Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20
Personally, I was excited at the idea of cooking up an authentic Nigerian side dish. One of the ways Pastor Joshua invites dinner night attendees to participate is by giving them a recipe in advance to prepare for the evening. As other people signed up for our church’s evening of African cuisine and hospitality, their enthusiasm for this task was mixed. The biggest question asked was would they be able to find the ingredients needed? Followed by how spicy were the side dishes? Were any of the recipes gluten free, dairy free for those with food sensitivities? It’s not easy introducing a midwest, small town crowd to new cuisine.
This all started with jollof rice. I read a book by a British author of Nigerian descent, and she raved about this jollof rice. I asked Pastor Joshua if he ate jollof rice growing up, and while he didn’t gush over this simple dish, he told me he did have it as a child. Perhaps it’s like someone asking me if I’d had mashed potatoes growing up in rural Misouri. Yes, but they were commonplace.
It was during this conversation, Joshua mentioned he hosted African Dinner Nights for church groups, I signed us up right away. For some time now, I’ve had a growing interest in learning about other cultures, particularly in the ways believers come together in worship and fellowship. All around the world, God is at work, doing more than we might ask or think. He extends an invitation for any of us to discover more about Him through the eyes of others. I was eager for our church to spend an evening with Joshua and his family, learning how God is at work in western Africa, and through the LEMA Institute in particular.
The Saturday afternoon of the event, I took my time making the side dishes. I wanted them to be just right. For my recipes, I’d bought tomatoes of many variations; paste, sauce, fresh. In addition to jollof rice, I was making a sweet potato dish. Both called for some type of tomato. The main dish of the evening would be Nigerian stew, but I hadn’t seen that recipe yet.
Upon arriving at the church, I was put to work. It seems no matter where a church kitchen is located, it’s an welcoming place for all to come together and prepare a meal. I found out the stew was comprised of chicken and a tomato-based soup. No surprise. While the stew simmered, we cut up dozens of plantains and heated oil to fry them in a large cast iron skillet. I’m not sure Joshua is willing to reveal his secret ingredient in preparing fried plantains, so I’ll omit that part. You can take it up with him.
As guests started to arrive, we saw firsthand the variety of side dishes they’d been asked to prepare. Pastor Joshua slipped away to dress in his formal Nigerian attire. The biggest hit was the Mango cake, and fortunately there was enough of it to go around. People were still a little nervous about the food they were trying, but I noticed plates emptied in no time. My family liked everything that was offered.
For the program portion, Joshua started out by explaining how a gathering of people greeted one another in Nigeria. He taught us a couple of handshakes, which my daughter still practices. I was by a little boy, about four years old, when we learned one of the handshakes. He did it with me, and then immediately looked at his mom for affirmation. “Look, Mom, I did it” applies in any culture.
Prof Ruth Veltkamp, Board Member/Visiting professor at LEMA, also did a presentation about her mission trip to the LEMA Institute in Mbaitoli of Nigeria, showing testimonies from students on how their training has transformed their lives and ministries. It was eye-opening to realize how foreign Christian concepts can seem in a different culture.
The LEMA Institute thanked our church for providing clean water at their facility. A special framed photo was presented to our pastor, Jason Z. Then, we had a little fun having everyone at the church come forward for a group photo in recognition of the contribution.
African culture encourages including the entire family, and crowd participation. It got a little chaotic at times, but it was apparent the commotion didn’t phase Joshua or Ruth one bit. In fact, I’d say they seemed right at home all evening.
Our group learned the latest updates from the LEMA Institute. We also learned of upcoming needs, and we were invited to join them in praying God would provide in his time. With about twenty minutes of the evening remaining, Joshua spoke to us about his childhood in Nigeria. As we’d planned for the event, I told him this was the part I wanted to hear about the most. God had found him in his earliest days in an African country halfway around the world, and I knew our attendees would find that fascinating. Pastor Joshua is more comfortable talking about his work, the numbers, or theology. I was relieved to hear his willingness to share some of his story.
As the evening drew to a close, one brave person asked the question that had been on everyone’s mind, “How did Joshua meet his wife?” I’d heard the story from his wife’s perspective, so it was interesting to hear his version. Also to hear her chime in when he didn’t get it quite right.
Overall, African Dinner Night is a great way to accomplish a number of things. First, we learned about a culture quite different from our own. We also realized God is at work in every culture, and together, we praised him for that. Further, we were able to learn more about LEMA and offer our support through prayer and financially. Finally, we had the opportunity to get to know one another better, for it seems no matter what part of the world you find yourself in, coming together around a table and sharing a meal speaks of fellowship.
Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:21
Traci writes, from her Michigan countryside kitchen, over at tracesoffaith.com, a bit of a play on her name. She is honored to start serving LEMA Institute as a board member. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.