A Place at the Table

by Matthew Porter

All my life, I have associated food with family. Growing up, Mom’s chili simmering on the stove signified that autumn had begun, Grandma’s German chocolate cake meant it was my birthday, and Aunt Connie’s taco dip at any family gathering was extra special—because I knew she made it with me in mind.  Nothing says “home” quite like sitting around the table with those you love.

Matthew celebrates his birthday with friends from the Baptist Student Center

Matthew celebrates his birthday with friends from the Baptist Student Center

But for people far from loved ones, mealtimes can underscore a sense of loneliness. During my four years serving with the Baptist Student Center at Southeast Missouri State University, I saw the difference a hot meal and friendly conversation can make in the lives of people from distant places.  Twice a week, a team of community volunteers welcomed students to come together for a meal.  These students came from locales as diverse as Bangladesh, China, Germany, Sri Lanka, and small towns across Southeast Missouri. We would enjoy each other’s cuisine, (everything from fried chicken to French crepes to Indian biryani) and built relationships across cultural barriers.  Unlikely friendships were formed, and we learned from one another even after the meal was finished–visiting each other’s homes, traveling together, participating in service projects alongside one another, worshipping and studying scripture together.  Many of the acquaintances I met around the table have become family.

My experience in Cape Girardeau made me a believer in hospitality ministry.  But it wasn’t until I was 800 miles away that I really understood its power.  Thanks in part to CBF Heartland, I served in Toronto, ON, Canada, this summer with CBF’s Student.Church program.  My hosts at Blythwood Road Baptist Church embraced me wholeheartedly.  They housed me, transported me, and answered my endless questions about Canadian life, culture, and politics.  Members of the church staff even spent their free time showing me around the city.  And yes, they cooked for me.  Abby baked homemade bread, Bonnie introduced me to old family recipes, David shared his passion for BBQ, and Nicole taught me about Greek cuisine.

Food was an essential part of how the community at Blythwood connected.  My favorite place in the church was the aptly named “Friendship Room.”  Here, after Sunday services, the congregation would gather for refreshments and fellowship.  It was in the friendship room where senior adults would meet weekly for bible study and lunch.  Once a month, the church hosted a “Wednesday Drop-in”, where low income guests were invited for cookies, conversation, coffee or tea, and a grocery voucher.  Those in need were not just helped and sent on their way but were invited to interact and belong.

When the community at Blythwood gathered to partake the Lord’s Supper, we were reminded that everyone was invited to participate because “this is not a Baptist table. This is God’s table.”   May we see our own tables as God’s tables; intentionally creating space at meals and in our lives for the newcomer, the lonely, and the needy. The relationships formed, lives changed, and memories made are well worth the effort.