This article was originally published in the World Orphans Fall Insight Magazine 2018.
In the New Testament, the name Emmanuel means ‘God with us.’ God desires to be with us—to be in relationship with us. Out of his desire for relationship, we understand the human craving for it, and in this, we see the very nature of God reflected. We recognize God’s longing for relationship throughout the course of the Bible, including in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, when he says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” He could have concluded with, “I will come in,” but in saying, “and eat with that person, and they with me,” we see his desire for relationship with us. Therefore, sitting around a table has more value than mere food consumption.
Ethiopian interactions frequently take place at the table. Ethiopians dine together, share three rounds of coffee, and invite friends and neighbors over for dinner on holidays. In Ethiopia, it is unnecessary to set a time and day to host someone in your home. If a guest visits your house, you provide them with food and a hot cup of coffee. This form of hospitality is a customary practice in every Ethiopian home.
Our eating traditions are rooted not only in culture, but in Scripture, as we are “distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.” Hospitality is highly valued throughout Ethiopia—whether it’s directed at family or a stranger. Ethiopians often feel like stewards of their homes. Thus, they serve others within their homes without reservation, holding fast to the Ethiopian saying, “A house is owned by God.” Thus, the opportunity to be hospitable is both culturally significant and deeply spiritual.
At dinner time, a big, traditional plate that can serve more than five people is placed in front of those seated at the table. Injera (Ethiopian bread) and wet (stew) is presented on the plate, and everyone eats from the same plate. People offer each other gursha, ‘a handful of injera and wet served directly from one person’s hand to another person’s mouth.’ This demonstrates both affection towards the person receiving the food, as well as concern for the person’s well-being and sustenance. Though some places throughout Ethiopia have moved towards individual place settings, the traditional shared plate remains customary in most places throughout Ethiopia.
As I consider the World Orphans staff members, Journey Trip participants, and Church Partnership trip participants that have sat in my home and shared meals with me throughout the years, I am grateful. I like to serve my guests traditional, spicy Ethiopian meals, and I cannot refrain from smiling when someone’s first experience of injera with hot sauce burns her mouth and makes her eyes water. The willingness of guests to eat my food without hesitation or complaint brings me immense amounts of joy.
Once I’ve served a meal to my guests, I serve them coffee. When serving coffee in Ethiopia, the beans must always be freshly roasted. It is precious to me when my guests help with roasting or serving the coffee. Their participation in the coffee ceremony is not only a manifestation of our love for one another and unity in Christ, but it shows me that they feel comfortable and welcome in my home.
Following coffee, I enjoy playing a game like UNO with my family and friends. The house fills with laughter and joy-filled screaming. I have many wonderful memories of these fun-filled hours with the people that mean so much to me. Throughout the course of the time together, whether during dinner, coffee, or the post-coffee game time, important conversations unfold—conversations that would not have taken place otherwise.
Through my work with World Orphans, I have been granted the privilege of hosting many people in my home. Former World Orphans staff member, Phyllis LaBranche, came to my home frequently when she lived in Ethiopia, and she always ate whatever I prepared. Her desire to eat whatever I prepared rather than requesting a special meal made her feel more like a sister to me. I frequently ate at Phyllis’ home, too, where I enjoyed whatever meal she had prepared.
The Ethiopian table—and mine specifically—affords me the opportunity to serve others, and this is a blessing for me and my home. I expectantly look forward to the international guests that I will be privileged to host, feed, and drink coffee with in my home.