Do you ever think about what life would be like without food? I don’t mean the obvious results like undernourishment and starvation, but, like, what would we do? Imagine the times you’ve gathered with friends, family, a significant other, even business meetings over the last couple weeks; take food out of all of those equations, and what would it leave? A big, gaping vacancy. No more meeting up over coffee or morning brunches or dinners out. No more inviting friends over for snacks and a movie or heading to a grandparent’s house for dinner. I know I love food, but I don’t think it’s just me – food is such a crucial part of our gatherings. It opens up opportunities to laugh, to fellowship, to be present with each other, to be vulnerable, even. Food creates a safe environment, something shared, and makes everyone feel at home.

We were just a few weeks into our outreach in North Africa when we experienced firsthand the power food had not just to open stomachs, but to open hearts. My team and I found ourselves in a refugee’s home – a husband, wife, and five children we had only just met. They didn’t speak our language, and we didn’t speak theirs. Everything was done through a translator. I still remember the taut atmosphere as we sat on mats, the children peeking around corners, too shy to approach. We asked the usual questions – “How did you get here? What did you do in your home country? How did you and your wife meet?” –, and it was clear to see how beautiful this family was. For the husband and wife, it had been love at first sight, and the affection they had for each other, five children later, was palpable. The children, once they warmed up to us, were obedient and sweet, but at the same time rambunctious and fun-loving.

We wanted to really know this family, but it was obvious – we all felt a little awkward. The conversation was slowing down and becoming quite bland; we’d only been there for twenty or so minutes, and already, we were running out of things to ask. The pauses grew longer and longer and longer. My teammates and I glanced at each other for help as if to say, “It’s your turn to think of something to ask!” How should we propel the conversation forward? What would it take for us all to “click”?

And then it happened. One of our teammates asked a simple question.

“What is your favorite thing to eat in your home country?”

And the husband’s face lit up. He and his wife animatedly began to describe to us the delicious morsels they loved best from home, what they were made up of and how you ate them, from appetizers to desserts. Their hands moved as they talked, attempting to paint a picture of what they loved. Soon, it wasn’t enough just to tell us; they had to show us.

The next minute, the wife was bringing out plate after plate of food. We had to try this and that specialty, and she wouldn’t take no for an answer – believe me, we tried! They were thrilled that we not only tried something so central to their culture but also that we loved it, too. With joy, they generously shared from their meager supplies.

And you could literally feel how the atmosphere changed. We went from a group of strangers, putting all our energy into keeping the stilted conversation going, to a family, laughing, joking, smiling, and sharing a meal together. No one was searching for questions to ask anymore. The conversation flowed, and we learned more of the husband’s background as a lawyer, their love story, their journey, their tragedies, and their faith. Just a little, hearts were eased open as we shared a meal together.

I had never realized until this moment how important sitting around a table together is. In the western world, especially, we’re grabbing a quick bite before we head out or go on our way somewhere. We don’t take time to experience such a significant part of our life with others, and even when we do, we’re thinking of where we need to be next, what needs to get done, instead of being present.

Rachel, from the USA, completed her DTS here at YWAM Lausanne, and is now studying our Community Development School.

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