By Taylor Fields
Serve the unserved: the importance of sharing a meal
That was my first thought when I saw him. His long beard was matted and dirty. His clothes were worn. He smelled like a hamster cage. It was clear he had been living on the street. I worried he might even be dangerous or crazy.
Then I learned his name. Cecil had once been a surgeon at the famous Bellevue Hospital in New York City. But Cecil is an alcoholic, and he’d been dragged down to another kind of life.
A wise friend told me, “Once you categorize people, you cease to love them.” Past experiences sometimes make me think I know who someone is but I can be wrong. After we had tea and bread together, I learned Cecil had experienced a turn-around through Christ in his life. Cecil was a recovering alcoholic who was also helping others in our neighborhood change their lives.
When Jesus talked about serving the unserved, He often talked about eating as the Bible shows in Luke 14:13 (NIV).
“When you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind,” Jesus said to a shocked and maybe embarrassed host. It’s one thing to help someone but to eat with them is another matter. Breaking bread and sharing a meal is personal. Perhaps that’s why many were mad at Jesus—because he ate with sinners. Inviting them to His table showed Jesus’ acceptance of and love for people.
In New York City, we don’t just give food to people, we eat with them.
Food is a serious need in our neighborhood. One of our programs at Graffiti Community Ministries gives more than 10,000 meals a year to those in need. It is called FLIP (Free Lunch in the Park). Hundreds of people stand in line for a sandwich and some fruit. Instead of handing out sandwiches or directing traffic, I sometimes stand in line, receive a sandwich and eat with them on the street. When I do that, I have a very different kind of conversation with them. They are not receiving a sandwich from me. We are eating our sandwiches together. And in a small way, we are in the same boat.
Serving the unserved starts by listening.
“We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian who was executed by Nazis.
So how can you start addressing poverty in your community?
First, invite someone to share a meal with you, a person you wouldn’t normally invite. It’s a good rule for a man to invite a man and a woman to invite a woman. Instead of giving someone a meal, get two meals and eat together. Addressing poverty in your neighborhood can start here.
I’m thankful for the valuable lesson Cecil taught me about people and about food.
Go to SendRelief.org and click “Get Started” to find ways ways Send Relief helps churches impact communities for the sake of the gospel.
Taylor Field is the Send Relief missionary in New York City for the North American Mission Board who also planted and continues to grow Graffiti Church in New York’s Lower East Side.