Serving Friends Through Food
I will never forget the kindness of my friend Debbie Rambaum. She was a neighbor who lived across the street from us in Largo, Florida, when we were in those early child-rearing years. Debbie was not a believer at the time, but she brought a meal to us the day we brought our son Jared home from the hospital almost 30 years ago. Even though we had believing family members in the area, they never even thought about providing a meal for us when we came home from the hospital. But Debbie did. I can still remember most of it. She made beef stroganoff, noodles, corn, a salad, and some home-made chocolate chip cookies. It was wonderful. That was my introduction to hospitality ministry—the birth of a child.
The second time—eight years later—was when the delightful Marge Currin, the wife of the executive director for the Baptist Convention of New England at the time, brought over a delicious dinner for our family the day we arrived in Massachusetts. We were moving into our new home in the dead of winter with snow on the ground and young boys in tow. She had made a tasty Calico Beans casserole, salad, and a lemon pound cake. Here we were, exhausted from the efforts of carrying furniture and boxes up and down two or three flights of stairs, and here comes Marge with this much appreciated meal.
God used those two experiences in my life—and by this time my love for cooking—to begin a ministry of hospitality by taking meals to people in times of need. I’ve learned to keep a full pantry and stuffed freezers so if I hear about someone needing a meal I can usually provide a hearty meal without even having to go to the store.
Why should today’s Biblical Woman practice hospitality? For starters, it increases unity in the body, helps disciple and mentor other believers, provides fellowship and nurturing, glorifies God, and expands his kingdom work. Today we’re going to discover ways women can practice hospitality by ministering specifically to the body of Christ in our churches.
When my husband taught a young couples’ class in our church in Cedar Hill, Texas, we were always cooking meals celebrating the birth of new babies. Even if they have family coming in to help, it is nice to provide meals so the grandparents can spend time with their new grandbabies rather than being in the kitchen a good part of the day. But we also cooked during times of great heartache, when miscarriages, and the loss of loved ones occurred. Sometimes we provided meals when someone was pregnant and sick, or confined to bed, or had been taking care of sick kids and were exhausted. Other times we brought meals when class members moved across the community to new neighborhoods. We have also given meals when some kind of incapacitation has occurred such as friends taking their loved ones to an endless string of doctor’s appointments. This can consume most of the day so furnishing a tasty supper can encourage and support those weary from these activities.
Practicing hospitality in this way is truly a ministry to the members of your church. With a little advance planning you can assist other members in a way they will never forget. Here are a few practical tips to help make the process go smoothly.
Invest periodically in sturdy foil pans so you are not handing out your own dishes. It can be quite inconvenient for the family to have to track down everyone and return pans and special dishes. Most dollar-stores have assorted kinds of foil pans and they are very inexpensive. After thanksgiving or Christmas the large roaster-type foil pans are available at rock bottom prices. I save the plastic storage containers that spring mix and other pre-washed leaf lettuce comes in. Then I use those containers for fruit, salads, or brownies. I have also saved the round salad bowls from Olive Garden take-out and the large, round containers for pre-mixed soups. They are great containers to put salads in for taking meals to others. I store foil and plastic containers out in the garage and use them when needed. I also buy inexpensive, sturdy, used plates at thrift shops to put baked cakes, bundt cakes, cookies, and sliced sweet breads on. They are a little stronger than Styrofoam plates and you don’t have to worry about getting them back.
Be aware of special situations.
If you’re bringing a meal for someone who is moving you have to find out if they will have access to dishes, serving utensils, ovens and refrigerators. Many times I would send along a box of paper goods including plates, cups, silverware, paper towels and napkins, inexpensive serving utensils from Dollar General, a couple of ziplock bags, and storage containers for leftovers, a few large 39-gallon trash bags and smaller kitchen trash bags, even sponges, dish detergent, toilet paper, and baby wipes, depending on the situation. Another thing I do when I’m taking a meal to someone (or inviting guests into my home) is find out if there are any food allergies. Additionally, I ask if there is anything they don’t like to eat. Many young children have allergies to nuts, gluten, and dairy these days. It pays to be savvy about what you make for others. Some nursing mothers also like to avoid certain types of foods, and others who are sick may be on special diets. Find out what has to be excluded and plan your meal accordingly. For example, I have taken meals on multiple occasions to one couple and I make sure I don’t make anything Tex-Mex because she is allergic to any kind of pepper, and no dessert with cherries because he doesn’t like cherries.
Communicate with everyone involved.
If you are organizing meals for a family try to include this information for others as well. It is helpful to set yourself a reminder to send those scheduled to prepare meals an email or text message the day before they are scheduled to deliver a meal so they don’t forget. Another thing that is helpful is finding out what main dish each one is going to bring. I remember one time a family got three lasagnas in a row. Oops! For that reason, I almost always make a recipe I know no one else will be making by staying away from popular recipes and using family recipes instead. I have several recipes I make on a regular basis for meal delivery that are delicious, easy, and almost everyone loves. I try to keep in mind whether they have small children or not. Most small children cannot chew meats like steak, pork chops, and beef roast before they are about five years of age. It is best to stick with ground beef or chicken. Also, you need to have an accurate count of how many you are going to be feeding prior to planning and cooking. In my hospitality ministry I try to make enough food for two meals but even offering enough for just one meal is sufficient.
If you are making a rather involved meal, or if it is for a large group, prepare some of the food the night before. Many times I will make up bread in the breadmaker, dessert, and salad the night before. The next day all I have left to prepare is the main dish and one or two sides. This is also helpful if you are in a time crunch and only have a certain amount of time each day to devote to meal preparations. If you are taking a meal to only a few people, you might consider doubling or splitting your regular meal and apportioning half to the other family. Some recipes serve 10 but your family only has four and the family you are providing a meal for only has four. Another option is to prepare the meal for 10 but put half the ingredients in a separate foil pan and wrap for the freezer. Give them one casserole to eat now and another to pull out at a later time when they need it.
Just as you would for any other type of ministry—teaching, hospital visitation, helping with children’s choirs—pray for God’s blessing on your meal and preparations. I ask God to glorify himself and to bless the recipients each time I make a meal for someone else. I also ask him to protect the food from spoilage and that the people consuming the meal don’t get sick from any of the ingredients! When I pray that he will strengthen my hands and enable me to prepare the meal in his strength and power, I have a lot fewer accidents or problems like food burning, or falling onto the floor and having to start over.
As with any ministry or ability the more you practice the better and more proficient you become. If you are not an experienced cook you can still do something simple like a baked ziti casserole, garlic bread (pre-made if you don’t want to take the time to make your own), and a simple dessert like a cobbler or a pan of brownies. Or you could try my Roasted Chicken with Rosemary (with red potatoes and baby carrots, it’s a full meal by itself!), Corn Pudding (easy with only a few ingredients) and this fabulous recipe for an Éclair Dessert! A simple soup and bread, or grilled cheese sandwiches can be a blessing to those who are in the position of needing meals.
Don’t allow any lack of culinary abilities to hinder you from being a blessing to others.
Make what you know how to make—be it ever so simple—and ask God’s blessing on your preparation and for the family who will receive them. Practicing hospitality in your church is a way to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24). We who are rich in this present world (most Americans) are commanded “to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Tim 6:18). Sharing our time, energy, and resources in this way builds and nurtures the body of Christ. Practicing hospitality is a way to be generous and imitate the generosity of the Savior in giving His all for us.
Teresa Ambra loves cooking and experimenting in the kitchen! Over the years she has tried thousands of recipes and now shares them on her blog www.cantstayoutofthekitchen.com! She also loves to prepare meals for others no matter what the occasion. Teresa graduated with her Master of Divinity in Church History and Biblical Languages from Southwestern Seminary last May. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and her blog!