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Just start cooking…

On March 12, 2024, a barge carrying 200 tons of rice, flour, lentils, and canned meats left Cyprus. It took three days for the ship, the Open Arms, to tow the barge 210 nautical miles across the Mediterranean Sea to a makeshift jetty constructed out of rubble off the coast of Gaza. The goal according to Jose Andres, the founder of World Central Kitchen: “to establish a maritime highway of boats and barges stocked with millions of meals continuously headed toward the Gaza Strip.” Andres had been negotiating safe passage for the barge for weeks. Israeli officials had already conducted a comprehensive security check of the barge contents and the accompanying ship, but still approval was delayed. A second barge was loaded with over 500 tons of food, yet the first barge continued to be caught up in mountains of red tape keeping needed aid docked in Cyprus. Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont declared, “As long as the question of humanitarian aid is caught up in the question of who’s right and who’s wrong in this conflict, we’re not going to feed people.” With starvation reaching crisis levels in Gaza, Andres ordered the barge to set sail on Tuesday in the hope that by Friday, March 15th the barge would be allowed to offload its cargo for distribution across northern Gaza. Andres’ determination transformed the Ides of March into a day of hope.

The World Central Kitchen began in 2010 in response to the earthquake in Haiti that took over 300,000 lives and displaced 1.3 million Haitians. Jose Andres and his wife Patricia traveled to Haiti in the wake of the disaster to help in the camps. There Andres worked alongside displaced families learning the proper way to cook black beans the way Haitians like to eat them: mashed into a creamy sauce. Andres wanted to do more than just feed the hungry. He wanted to offer food that would comfort the heart of those who faced devastating loss. The dream of the World Central Kitchen was born- to create fresh meals on the front lines in response to humanitarian, climate, and community crises. For the next several years, Andres- a successful restaurateur and professor at George Washington University- created food centers across Central America to meet their growing crisis, declaring with each step that food is a basic human right. In 2017 when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, WCK was there. A month later, when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rica, a WCK team got to work, serving more than 2 million meals in the first month after the hurricane. Andres said, “We just started cooking.” 

Just start cooking is an apt unofficial motto for an organization that gets to work while most are still in the planning stages. In 2018, WCK set up kitchens to serve the Hawaiian communities devastated by a volcanic eruption. Later that year, WCK headed to South Carolina in response to Hurricane Florence, and then on to Butte County, California to bring Thanksgiving dinner to the 15,000 survivors of the Camp Fire. When Russia invaded Ukraine, WCK created meals for the people of Kharkiv, Ukraine, and then set up 8 kitchens along the Poland-Ukraine boarder to keep the food flowing. In 2023, when the Turkey-Syria earthquake hit, WCK came with hot meals as rescue workers searched the rubble for survivors. WCK set up make-shift kitchens outside Lahaina on the Maui coast, to provide over 6000 meals a day to the volunteers after the fire there. As of March 2024, World Central Kitchen has provided more than 32 million meals, using local ingredients to create meals that will bring comfort and hope in times of crisis.

Learning about the work of WCK brings Jesus and his disciples to mind. Jesus had been teaching for days. The crowd had grown into the thousands. One evening, the disciples pointed out to Jesus that the people were hungry. Most had already eaten the food they had brought with them. With no local stores large enough to feed the crowd, the disciples encouraged Jesus to send the people home. His response was to tell the disciples, “You feed them.” Do you remember their response? “We only have 5 loaves and 2 fish (the lunch offered by a little boy in the crowd).” The disciples saw the need and the scarce resources. Jesus saw the need and the potential to offer aid. By the grace of God, those 5 loaves and 2 fish became a feast enjoyed by the crowd that day, and the disciples had enough left-over for their meal the next day. Jesus’- you feed them seems to be the ancient version of just start cooking. Later, Jesus taught a parable about sheep and goats- declaring to the sheep- When I was hungry you gave me food.. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. Jesus concluded with a simple lesson- Whatever you do for the least of these you do for me. Just start cooking…

Years ago, I talked with a widow as she recounted her husband’s battle with ALS. For a decade, their lives were defined by an enemy that bit by bit stripped her husband of his ability to move, talk, eat, breathe. Those days were hard. Many friends reached out- Just let us know how we can help… Call and I’ll be there… But in the middle of a crisis, it is hard to define need, and even harder to organize help. But some people did not wait for the call. Instead, they showed up with a meal. They came to be a companion for a few hours to give her a needed break. Each card and phone call gave her the encouragement to carry on. Thank God for people who just started cooking! 

When the pandemic plunged some of our neighbors into economic crisis, the call went out to Lenape Valley for dry goods. The next day, groceries began to arrive at the door of the church and a ministry was born. Now four years later, the need in our community continues as food prices rise. Saturday at the Women’s Retreat, women arrived with bags of food for our neighbors in need. Today, carloads of food will be delivered in preparation for the next Barclay food distribution. Just start cooking! I wonder where God wants us cooking today.

With you in the kitchen with Jesus,
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