By Jung Lee
When I first got close to Sean he was in a place of devastation. The dreams he had to serve in South Africa as a missionary had been utterly shattered within months of his arrival. Marked with scars of his pain and loneliness we got to know each other little by little. However, since then we have worked together to restore his life as a Christian, and surrounded him with a loving community.
For the past few months God has been faithful. Currently, he has a great community that respects and loves him, and has numerous small scale yet meaningful ministries to fill up his schedule. One top of that he has been working as an intern at one of the top 5 restaurants in South Africa to keep up with his culinary skills.
When his anger and resentment from the initial experience of being a missionary subsided God gave us an idea. Hence we began the ministry, “Sean’s Dinner Party.” So how it all works is that by weekly we randomly chose a house in a new area. Then we asked the family if we can cook and serve a dinner for the entire family with only two rules in mind. They are as follows if anyone who is not on the list joins us on the day we don’t proceed, and if anyone is drunk or drinking we don’t proceed. We don’t promote or share what we believe. We do however try to guide the dinner conversation so that it includes the whole family; no arguing or rebuking. Everyone has a place at the table from the youngest to the oldest, so that no one is left out.
It was our second week when we visited Thobani’s house. On the menu was spaghetti bolognaise and a cheese cake dessert. We brought with us a table and chairs which initially didn’t quite fit, so we had to remove a sofa to make a room for the dining table. Nine chairs were set up and the table cloth was spread. The initial interview said there would be three males, three females and three children, but there were only two females and four male adults when we arrived. I almost had to put a stop to it because the list didn’t match up. However, I soon realized Thobani who was twenty-four years old was a mentally handicapped and was counted as a female person. He wasn’t even considered as a man.
Settling in the sixty-year-old mother started to share about the family. She mentioned that she was the sole bread winner of the house with her job as a HIV counsellor. The four men and the woman aged in their thirties and forties haven’t held a steady job in a long time. The mother shared it bitterly and tyrannically at the same time. They were a typical township family full of anger, resentments towards each other, and not much to hope for. On top of all of that Thobani’s disability, and his 48-year-old fathers (mother’s brother) erratic behavior piled onto the existing stresses of township life.
Sean introduced himself and the dinner plan serving generous amounts of food on each plate. The family enjoyed the meal and started to make pleasant conversation. Everyone was included from the youngest to the oldest, enjoying each other’s company and sharing each other’s laughter. Thobani got into such a good mood he started to hug me and kept on saying “Where are you going? Where are you going?” in Xhosa. It didn’t make sense at all, but the family started to laugh with him in joy. I could see that he was happy. He even started to eat all the leftovers that was put away into a Tupperware bowl. The family was enjoying the awkward and silly actions of Thobani who was not accepted as a man in the family.
Then it hit me. What God was doing through the Sean’s Dinner Party was giving people trapped in pain and anger a chance to be free. Since we came to them by random no one in the family could take credit for what was transpiring and no one in the family felt inferior (or superior) to one another. They were equal without anger or resentment towards each other. The mother said that usually when dinner is served, each of them take their plates and disappear, no conversation, no thanks. Just silence. It was giving them the freedom to be who they could be. A window into what the family could potentially be if they had no problems or issues. How they could enjoy each other without feeling burdened or weighted.
As the night came to a close Thobani was still eating the last bits of the Spaghetti Bolognaise and family was still smiling at him. Once finished, he went to Sean and hugged him tapping his chest as if he wanted to hug Sean chest to chest.
Next week, another family.