Truly, I have never seen so much food at a single meal. Not on my mother-in-law’s Thanksgiving table. Not even at my Aunt Maureen’s annual Easter smorgasbord. The feast was epic.
A few weeks ago our friend Azzat mentioned that he and Afia wanted to host “a feast,” as the Yezidis say, as a way to thank all the people who had pitched in to set up their apartment before they arrived in Lincoln as refugees nearly two years ago.
“Invite everyone,” Azzat declared. He and Afia also insisted that no one bring a thing – not a bottle of wine or a liter of soda, not a bag of chips or a plate of brownies. “We want to do everything,” he said.
Sixteen of us squeezed into our friends’ townhouse living room on Sunday afternoon. We sat on the floor, our legs pulled in close so as to keep our socked feet clear of the plastic tablecloth that had been spread out on the carpet. Dish after dish was placed on the tablecloth: five roasted chickens, several huge tin foil pans of biryani and couscousi, 16 bowls of soup, 16 bowls of salad and a stack of naan so thick it could have doubled as an extra chair in a pinch.
We passed dishes back and forth, heaping spoonfuls of savory food high on one another’s plates, tearing pieces of soft naan, handing bowls around and across the makeshift table. I swear we ate for an hour and a half straight, and all the while, as friends new and old laughed and passed more plates, I couldn’t stop smiling. The photo my friend Kristen snapped with her iPhone captures my glee. In the picture, I’m grinning ear to ear like a fool, literally clapping my hands in sheer delight.
Our friends’ journey to Lincoln has been far from perfect. They wouldn’t have chosen it if they’d had any choice at all — that I know for sure. They left their beloved homeland, their culture, virtually all their possessions and most of their dearest friends and family to begin a new life free from the threat of ISIS, yet missing so many precious pieces of home. They have lived, and still live, daily heartbreak. They have lived, and still live, daily struggle.
And yet, in spite of incomprehensible hardship and loss, time and time again they give wholly of themselves and their resources to us. They don’t even think twice. They invite us and these friends of ours, strangers to them, into their own living room, they spread a table for us and lay out a feast and they lavish all of us with hospitality, generosity, warmth and love. They pour us the best wine, they cook for five hours to create all their best dishes (intentionally making extra so they can send every single one of their guests home with a plate of leftovers), they serve us, smiling and brushing off our praise like it’s all so no big deal.
But it is a big deal. As author Shannan Martin would say, this hospitality, this intentional walk toward, rather than away from another, is a very big deal.
“Offering ourselves as a kind-hearted presence in a world that has forgotten the meaning of community is a courageous act of peace,” writes Shannan in her beautiful book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places.
I love that, and I think that’s exactly why this beautiful family continues to astonish me. The ones considered outsiders and “other” by so many, the ones who arrived here from halfway around the world, the ones who have little compared to most of us, continuously offer their whole selves to us, welcoming us, embracing us and reminding us of what true community looks like.
Their kind-hearted presence in our lives and their generosity and investment in us is truly a courageous act of peace….and of love.
I can’t think of a better book to give away with this post about community than Shannan Martin’s new release, The Ministry of Ordinary Places. If you don’t know Shannan, get thee to her website, pronto. She is of of my favorite writers, hands-down. I loved her first book, Falling Free, so much, I wrote about it in my own upcoming book. And I think The Ministry of Ordinary Places is even better! This book will make you laugh out loud and it will bring tears to your eyes, almost within the same paragraph. AND it will convict you in all the best ways about the power, beauty and gift of living with our ordinary neighbors in our ordinary places.
To be eligible for the drawing, please leave a comment telling us about one small thing a neighbor or friend did for you that made all the difference. I will draw one name at random on Monday, October 15 and will notify the winner by email.