As I took that next bite, I looked at the people in the room. This tiny room, that could fit more people than I thought, was filled with chatter and liveliness. People eating together, savoring food and stories, sharing in the sacred moments of peace, prayer, purpose, power, and presence.
We have numerous stories placing Jesus at the table during those long days of investing in his disciples. Food gathers people, like the life-giving food of God gathers people who hunger for something satisfying, something more nourishing than what the world offers. As we are discipling young people here in Bucharest, we discover that food and drinks open mouths, but also hearts.
Bogdan and I are national missionaries serving in our beloved Romania, where food used to be scarce, controlled, and intentionally portioned to nourish minimally during the harsh communist regime that enslaved our nation. I remember it: the few empty stores, the long queues of people waiting for the morning to come in hopes of receiving the much-desired milk or the dreamy oranges. The hope may not have been fulfilled. The stocks may have been too small. Everything was kept to the lowest limit of life. It was not about sufficiency. It was not about satisfaction. It was about survival.
The country that we are serving in, not even 30 years later, now offers satisfaction. You can find your heart’s desire, in all tastes, flavors, shapes, colors, and textures. The bananas and oranges, with their little brand stickers that I used to keep in my Bible as a treasure, are readily available at every corner. You can now easily fill your stomach with food that satisfies.
Food for the Soul
It is not so with food for the soul. Each day, when I walk or take the subway around the city, I see them—with their eyes glued to their little screens, parents with their children not talking, teenagers rushing from school and their classmates to connect online where it feels easier to say hi. Their eyes are not lively, their burdens are not lifted. Their loneliness is masked, their laughter is too often faked, their goodbyes are without emotion. There’s a pursuit of money, of career, of status, of popularity, of pleasure, of comfort that may be exhilarating at first, like a big bowl of jello is, but then it leaves them unnourished, empty, and undone.
As we spend time with our young people, sharing our simple home and food with them, they share their lives with us, giving us the holy and humbling honor of sharing the good news of Jesus with them. He offers life and gives satisfaction that is lasting, his love is inviting, his grace is sufficient, his forgiveness is restoring, his peace is steady. And when they find him —in that wound opened years ago, in that fight with a friend, in that heartache, in that fear of the future, in that lie that keeps them in bondage— they leave transformed, touched by grace, by hope, by beauty; by the Redeemer, by the Father.
And so do we! We’re also transformed, as we spend time sharing our lives and food (both physical and spiritual) with them. The lessons we learn are more precious treasures than the little fruit stickers that I once had in my Bible. They stick to my heart.
Starving People Can Refuse Nourishment
What happens when the response is not “give me more”? What happens when you serve people food and your life and they refuse to share theirs, they refuse love and the Love? It is heartbreaking. It is disappointing. It is burdensome. I am reminded of the words of my mother who always told me that appetite is a sign of health. I’ve seen little hungry kids in Romania playing with food rather than eating it. Sometimes you have it available and you don’t know what to do with it. As a first reaction, you want to not ever give them food again. But isn’t this nourishment what they need most? I am learning that the more a young one is refusing the love of Jesus who pursues them with his satisfaction, the more they need it, the more they need us to go towards them, the more we need to be full and satisfied so that there is not room for discouragement that stops, only for Love that goes, seeks, and saves.
God Uses Little People and Places
As we are encouraging and empowering our young people to do the same, to be missionaries of Jesus in their everyday life to the relationships and places where we cannot and should not be, we are learning that God can use little people and places to have big impact. We are the living proof. They are the living proof. We see it in Jesus’ life. We see it in the disciples’ lives. Jesus could have been everywhere, healing everybody, sharing the good news of the Kingdom with everyone, yet he chose to limit himself in order to empower, equip, and send. When we serve food, we need others, whether we are aware of it or not.
By my natural structure, I would rather do it all, from the setting of the table to the final cleaning (ok, except for the grocery shopping, because Bogdan does a much better job). Sometimes it seems easier to do it all by myself. But there’s so much beauty, life, and lifting of the burden in sharing the cooking, in passing the plate from one to the other, in taking turns cleaning. During this last year, I’ve seen young men and women grow from being confused to being confident in their identity in Christ, from being fearful to being filled with bold faith, from believing lies to letting the truth grow deep roots in their lives. This is the power of the gospel! It nourishes the most starving of souls.
As I am taking bite after bite, sharing in this sacred moment, I am reminded of another most sacred moment, when Jesus was around the table with his disciples in that upper room, sharing food and his mission with them. Now, he is here with us. At our little table in the upper room of an apartment in Bucharest.
As you are sitting down for your next meal, whether it is at your desk, with a pile of work waiting to be solved by the end of the day, or with a bunch of messy mouths crying for more, take a moment to ask Jesus to fill up your soul. Who does he want you to share food with the next time you take a bite?
This article was initially published on July 26, 2018, on the www.josiahventure.com website.