Breaking Bread Together
By Augusta R. Mennell
What is it about sharing a meal that brings us closer together in fellowship? Today’s guest blogger shares her experience in serving and sharing Campus Ministry meals, and how it opens the door to sharing the Gospel.
All Saints Fellowship serves homemade meals to Slippery Rock University (SRU) students once a month during the school year. This homemade Korean meal attracts many students who openly voice their approval of this delicious food, and clearly have a good time because almost every student experiences laughing and talking with other students in a stress-free environment.
As many as 70 students usually attend one of these events out of a total international enrollment at SRU of 100. Now, as successful as these monthly meals are, I have still had to consider the question: are the meals worthwhile? Are they really a useful tool for sharing the Christian faith with the students who come from many religions or from none? Do the meals make a difference? I can confidently say that yes, they do. Christmas Day proved it!
Most college students get to go home for the six-week Christmas break at SRU. A few internationals don’t get to go home because it’s too expensive for them to do so. That’s how it came about that we were able to invite students from Nepal, the British Virgin Islands, and Sri Lanka to have Christmas Day dinner at our house. At first, the conversation at the meal was all about our favorite foods, how they celebrated holidays at home and the weather. They all thought it is very cold here!
Anuj (pronounced Ah Nooge), one of the students from Nepal, commented that he had attended a school in Nepal where students from several different religions studied. He described how, as a Hindu, he had endured a deliberate time of fasting and giving up other comforts; a time in which he believed he had earned favor in his god’s eyes. That comment made it possible to open a spiritual door. In that context it was not offensive for us to explain the Christian Gospel and how it differed from his religion.
The point I’m trying to make here is that the student meals made possible our invitation to Anuj to come to Christmas dinner, where I was able to explain the Gospel to him. I ask every student who attends each meal to write his name and telephone number down on the list that I provide. Anuj attended the December student meal. At the meal I asked him if he’d be going home to Nepal during the break. He said he’d be staying here on campus. I asked if he would like to attend All Saints’ Christmas Eve worship and then come to dinner on Christmas day at our house. He said he would like to come.
After our conversation at the student meal, I underlined his name and phone number on the list so I wouldn’t forget my invitation to him. And then I almost did forget! In the past, many students have said they’d like to come to church and dinner to have time with an American family. Unfortunately, they forget or change their minds. They decide to spend Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with friends in Pittsburgh. So I did not rush to ask Anuj to come. I almost missed a wonderful opportunity! Thankfully, God reminded me through another student to call Anuj and I did. Anuj and his Nepali friend came to church for their first Christian Christmas Eve. The next day they came to our home for Christmas dinner, where he explained that he believed that all ways leads to heaven as long as the person is good or tries to be.
After Anuj expressed his belief that we could be good enough to please God, and that it didn’t matter which god we believed in, it was perfectly reasonable for me as a Christian to respond, even though Anuj was a guest in our home. I responded to Anuj’s religious view by saying that Christians believe that we can never be good enough to earn a place in Heaven, and that Jesus is the only One who is good enough because He led a sinless life because He is God’s Son.
How did Anuj respond to that? With mounting excitement we realized that Anuj was not closing his mind to what we were saying. He heard it!
And his willingness to hear what we said about Christianity came about as a result of the student meal. The meal amounted to an open door to the Gospel.
Who can describe our gratitude to God in being able to share the Gospel with an international student who had become a trusting friend? We are building on this relationship by taking him and others to the grocery store and to the mall during the break.
Other doors have been opened by the student meals. Kenzaburo’s mother, sister, and nephew came all the way from Japan to Pennsylvania to see All Saints, where Ken had been baptized, as well as to see First Trinity Oakland, where Rev. Eric Andrae was his brother and pastor. Ken had come to All Saints to study the Bible. His first student meal at All Saints led him to say that he wanted to study the Bible. His mother and sister have written to say that they have no words to express the thanks they feel for what All Saints and First Trinity meant to Ken. Although Ken died in 2016, the impact of the student meals continues in his mother and sister and his sister’s son, all of whom have now been touched by the Gospel. And the student meals have played a critically important role in that being possible.
Are student meals or any other acts of kindness worthwhile? We may feel discouraged when most unbelievers do not flock to faith, but we do not need to be discouraged. We have the right message to share. We have the words needed: that Jesus has done it all for us. All Saints’ prayer in 2017 is to share this joy-filled message with college students, American and international. Please pray for us.
Augusta R. Mennell is the Campus Ministry Director at All Saints Lutheran Church and Student Center in Slippery Rock, PA. If you have a mission or ministry story you’d like to share, please submit for consideration via email to Lynne at email@example.com