– by Caren Teichmann My favorite days of the week are Tuesday and Wednesday because these are the days I go to the apartment to work with the clients of World Relief in Nashville.
It is a blessing and a joy to walk around outside, to greet people as they come for English class, to enter their homes or simply stand at the doorsteps and visit with them. I want to learn their names, know their families and eventually hear their stories. I hope they think of me as a friend; or if that is too much to ask, at least as someone who cares about them, is glad they are here and wants to help them adjust to life in Nashville.
The time I spend here each week practicing what I have come to call simply a ministry of presence is an honor and a privilege. It has caused me lately to wonder if the most important thing in all ministry shouldn’t be budgets, committee meetings or worship planning but instead to know people by name, break bread with them, listen to their stories and tell our own, and let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that we do not only like them, but truly love them.
A few weeks ago, on Valentine’s Day, I stopped by to visit my Burmese friends. It was their first Valentine’s Day in Nashville, so I brought them some candy and cards. I told them this holiday is about celebrating the love of family and friends. They nodded their heads in understanding and then taught me how to say “I love you” in Burmese.
After a little while, the mother went into their small kitchen. She took a large bowl of noodles and placed it on the table.
She called for her daughter and me to come there and she handed us three bowls, three spoons and a bowl of water. We set three places at the table and sat down. The mother brought a bowl of broth and a plate of cabbage from the kitchen. She sat down and she put some noodles into each or our bowls. She handed me the broth and the cabbage and gestured for me to put it on top of the noodles and then to mix it all up. I watched as she and her daughter did the same. When they stopped stirring their bowls and took a bite, I did too.
This meal we shared together was an intimate and sacred event. Sitting at their table, I was the vulnerable one. They filled my plate and cup and encouraged me to eat and drink. Much more happened at that meal than simply satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. This Valentine’s Day lunch for me was more than celebrating love of friends and family. Around the table, our relationship grew. It was a celebration where we became family, friends, community – yes, one body.
“…but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” John 15: 15-17
Caren is a student at Vanderbilt University Divinity School currently interning with World Relief Nashville for the 2011-2012 academic year.Photo by RBCreative Photography