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Missionaries’ Mail

Early missionaries to the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific received their mail once a year when the sailing boat made its rounds of the South Pacific. On one occasion the boat was one day ahead of schedule, and the missionaries were off on a neighboring island. The captain left the mail with the Marshallese people while he attended to matters of getting stores of water and provisions. At last the Marshallese were in possession of what the missionaries spoke about so often and apparently cherished so much. The people examined the mail to find out what was so attractive about it. They concluded that it must be good to eat, and so they proceeded to tear all the letters into tiny bits and cook them. However, they didn’t taste very good, and the Marshallese were still puzzled about the missionaries’ strange interest in mail when they returned to find their year’s correspondence made into mush.

Adapted from Eugene A. Nida’s Customs and Cultures: Anthropology for Christian Missions (pp. 5-6).

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