Christian Stories - Christ Kitchen
by Jan Martinez
I noticed her walk into Christ Kitchen, beautiful face with averted eyes, nervous hands toying with silver bracelets adorning tattooed arms. “Can my friend, Sheryl, work today?” asked Lori, a recovering drug addict who had been coming to the Kitchen for about a month, as she jerked her thumb towards this new woman.
“Clean, sober, able to work with all of us here?” I asked bluntly with a sweep of my arm indicating the rented church kitchen filled with 15 other women who had also found their way to our door. Sheryl nodded meekly, receiving the message that there is no room for active addictions or inappropriate behavior while you’re here in this place, Christ Kitchen, a job-training program for women living in poverty in Spokane, Washington. I studied her face. Light flickered somewhere deep behind those shy, mistrusting eyes.
I knew I only had a few seconds to make an impression. Women like Sheryl who come to Christ Kitchen, some poor, some isolated, some who’ve been beaten down all their lives, have uncanny radar to detect who is safe and who is not. It’s a split second test disguised behind tough facades designed to protect a battered self buried deep inside. “Oh, Jesus,” I prayed, “make me safe to her. How did You do it at the well with the Samaritan woman? Make me open and available like that. Make me tough and smart. Whatever she needs, let it be met here today.” I smiled at her. “I’m glad you came,” I said, meaning it, praying she would hear truth behind her walls of defense. “Bible study starts in five minutes and after that we’re packaging our Blessed Bean Soup on the assembly lines set up in the fellowship hall. We gather back together for a hot meal at noon around this big table and that’s when you’ll have a chance, if you feel like it, to tell us a bit about yourself and let us know how we might pray for you. You up for it?” She nodded and hesitantly smiled back at me as if surprised at the acknowledgement or kindness. “Oh, Lord,” I whispered as she joined the group of women gathering for Bible study, “let her be surprised at Your joy in this place. Let it draw her to Your living water.”
To reveal Christ to women trapped in poverty is essentially the goal of Christ Kitchen. By offering work and job training, we are also able to provide group support, individual discipleship, and fellowship. The work itself is not difficult or technical. We make delicious packages of dried food products with clever names like Disciple (12 Bean) Soup, Chariots of Chile, Corn Bread of Life, Testament Tea, and Benevolent Brownies which we sell via mail order and through various churches and Christian events. Christian music, laughter, and conversation accompany tasks like mixing ingredients, cutting labels, or tying bows. I chuckled one day as a woman declared, “I’ve never had so much fun in church!”
Most often, however, neither fun nor church is what draws women to Christ Kitchen. The incentive to walk in the door is usually money, six hours of work at minimum wage, paid in cash at the end of the day. Some women come to earn enough to pay off a bill, make rent money, or buy diapers. Many are on disability or government assistance of some kind and can’t make ends meet particularly when it comes to buying medical prescriptions. Many women echo the sentiment of one gal who said, “I came for the money, but now I stay for the fellowship.”
Others, like Sheryl, come with a friend who has found a lifeline in the Kitchen’s Bible study and supportive atmosphere, a way out of loneliness and despair. Fractured relationships, the most common characteristic among the women, begin to heal as they talk and work together, telling their stories, revealing their hurts, confessing their sins. Christ knew the Samaritan woman’s need to accept the truth of her life before she could worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). When supported, women can learn how to manage the truths of their lives. They learn how to laugh over imperfections, tease each other through transitions, weep with each other over defeats, sigh over misfortune, rejoice and praise at the slightest victory.
And so I smiled as the other women warmly welcomed Sheryl into their circle, each trying to lessen the terror they once felt being “the new woman.” Each can recall her own first step inside our door, daring to start back to work after raising kids or Cain, after husbands have left, after illness, age, abuse, addiction or injury has destroyed. I often marvel at their ability to accept new women into their fellowship. Such simple friendship creates a caring, evangelistic environment for women yet unwilling or unable to care for themselves very well. Community is essential to learning how to take care of oneself. Within their circle, they pass on instruction knowing that the truth will set them free (John 8:32).
But freedom is a process. Just like the Samaritan woman climbing the hill to Jacob’s well alone at midday (John 4:67), many Kitchen workers have felt the chains of sin and rejection. Avoiding judgment and hiding guilt most of their lives, they don’t need to be told the Samaritan woman’s reason for drawing water alone at the well only when the other women of the village have left. They don’t attend our church services, friendship coffees, or faith conferences. They explain, like any other woman, “I don’t have the clothes for it,” which we all know means ‘I don’t fit in there,’ ‘I wouldn’t be accepted there.’ With neglect, abuse, and failure so often their life’s classroom, and fractured relationships as their teachers, many have escaped into poor health, harmful relationships, and bad decisions. At Christ Kitchen we simply want to meet the women when they come to the well, point to the Bearer of Living Water, create a community of village women who do understand and will help draw the water.
Sheryl told me that it took her about an hour to feel comfortable that first day. She hadn’t wanted to come, having not worked in eight years. She was scared, but she trusted her friend’s opinion that they needed organized Bible study to grow their newfound faith and more fellowship than Narcotics Anonymous offered. “I felt God’s peace in the Kitchen right away,” she told me later. “I knew He had brought me here, because nobody judged me or looked at me differently. Everybody was trying to change her own life just like me. They were looking at Jesus looking for a new way.”
Grief filled her introduction of herself to us that first day. Sheryl’s man of 14 years had just died the week before. “I don’t know how to do it by myself,” she confessed during prayer time. “He’s always taken care of me.” He made her promise, after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, to leave him and get clean. “He said he couldn’t protect me any more, and my only chance was to leave our old way of life, to go into treatment. He was leaving me high and dry, and I felt totally worthless and incompetent,” she told us, tears streaming down her face. “I cried out to God, ‘Please help me get clean! Show me a new way! ’”
And Jesus was just sitting at the well waiting for her to come fill up her jars. Living Water flowed into her life and then led her to treatment, friends like Lori at NA, and now a whole fellowship of women at Christ Kitchen. That light I saw flickering on our first meeting grew into a steady flame. “I feel loved here,” Sheryl now declares. “I get God’s guidelines, and it helps me stay accountable. I need to stay connected with these women, pray and read my Bible, in order to walk a righteous path.”
And so like the Samaritan woman, Sheryl joyfully tells others, “Come and see!” (John 4:29). She’s brought numerous other women to Christ Kitchen and always has her eye on the front door, waiting for the next newcomer to walk in. Gently, joyfully, she puts her arm around them, nods understandingly at their story, calls them on their errors, and praises God when they too believe and testify that this Man really is the Savior of the world.
As the Director of Christ Kitchen I have the privilege of seeing Christ change people’s lives just as He did Sheryl’s. The Lord gave me the idea for the Kitchen when I was trying to get a Bible study started with my patients at Christ Clinic, a volunteer medical clinic serving the poor in Spokane. Out of sheer frustration over low attendance, I blurted out, “They’d come if we’d pay them!” And so began our little business of selling beans so that God could go about His big business of saving lives.
I pray for other village women to hear Christ’s urging to “open your eyes and look at the fields” (John 4:35), just as His disciples did upon finding Him at the well with the Samaritan woman. Hundreds of isolated, disenfranchised women living in your town, who wouldn’t dare draw near the well, are waiting for you to meet them where they are with your clear, unconstrained invitation to “come and see the Man who really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:29,42).
Jan welcomes all inquiries regarding Christ Kitchen and their products. Contact: Jan Martinez, 5708 South Glendora Lane, Spokane, Washington 99223. Telephone: 509-448-4421, Fax: 509-448-1438, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at www.christkitchen.org