkies out and eat cucumber sandwiches. In America, they throw it off ships to protest the British, or serve it cold on hot southern days. In Russia it’s made in samovars to be shared out equally to all. Here in Canada we invented the quick boiling electric tea kettle for those wintry mornings when icy roads mean we must leave early for work.
Tea is everyone’s tradition. Yet, at the same time, it’s always distinctly tea. All the different tea from all the different regions in the world comes from one plant: camellia sinensis. Black, green, oolong, and white tea all come from the same leaf, fermented (or not) in different ways. Darjeeling, Ceylon, and Assam are the same plant from different regions. Orange Pekoe, fyi, is a grade of black tea, not a type. If it’s not the tea leaf, it’s not tea. Oh don’t let them fool you with an herbal infusion. They’ll call it tea on the box, but really it’s a mere tisane.
None of this is surprising, as tea is missional in its very nature: leaf in pot, transforming the contents by an act of presence, the dead leaf rising to life again in the brew. Making tea is itself an act of presence and patience, a brief steeping sabbath waiting for water to boil and leaf to infuse. Coffee may be instant, but tea demands that one linger, if ever so briefly. Coffee is for church, but tea is for mission. This, then, is born out in the ways that we take it. Whether party, ceremony, or samovar, tea brings friend and foe together across the globe.
History proves me right. Who began the modern missions movement? Why, tea sipping Brit, William Carey. Where did he go? To India, the ancestral home of tea, of course. As if that’s not enough, the grandaddy of missional church thinking, Lesslie Newbigin, began writing after the experience of his return from India to England.
So then, let us go forth, incarnationally imbibing with those to whom God has sent us.