EDITOR’S NOTE: In a series of stories called Flavors of the World, the International Mission Board is noting how food can be used as a tool to build relationships and to share the Gospel. Here is one of the stories from that series that Baptist Press will release periodically.
SOUTH ASIA (BP) — At her dining room table, Emily McFarland* follows the pattern in a booklet for drawing henna, a tattoo-like art of storytelling.
Drawing symbols for stories from the Bible, McFarland is preparing to welcome some neighborhood women — Hindus and Catholics — to her home for a cooking class. However, in the quiet moments with the group, McFarland plans to share the Bible story represented by the drawings on her hand.
In the past, McFarland, an International Mission Board representative, had hosted a cooking class in a different city and led two of the women in committing their lives to the Lord.
When her family moved to their current apartment complex five years ago, McFarland helped out with Easter celebrations for the children, Christmas gatherings for the families and some Bible studies, but all of them dwindled over time.
A year and a half ago, McFarland gave some recipes to one of the Christian women. Her friend enjoyed them and suggested the idea of a cooking class. Since McFarland, a mother of four, had been looking for another avenue to share her faith, she saw this as an opportunity. So, she started the cooking class with the henna stories.
After hosting the classes for about 17 months, McFarland planned to return to the States for several months to spend time with extended family.
On this final night, McFarland enters her kitchen where she pulls out two trays and fills them with ingredients from her cupboards.
The doorbell rings and the neighborhood women dressed in colorful western-type tops or longer South Asian tops with dupattas (a long scarf) come through the door.
Some of the women have a child or two in tow and soon send them off to join McFarland’s children who range in age from 5 to 11. The kids either play downstairs or watch a movie in the living room.
With the children entertained and the women settling around her dining room table, McFarland starts the lesson by bringing over one tray at a time and mixing the ingredients together.
Just as she has done each week, while an item cooks or the women taste the final product, McFarland shares the Bible story drawn on her hand.
Until now, the women have listened quietly without any questions, but this week, Julie asks McFarland, “Where do you go to church?”
McFarland is encouraged whenever she is asked about her faith. Turning to her friend with wavy black hair and dark brown eyes, McFarland describes the area where she attends church.
During non-vegetarian classes, which alternated with classes on vegetarian dishes, the women from Catholic backgrounds often were the only ones who attended and would spend more time talking.
“They would ask me questions about how I did things,” McFarland said. “I was able to share with them how the things I do in my life were things that I did because God led me to do them, and also how He gives me strength to do the things I do.”
One woman in particular took a bold step by sharing about Christmas in her daughter’s school.
For the last cooking class, the small group of women head to the dining area after pulling the last of the apple fritters from the oil for McFarland to finish glazing them in the kitchen.
When McFarland comes out from the kitchen, she receives a surprise as her friends break their huddle and present her with a homemade card and gift.
McFarland reads the card but asks if she should open the gift, knowing South Asians do not usually open gifts in front of the giver. The women encourage her to open it, wanting to see her reaction.
Opening the gift, McFarland finds silver fish earrings and ankle chains. As she puts on the earrings, the women explain how they had heard the fish symbol has religious significance.
McFarland shares how the early Christians had picked the fish symbol as a way to find out who other Christians were. They chose the fish because Jesus had told His followers, some of whom had been fishermen, that He would make them fishers of men.
With the classes over, McFarland hopes to return to doing a Bible study with other friends she will make in her future outreach in Asia.
“Many of the Hindu ladies heard Bible stories beyond the Christmas story for the first time ever,” McFarland said. “I was also able to give them all a copy of the Bible stories and the henna designs in a small coffee table-type book.”
McFarland says the end of her cooking class coincided with the last story in the set she had chosen to use for sharing Bible stories, going from Creation to the resurrection. “I didn’t plan that [perfect ending]. God did that for me.”
*Name changed. Hope Livingston is a writer serving among the peoples of South Asia. Keep up with ministry in South Asia at southasianpeoples.imb.org. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).