Something for the weekend! In this sample chapter from Simply Eat, Marijke Hoek shares her experience of hosting Syrian refugees, and the powerful role food played in building relationship and opening the door to faith. There is also a deliciously healthy, vegetarian Dutch recipe!
I was contacted by a refugee charity and asked if I could host a Kurdish couple who in the midst of their asylum claim process had found themselves locked out of their attic flat as the Home Office had stopped paying for the rent. The solicitor would prepare an emergency court case to challenge this decision, but in the meantime, they were homeless. So I picked up two strangers on whose faces I could read the stress they had been under. In a foreign land, not having mastered the language yet, confused by the randomness of the Home Office decision and completely dislocated – once again. They stayed at my home for three weeks.
Being an immigrant myself, I remembered how difficult it is to leave home. I was moved by their account and had respect for their resilience. It was a joy to accompany them to some appointments at the bank or the GP. We enjoyed a concert by a Syrian refugee orchestra. Their faces beamed when they heard familiar music and saw the wonderful ethnic mix of the audience. Some of the older Syrian men danced in the aisles. We all stood and cheered them on. When the first violinist said, ‘In moments like this I feel at home’, the Kurdish couple nodded in agreement.
Preparing food also made them feel at home. On many a day I would come home and the table had been set. I ate some lovely dishes and was introduced to new tastes. And they enjoyed my Dutch lentil dish too! At dinner we would talk about our day. We would Google what we couldn’t put into words and laugh about the tricky English language. We would talk about our families back home and wonder about the days ahead. These were simple meals, yet rich. Unforgettable, in fact.
I invited them to church. They loved it. The kindness of people who were strangers to them spoke louder than words. A good thing too, as language was still a barrier. In fact, from the moment they arrived in the UK they found themselves bumping into the people of God: the foodbank run by a church; the English language class facilitated by a Christian; a place to stay at my home … The hospitality they enjoyed seemed to be the way of Jesus.
Back in their home village they had seen the Jesus film in a home cinema and it had made them cry. Here in a new land, the followers of Christ were providing them with a bed, bath and bread. Hospitality creating a place of refuge; Christians reweaving society in which such huge gaps emerge. Love, said American bishop Michael Curry at Harry and Meghan’s wedding, is a dynamic power to heal the world: ‘When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.’ Love creates a new human family.
‘God sets the lonely in families’, the psalmist says in Psalm 68:6. And indeed, we were a proper little household. In God’s house there are ‘many rooms’ (John 14:2). And in my house there is one spare room. Throughout our life we enjoy the benefits of the Father’s household and we can bring honour to Him by the way we live – by the way we love.
During the Sunday service, we prayed for justice to be done. Our prayer was heard when a fortnight later the judge addressed the injustice and ordered the UK government to continue to provide accommodation for them until the asylum procedure was completed. On Friday afternoon we said goodbye. A Bible in their own language was now a much-valued addition to their meagre belongings. I gave them the address of a church in their new home town. On Sunday morning they texted me a selfie: ‘Hi, Marijke, your friends at church, they’re very welcome.’
The way of love continues.
Dutch Lentil Bake Serves 4
- 350g green lentils
- 3 eggs
- 1 small tub double cream 150g grated cheese
- 1 finely cut onion
- 1 small tin sweetcorn 100g cashew nuts
- Salt, pepper, nutmeg
- Salad ingredients of your choice
1. Cook green lentils in a pan with water for about 30 minutes until lentils are soft.
2. Drain the water and put lentils in a bowl.
3. Add the eggs, double cream, grated cheese, finely cut onion, sweetcorn and cashew nuts to the lentils.
4. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
5. Place in an oven dish at 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6 for 20 minutes.
6. Serve with salad.
Check back next week for another tasty sample from Simply Eat!