In 2015, I left Taylor University armed with a diploma and a desire to change the world. In early spring of that year, the European migrant crisis shook the seas. Thousands of people crowded into boats not built to hold the volume of their needs. Many vessels would sink. Most people would drown. Only a few months after I walked across a stage in Upland, Indiana, a photograph of a three-year-old Syrian boy laying face down in the sand would rattle our world.
“Wake up,” we would shout at his body, too small for the horrors he had experienced.
His lifeless form seemed to shout the same; his charge would cut to our hearts.
“Wake up and see the horrors happening in this world.”
Armed with passion and little else, I saw the pictures and heard the stories and knew I had to do something, anything. An ache filled my bones. This wasn’t right. Human beings deserved a home, a safe place to belong.
Armed with something different
This week, nearly six years after I walked across that makeshift stage in Indiana, I slid off my shoes for the thousandth time and entered the home of a family I’d never met before. The friends I’d come with introduced me to the husband and wife and their two kids—a Burmese family seeking asylum. They offered me a seat on their couch, and while the kids played and the adults talked, I took it all in.
I saw my friends’ beautiful caramel-colored skin and dark hair—Burmese and Bengali blood pumping through their veins. I saw Arabic writing decorating their walls. I smelled the unforgettable mix of curry and onions and garlic and something else I’ve never been able to identify. I heard kids laughing and adults talking to each other in Burmese. I felt the comradery of people coming together, uniting over shared values and beliefs and traditions.
At 7:39, we moved to the dining room where someone had laid a plastic tablecloth on the floor. I settled into the corner near the kids who spoke English. The wife filled my plate with fried rice. Someone else handed me a date. Around me I heard mumblings that sounded more like Arabic than Burmese, and I realized I was listening to the traditional words Muslims say when they break their fast during Ramadan.
If only 2015 Kate could have seen me then. I imagine she would have been excited and jealous and slightly horrified, because how would this change the world?
That sacred space around the table
To be fair, I’m not sure I am, but I’d rather sit here—gathered around a table I never could have found on my own—than anywhere else.
I’d rather be at the table than anywhere else.
The table has always been a sacred space for me. As a kid, my family gathered around it every day. We rarely started a meal until we’d filled every cup and seat. For me, the table has been and always will be a place of belonging. It’s the host of a million tiny moments that make family and friendships deeper and sweeter than before.
This week I got to sit around another table with my friends from Burma. They are mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and refugees or those seeking asylum. And it was an honor to sit with them. It was an honor to break bread with them.
It is an honor, and it is humbling. It’s humbling to sit in a room buzzing with language you can’t speak or understand. It’s humbling to be invited to a single meal that costs well more than your weekly grocery budget. It’s humbling to step into a stranger’s home as a friend. It’s humbling to watch the Lord deconstruct your mighty plans for how to change the world and leave you with something simpler and far more beautiful—the table, sustenance, bread and wine, body and blood poured out for us.
The Bread and Wine
In the end, isn’t that what all of this reduces too?
Bread and wine.
Body and blood.
The place we belong.
So I will keep gathering around the table of my friends. I will break bread and drink from the cup. And day after day, I will bring it back to Jesus, the one who moved into the neighborhood, who gathered in a home that wasn’t His, who sat around a table with those He loved. The One who gave everything for everyone.