It started as an idea to grill together, as adults who have worked in NETwork’s garden. But the moment our grill began to glow, children came from all directions, something I had not anticipated. “Can we eat too?” My first split-second change of thought: “Well, go ask your families first.” I had planned for 12 volunteers, but now nearly every kid comes back saying,
“I can stay!” One even invited her mom! My second split-second mental adjustment: okay, anyone who eats, must work. We will gather more food. We will stir-fry, boil, or bathe it in ranch dressing, the Kids Club favorite. “You and you, fill this pan with those sweet little yellow tomatoes! You and you, help the griller! You and you, pick more green beans! And this team, set a place for each at the tables.” What? Now 27 guests! Another split-second choice on my part: press on, in faith. Let no one be turned away. Quiet the crowd! Say a prayer of blessing! Tell everyone in the room, “Gather ‘round! Rejoice!” The miracle of people from many ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds sitting together, sharing good food and conversation made me blink tears. I walked out back into the night air, only to find three more people!
“Can we eat?” Was this a simple request, or a challenge? “I’m on probation,” one of the teens volunteers. I sensed what they want to communicate: “We’re part of the tough group that hangs around here. So, what about us?” Another breathe of prayer, another split-second decision. “Umm, everyone inside worked to help make this meal. It’s only fair that they should eat first. But if there’s enough, you can come too.” Going back inside, I tell the helpers, “Cut the beef franks in half! Make the little that’s left enough.” Then to the three, I say, “Come. Take a seat with those who have worked hard to make this happen. Get to know us, and let us get to know you. Look around. This is what a community garden should be. Sharing. Friendship. Good food. Celebration. You are welcomed.” In that moment, I had another split-second thought change influenced by words from Jesus’ wedding banquet story, in Matthew 22: “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you can find.”