FLAVORS: Food, tea aid couple's ministry
EDITOR'S NOTE: In a series of stories called Flavors of the World, the International Mission Board is noting how food can be used as a tool to build relationships and to share the Gospel. Here is one of the stories from that series that Baptist Press will release periodically.
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- It took trips to three different stores, an all-day wait for the dough to rise, and clever planning to use the electric oven despite the daily power outages. But Reece and Justina Dehn* knew it was all worth it when they watched a tiny Nepalese grandmother eat her first slice of pizza.
She scraped off the cheese and ate that part first. Then she scooped up the tomato sauce and ate it. Last, she finished off the crust, leaving nothing on the plate.
When Justina served homemade orange sherbet, the grandmother downed two full bowls.
"America Day" -- when the Christian couple invited some Nepalese friends to their home to eat American food -- had been a success.
Living in Nepal has shown the Dehns the significance of building relationships and showing hospitality to those around them.
"We drink a lot of tea and visit a lot of homes," Justina says with a laugh.
Sometimes friends invite them over. Sometimes they are invited by people they meet while walking along the street.
Often the Dehns wait in a room by themselves while their hosts head to the market to purchase tea and cookies. In Nepal, guests can never leave a house until they've had something to drink and something to eat.
"In the beginning they will never partake with you, because you're the honored guest," Reece says. "So if we get invited for tea or a meal, we sit and eat and they sit and watch." But after a relationship has developed, it's different, they say. Then "when we go to their house it's like family. We all sit down and eat together. It's really cool. It really touches your heart."
Their hosts sometimes offer them black tea with milk, sometimes spiced with delicious cinnamon and cardamom. Other times they offer black tea sprinkled with pepper. Another type of tea is made from a leaf that tastes like ocean water (not the Dehns' favorite).
Spending time with these gracious, soft-spoken people has allowed the Dehns, they say, to build lasting relationships.
But sometimes it's not so easy.
On one occasion, the Dehns took their family to visit a local church planter's home village.
The villagers refused to look them in the eye. No one offered tea. Normally hospitable people seemed hostile and strange, the Dehns thought.
So the couple began to pray. They decided to return with a team of volunteers to prayerwalk through the village.
The morning of the trip, everything seemed to go wrong. The encountered a variety of distractions. A couple of those unexpected obstacles included their young daughter falling and cutting her lip, and every toilet in the house breaking down at once.
Despite feeling heavy in spirit, the family and four American volunteers went to the village, planning to walk and pray for an open door.
Instead, as soon as they arrived, dozens of men and women appeared, eager to talk to them -- a complete change from the earlier visit. The Dehns and others explained Bible stories, talked with children and eventually led six people to Christ, starting a new church.
They later drank tea with the new believers.
The family often travels to spend the night with local believers in the villages, walking beside them and spending one-on-one time with them. Reece trains a small group of about 11 believers to go out and work with their own people, to disciple new believers and start strong, healthy churches.
Justina says, "Our heart is in South Asia."
*Names changed. Susan O'Hara was an IMB summer intern. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).