“There is no love sincerer
than the love of food.”
― George Bernard Shaw
That's why food played such an important role during my time in Kenya. If you want to get to know a person very well, all you must do is eat in that person's home. This is exactly what I did in Kenya. Even while we were in Soweto, everyday our group would set out for an hour's walk to get to Antony's house for breakfast. No matter what we did that day or where we went, we would always be sure to get back to Father's home to eat both lunch and dinner. This was not an unordinary thing. Father always had many people fill his home all day, and especially during meal times. His home was open for anybody. So when our team came along, it was no different. We were added to the already large number of people crowded into the room where we ate.
After having been eating the meals for a few days, I got curious about the kitchen and the chef behind all of the cooking. So one rainy morning I decided to climb the outdoor staircase to the top room of the building to see where the magic happened. The kitchen was just a small room with a few cooking supplies. It had no counters or tables, but a few plastic chairs to sit in. I walked into a scene of Martin, the man in charge of the meals, chattering to a few friends and children. The room was small, cozy, and welcoming. It seemed that every person who entered through that door could be fully themselves, and be completely comfortable.
It was in that small kitchen where I formed the best friendships. There I learned the most about the culture and history of Kenya and how to make some of the best cooked vegetables and chapati on earth. It was where I got to get to know the children and all their little quirks; it also provided a great space for some dancing competitions with each kid. It was the place I felt the most content. After I would help prepare the meals, the adults would sit down with plates of pre-dinner, taste-testing food and glass bottles of cold drinks, either Stoney or Krest. Often we would talk about our opinions, the latest news and gossip, or explain our backgrounds to each other. Sometimes we would sit in content silence among each other. After this, the children and I would carry the food down for the meals. After we found our places around the small table crammed with piles of food, prayed, and praised together, we would dig into the food. It was during those simple times that I felt so immensely happy.
It was the same in Nakuru. As we sadly said goodbye to our family we had found in Soweto, we thought that at no other place we could form such close relationships so quickly. But we were mistaken. While the memories and relationships we formed in Nakuru were much different from the ones we had in Soweto, they were equally valued and very often enveloped in the subject of food. As Nakuru is in the countryside and Soweto is not, a lot of the food we ate was provided in much different ways. In Nakuru my new sisters taught me how to pick and prepare certain vegetables. My brothers taught me how to kill, clean, and cook chicken. Again, it wasn't necessarily the food that brought such amazing memories, but it was the conversation that happened around the cooking. Irene, Nancy, James, and many others told me their stories as we worked in the kitchen. We talked about our past, our interests, and our dreams. Trust, camaraderie, and deep friendship were so quickly built during those times. After we made the food, it was quickly put on the table. My sisters and I would talk about anything and everything. My brothers would joke with me as they piled seconds onto my plate and wouldn't let me leave the table until I finished every single bit of food on it. Then when we did the dishes after supper, Mother would come in to keep us company. She would sing us Kenyan songs with her soft yet strong voice. This was usually followed by playing ridiculous music and dancing. We would be completely ourselves.
That's why I love food so much. People open up to each other when there is a meal to be prepared and to be eaten together. When food is shared so often, so intimately, we draw closer to each other. And when we draw this close, we build up relationship. We honor Christ with unity and joy that family meals bring. We bring in outcasts of many places and make them feel welcome through basic human necessities- food and fellowship. When I look closely at all of these qualities, and the power that food has, I notice something. I notice that this is exactly what the church is supposed to be. It is not a building where people come once a week to worship. Church is a unified body of people that worship God in their actions and lifestyles, specifically in caring for the outcast and needy. They make people feel welcome.