The problem of diet in the mission field has appeared as a great wall of difficulty to many missionaries, and especially to the missionary's wife, upon whom devolves the responsibility, to a large degree, of maintaining the health of her family. In this connection, Elder W. A. Spicer's three qualifications for a missionary are very appropriate: "First, adaptability ; second, adaptability; third, adaptability." Doctor Elmsley, a Scotch Presbyterian missionary of long experience, in his book, "The Ngones," also aptly put it when he said:
"The three prerequisites for a missionary are grace, gumption, and go. The first is acquired on one's knees, the second I know not how it is acquired, but the lack of it has been the cause of more failures in the mission field than any other one thing. The third is a natural outcome of the second."
Distances are great in Africa, and with the meager transportation facilities found in our farthest inland missions, we cannot hope to obtain provisions weekly or even monthly, since the nearest trading post is frequently a hundred miles or more from the mission. The native is capable of carrying a great load on his head and shoulders, but a sack of flour or a sack of sugar, carried through tropical rains and across swollen streams on a native's head, does not yield full weight in usable portion upon arrival at the mission. Therefore, we find that we must plan ahead for months instead of for a few days, as we usually do in America, where there is a store on nearly every corner.
Gardens are easily made, but not so easily brought to maturity, even in a tropical climate, as hundreds of varieties of insects, which multiply in a few hours, never seem idle. Also, because of the daily tropical rains, much of the fertility of the soil leaches away, and many times the whole garden is washed away. But allowing as many seeds for the "skellum" as for ourselves, we sow in hope. The time comes when it looks as if we might have good green beans day after tomorrow. With basket in hand we walk to the garden in the early morning to pick them, but alas ! There is nothing left but stalks.
Now the native usually manages to have some food unless a famine is in the land. As we observe him, how many lessons we can learn. He seems to follow the admonition of Hebrews 13 :5, "Be content with such things as ye have," and in a remarkable way applies adaptability by making the most of what is available. He makes the humble gourd furnish his kitchen with a small dipper or a cup, a water jug, or a flour bin. With string made from the fibrous trunks of the palm or banana tree, or from roots and reeds, he encases a hundredweight of his manioc flour, and carries it off to market. First he makes a mesh form in the shape of a sack and covers the bottom inside with leaves. Then he adds flour, then more leaves around the inside, and more flour until the sack is full. The leaves hold in the flour, the flour holds the leaves in place, and the string secures all.
Isn't it wonderful that in every inhabited land we find nature supplying our needs if we are but able to adapt nature's products to our use ? Since gardens sometimes fail, and canned goods cost from four to five times the price one has to pay in the homeland, and are difficult to obtain even then, we turn more and more to the local products—corn, beans, rice, wheat, sweet potatoes, and peanuts. These products can generally be procured at different times of the year from near-by or neighboring parts. It is interesting to learn that with a little practice, along with the benefit of the experience of older missionaries and the natives, many tasty and nourishing dishes can be prepared from these native products.
A hand mill for grinding wheat and corn is indispensable, of course. For variety, eggs, wild honey, and some of the native fruits have helped out greatly at times. In many places it is impossible to keep cows because of the tsetse fly, but the milk made from peanuts has been tested and found to be a real lifesaver, especially for tiny motherless babies.
How encouraging to read such a statement as the following from "Counsels on Diet and Foods:" "Let us make intelligent advancement in simplifying our diet. In the providence of God, every country produces articles of food containing the nourishment necessary for the upbuilding of the system. These may be made into healthful, appetizing dishes."—Page 94. Although a corner grocery, or a few tins of canned food, would be handy when company happens along unexpectedly, one may, with little difficulty, keep on hand supplies such as corn meal and flour, whole-wheat flour, cooking oil from peanuts, milk from peanuts, peanut butter, coffee from peas, soy beans, or corn, starch from manioc root, also breakfast food from the same root which tastes much like shredded-wheat biscuit, salted pumpkin seeds, hulled and roasted, and jelly from bananas.
Many little conveniences which add to the missionary's comfort can be worked out. For instance, charcoal coolers make excellent refrigerators. Beeswax not only stops leaks in water tins, but makes good floor polish. And gasoline barrels can be built up high enough so that with a fireplace made under one of them, hot and cold running water may be provided in the bathroom. We may be confident that God has made provision for the needs of His people wherever they are called to labor for Him.