This article was originally published in the World Orphans Fall Insight Magazine 2018.
When we consider meals, we often think about the way they bring families together. As food is laid out, everyone gathers around the table, conversation flows, and families bond.
But traditionally, eating together has not been encouraged in India. Men and children were fed first. Women could only sit down to eat once the men and children were finished. In millions of impoverished homes, this practice had an unintended consequence—malnutrition among women, as at times there was no food left for the women to eat. Now, however, national campaigns are urging women to sit down at the table and eat with their families rather than after them. And the results have been encouraging.
Having grown up in a joint family, I have memories of my father encouraging me, my sister, and my mother to have a meal together with the rest of the family; whereas, our other relatives were horrified by this idea and accused my father of breaking Indian customs. When we moved into a home with only our immediate family, we felt that we could finally exercise our God-given freedoms around the dinner table. Christians sometimes feel bound by the culture of the land rather than relishing the spirit of freedom that God has given us—including the freedom to eat together as men and women, children of God that are equally loved.
Indians honor their guests, as they believe in Atithi Devo Bhava, which means ‘the guest is god-like.’ With this belief in mind, they serve guests first, and after the guests are done eating, the hosts have a meal. Additionally, Indian culture highly encourages sharing food with others. If you are dining at an Indian restaurant with a friend and both of you order different dishes, it is customary to share your dish with the other person. This reminds me about the love than can be shared by children of God.
The Indian table—with all its beautiful elements—can be a heartbreaking place for an orphaned child. Often, relatives or neighbors of an orphaned child—a child desperately in need of love and care—reject him, keeping him away from the family. Within Indian culture, an orphan is believed to be cursed, and people fear that the curse will pass from the child on to the rest of the household and the relatives. This debilitating fear of being cursed not only keeps orphaned children from being loved and cared for, but it keeps those children from enjoying a seat at the table.
Thus, we partake in a sacred rebellion when we, as caregivers, relatives, pastors, and church staff, make room for every child at the table, sharing in a meal together. When you see women and girls, orphaned boys, and old men sharing in the same food at the same table, you catch a glimpse of the family of God and the all-encompassing love of God that is greater than any perceived curse. At Bethel Gospel Church, we know just how powerful, holy, and important these meals are, and we are grateful to share them together as children of God.
We encourage all the children, the caregivers, and the pastor’s family to have meals together, as we want the children to realize that they are welcomed by God into the family. They need to get a glimpse of God’s love through the family they have in Bethel Gospel Church.