Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Night of Hot Pot & The Body of Christ

The room was full of chatter and laughter, loud enough to force you to get real close to hear the person beside you, language barrier and all aside. Composed of an intriguing blend of unfamiliar spices, the aroma lingered thick in the air as I scooted from table to table, finding a path around the room, and greeting so many friends from neat and far. The spread of food laid across the tables was captivating as well--ranging from all familiar colorful veggies and rice noodles to the unfamiliar  territory of quail eggs and fish balls. The eclectic center pieces consisted of pots atop butane burners, rolling at a slow boil for hours. The faces at the tables in front of me happened to be the most diverse of all, some having traveled from five blocks down the street and others having left everything familiar, just a short five thousand miles away.

This night only comes once a year and let me tell you, it is an experience unlike any other! As I was inviting some friends to come and help me pull of this event and trying to accurately explain it, I often gave up and just summed it up with a quick "I guess you'll just have to be there--then it will all make sense!" At the beginning of every spring semester, the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (where I work!) has an incredible opportunity to host this "Hot Pot" night with the University's International Students and Scholars Office. The purpose of this event is to provide a unique meal and fun night of new friends for about eighty international students who just arrived to Fayetteville several days before to begin studying at the University.

A traditional Hot Pot meal is completely designed around relationships. Unlike our typical meals which focus on eating and getting to the next thing, Hot Pot is enjoyed at a much slower pace. Basically students and families gathered around a table with a divided pot in the center, boiling atop a butane burner. There was a wide spread of traditional hot pot ingredients across the table. Since its origins stem from China, part of our preparation required going to an Asian market in order to find some of the more "traditional" hot pot ingredients.

For starters, there was a tray of raw chicken, cut up and some beef meatballs. In another tray we had mushrooms, tomatoes, baby corns, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, sprouts, potatoes, tofu, quail eggs, fish balls, rice balls, and plenty of noodles to name a few of the ingredients. Each pot has a spicy sauce in one side and a medium sauce in the other side, which you just mix into the water, adding more as needed.

When everyone gathers around, you just start throwing ingredients into the pot, let it all cook for a few minutes and then serve it into bowls around the table. The fun part is figuring what to combine and which flavoring you like best. As you're eating and talking, you throw more ingredients into the pot and let them cook. Repeating this process aging and again--for hours (or until you realize you might explode)!

This year, Hot Pot was a particularly special for me. Since I'm only one person and could never intentionally get to know and pursue relationship with 80 new international friends, it only made sense to invite in some other friends who could! Since I had set up ten tables for our event, I figured it would be awesome for each table to have at least one American student or family to help them with Hot Pot, but more then anything just to get to know them. I was blown away by the willingness of so many dear friends, mostly from my church family, who were willing to come (some even with young kiddos who are all over the place!) with excitement and desire to get to know some of these new students.

There was one point, midway through the event, where I found a second to pause and step back. As I looked out across that room, I saw the body of Christ in such a rare and precious way. It took everything in me to hold back the tears of gratitude for this glimpse of God's grace and faithfulness. Even when many had their own various reservations and demanding schedules, over twenty folks prioritized being at Hot Pot simply because they want to meet and know these new friends from all over the world! Watching this scene play out before me, served as a tiny glimpse of what I imagine Heaven will be like one day. My church family is in this with me. They were there, getting to know these students because they are for what God is doing among them!

Recently our pastor has been preaching through the book of Galatains. In chapter 4, Paul talks about how we, as believers, are called to freedom, and we ought to use that freedom not as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, to serve one another. (Gal. 5:13) As I read that, this scene comes to mind--these friends did just that!

The following week I was meeting with two international friends to share the hope that I have with them, and when we sat down at the table they looked at each other, and then at me. One of them said, "Courtney, can we ask you a question? We were just wondering why all those people were so kind and welcoming to us at the Hot Pot event? They were so friendly, we were very surprised." 

To which I was able to tell them that it's simply because those folks know how deeply loved they are by their Heavenly Father, that they get the joy of showing genuine love and hope others they meet. I got to share the Gospel with them, which neither had heard before. They literally asked me why none of the Christians back home had ever told them this Truth.

There weren't songs sung or hands raised that night, but these friends worshipped, offering themselves, their time even, the Truth they have to share, as a sacrifice--and look at how God is already at work as a result!

I'm not biased, but I am--these friends (and others who couldnt be there!) are truly great--simply because they are servants of the Greatest One! (Matt. 23:11)

I encourage you to lean into the body of Christ. Be a faithful member of a healthy church. Serve together and share the Gospel together. Plan a Hot Pot night--seriously, you won't be disappointed!

"Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speak oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies--in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen," (1 Pet. 4:8-11)