Come to the table
Posted on March 31, 2015 by VMMissions Staff
Micah, Adam & Isaiah enjoy a New Year’s meal with friends at the home of Elena’s sister. Photo: Chris Riddle
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
These words of Christ at the end of Matthew compel us to make disciples of the people that we meet, wherever we meet them. We go forth with the knowledge that Christ is not only there with us, but was there before us and will continue to be there after we depart. What does it mean though for us to make disciples and what does it look like? How do we go about this work of ‘making disciples’? How did Christ do this work?
When we look at the Scriptures, we see many times Christ taught his disciples and others when seated at the table for a meal. The stories in John 2:1-11 (Jesus changes water into wine), Matthew 26:17-30 (the Last Supper), Mark 2:15-16 (Jesus dines with tax collectors and sinners) and Luke 19:1-10 (Jesus goes to stay with Zacchaeus the tax collector), along with many others, are set with Jesus at the table.
These are stories of people eating together, enjoying each other’s company, and at the same time learning in community. These were also times to sit with what some would call enemies, as in the story in Luke 14:1-14 (Jesus heals a man at a Pharisee’s house).
The idea of meeting around the table for a meal and talking, listening and telling stories is all a part of the Mediterranean culture and has been for centuries. It is a tradition that continues even today. During our time in Italy, we were able to experience fellowship and community at the table many, many times. These were opportunities for us to share in the lives of people and to share with them the hope of Christ.
Melody and Ines prepare panzarotti, a type of filled pastry, for a New Year’s celebration with the family of Luigi and Elena. Photo: Chris Riddle
There were two families in particular that we ate with regularly. The first family had come out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and for many years, this group forbid them to interact with their families. This group restricted them from going to Christmas or Easter meals with their families. They could not attend an event held in a Roman Catholic Church building, such as a funeral or wedding of a family member. These regulations tore at their hearts and divided the family.
As our relationship grew with this family, we realized how close knit they were, as many Italian families are. Every Sunday the extended family would gather at the parents’ home for lunch; it was tradition. After some time, a couple of family members came to one of our “Family Nights” at church. Soon after that event, their family invited us to one of their family events for a meal. At each of these meals, we talked about food, sports and politics, but there were always questions about what we believed and we were able to share our faith within the family. It was a true blessing to be able to be at the table with them.
The second family invited us to lunch once and it grew into a weekly event for over two years. When we started, the husband said to us more than once, “I cannot put faith in a god who permits so much evil to happen! I am an atheist.” We remained at the table with him.
During our time in Italy, we were able to experience fellowship and community at
the table many, many times.
Time passed, meals were shared and the message of the Gospel of Christ was told over and over. The love that flows out of the Gospel over flowed into the life of this family. The wife accepted Christ and received baptism. The husband began to read the Bible and in less than one year read it completely. The relationship between husband and wife improved as did the relationship between the father and his two children. All of this took place as we interacted at the table.
We are no longer in Italy and do not have the opportunity to be with these families regularly. They, however, continue to grow and share the Gospel with those around them. Both families are a part of the current Bible study, “Experiencing God”, which meets twice a month at the Bari church. They are also reaching out to their extended family with the message of the Gospel and they are doing it at the table of fellowship.
This is our goal within the church; to bring people to relationship with Christ (make disciples) so that they can do the same in the future. It is a joy and an honor when we see this lived out. It is a pleasure to do this work when we come to the table.
From Transforming, Spring 2015