The taste of salvation
Jesus once asked his disciples, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?”
I have seen scores of creative ministries around the world that express God’s grace through service. One that will always stand out in memory is a restaurant in Lima, Peru, that I came across serendipitously. Just off a main street known for peddlers and pickpockets, I entered a beautiful colonial courtyard, vintage 1820, in a high-ceilinged room trimmed with mahogany.
The manager rustled across the room in a batik sarong to greet me and my companions, her Spanish tinged with a melodious French accent. The food was gourmet style, among the best meals I’ve ever eaten, yet at a very modest price. Waitresses glided in and out of the room, each in native costume from their African and Asian homelands. The manager explained they are Christians—not nuns, exactly, but an order of committed lay workers.
Only a few clues betray the restaurant’s spiritual roots. The inside cover of the menu proclaims “Jesus lives! For this we are happy.” And at a certain time each evening the waitresses appear together to sing a vespers hymn for their patrons. Besides these clues, said the manager, the work itself should stand as a witness. “Don’t ask us how our prayer life is going; look at our food. Is your plate clean and artfully arranged? Does your server treat you with kindness and love? Do you experience serenity here? If so, then we are serving God.”
The restaurant keeps its prices low because the women, who have taken a vow of poverty, do all the work. They cook, wait on tables, scrub floors, worship, all to the glory of God. During the day, mothers from the slums of Lima fill the same elegant room. The Missionary Workers lead training classes on basic hygiene, child-raising, and physical and spiritual health. Once off duty, the restaurant staff devote themselves to the poor, carrying out services funded by all the profits from the restaurant.
Some of Agua Viva’s wealthy patrons know of the outreach programs, and some do not. The Missionary Workers rarely talk about their work unless asked. But these sample comments in a guest book show that their unique two-edged mission is having an impact:
– “I thank the Missionary Workers for being a living reminder of simplicity and joy in the heart of Christianity. Thank you for having helped me cross to the side of Salvation.”
– “Continue to make us thirst for this Living Water whose transparent brilliance shines out through your faces.”
– “You are a most eloquent living evidence for non-believers. You are a gift of God; the Holy Spirit breathes here. Through good cooking, God is transmitted too. Thank you for your ray of sunshine in a cloudy sky.”
The same order operates restaurants in places such as Belgium, Italy, France, Czech Republic, Burkina Faso, New Caledonia, Mexico, the Philippines, and Argentina. All have the same name: L’Eau Vive in French, Agua Viva in Spanish. The English translation: Living Water.
N. T. Wright says, “What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbour as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s Kingdom.” They are also, I would add, central to our mission of showing the world grace.
Source: Adapted from Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?