When I got married at the age of 26, I jokingly say I began my ministry of cooking. I knew the basics, could follow a recipe like a pro, but had really only “cooked” for myself. Now, here I was, not just married, but married to a pastor.
I needed to up my game at the stove.
Though we had yet to move into overseas work, I was still on a steep learning curve, as my husband was a native Egyptian, and our church was full of Arabic-speaking immigrants. No chicken casseroles for this bunch. Thankfully, my husband was gracious, and after serving him a tuna pie from my Baptist Student Union cookbook, he knew he was going to have to “bear all things” in this marriage, or he wouldn’t survive.
Thankfully, life in ministry enhanced my cooking abilities.
After twenty years of cooking in five different countries, I learned how to lean less on cookbooks and adapt to the foods and dishes available in the lands where we lived. One of the first things I learned about cooking was related to shopping—preprocessed foods are more expensive than fresh. To be able to stay within our determined budget, I was going to need to learn how to cook from scratch.
Cooking from scratch does not have to be painful.
Pre-Internet days, I didn’t have the ability to pull up a YouTube video to find out how to cut up a chicken or cook a local dish. I encourage all of you to bow your heads and thank the Lord for all the great cooking advice and videos you have access to today! I learned by cooking with local friends, asking them how they do rice without making it stick, how to prepare stuffed grape leaves, and how to boil fresh milk to prevent illness. In reality, that’s the best way to learn and opens so many doors for witness and relationship.
Cooking from scratch does mean you have to put in the effort.
Cutting up a chicken, boiling it, waiting for it to cook before you debone it, and then using the meat for a special dish takes time. With the exception of scrambled eggs, there is not much in cooking that takes five minutes to prepare. If you want to have a cake or cookies for those guests who like to surprise you with a visit, then make them ahead of time. When the latest cake is gone, start on the next one. People will come around to visit and enjoy it. If you need a quick meal, have meat or vegetables prepped and frozen, so you can pull them out and sauté them with some seasoning to serve over rice, couscous, or pasta.
Be willing to let cooking be a ministry.
I’m not a natural cook. My boys and their wives actually all cook much better than I ever did. Yet, this cracked-pot cook chose to willingly make meals for uninvited guests, groups, and my family as an avenue for God to find welcome at our table. I’ve had people walk around my table, undecided if any of the many dishes displayed were actually edible, only to then pull up a chair and sit at what was the buffet, so they could help themselves to more. I’ve had people come to dinner at our house, only to say they’d already eaten, leaving all my hard work to sit uneaten.
Undeterred, I just kept cooking, as people kept coming, learning to handle my unusual meals. Was I an American cook or an Arab one? How can I mix foods together like that? Why would I put something sweet with something salty? Why were my desserts so sweet?
It’s alright. I may not have been a perfect cook, but I was a gracious hostess. The best times were had over a simple spice cake and coffee offered after a meal or just during a short visit. It was never about the food, but always about the conversation.
If food opens doors for God to speak, who are we to say no?
What acts of grace have you watched God perform at your dinner table? How many hearts have been softened by a simple cup of tea or coffee?
One day, my husband brought a visitor into our home—he was the buwab—the guard who watched our apartment building and lived in a small room on the first floor. I welcomed him in and immediately brought them both a cup of tea with a small cookie on the side. They talked for a long time, and then my husband later shared what the man told him. Though he’d lived there for many years, serving as the guard, no one had ever invited him into their home or offered him tea.
Let your cooking become that glass of cold water to His glory. Make the effort, take the risk, and cook. God will surprise you. His ministry to a person’s heart might actually begin with your ministry to their stomach.
Grace and Peace