Christian Short Stories

Zarephath Kitchen
By Web Ruble

Web writes: "My wife Norma and myself have been working in a soup kitchen in Gresham, OR on Thursdays for years. We have had very few unfortunate incidents over 15 years. But one about five years ago set me back a pace."

The sky was threatening again over First and Ada streets in downtown Gresham. I should have noticed. It meant -- be prepared for an uneasy Thursday.

The corner of First and Ada is where Trinity Lutheran Church sprawls. 'Tis a rather large, rambling church that has been in the forefront of several food-and-clothing relief efforts in Gresham. The Portland,OR suburb of slightly more than 100,000 people is in east Multnomah County, where ecumenism has been alive and well for a long time.

People in east county, observers say, work together well when there is need. And, believe us when we say there is plenty of need to go around in east county, as these dismal economic and unemployment times continue.

Trinity Lutheran runs a daily free-meal deal five days a week in a nearby large house called Zarephath Kitchen. Trinity gets help from other Gresham churches and in neighboring communities such as Fairview to fill out the work crews and carry the program. It's ecumenism of the first water. It's also a matter of pride, joy and Christian motivation for the volunteers.

The pitch at Zarephath is: Come in, sit down, and let us serve you a free nutritious (but not fancy) noon meal. No questions asked . . .well, most of the time, anyway.

Doors open at 11 a.m. and close promptly at 1 p.m. The whole shebang is run by volunteers. Each day of the week has its own crew.

However, universally there are a few rules. No cussing. No loud, lude or crude behavior. An absolute no-no is do not ask for money or handouts -- from anyone, including the cook, the man-woman wait staff, the church, and certainly not from fellow diners. Dine in peace. If you want to borrow money, do it somewhere else.

One Thursday, whilst I as serving tables about five years ago, a guy by the name of Al asked me for $5. I gave him our age-old saw about it being against the rules for anyone to ask anyone in Zarephath for money. It's our No. 1 No No.

Al said he understood that but said his situation was peculiarly desperate and unusual. He gave me a long story about having an opportunity to do something and that because of detailed series of foul-ups he needed bus fare.

Well, first of all, the fare on Tri-Met buses or light rail -- no matter what zone you are traveling from or to -- is far less than $5. Second of all, his story didn't hold water. I told him so, and added: One simply does not ask anyone at Zarephath for money -- period.

He said okay and went back to eating.

On a Thursday two weeks later, he asked me again for $5.

I said, "Come on now, Al. Didn't we just have this conversation a couple of weeks ago? You know the rules . . .you don't ask anyone here for money. For any reason."

But I couldn't let it go at that. I had to break a rule and ask him, "Why don't you get a job?" (this was before super-hard times hit in the fall of 2008.)

He retorted, "I only work in m' trade."

"Oh? What's that?"

He named some obscure job category in lumber mill work.

I hopped on him: "C'mon, Al, I used to work in the forest products industry myself, and I know there hasn't been any jobs in that category for nearly 40 years. That doesn't exist anymore. It got automated out existence a long time ago."

"Yeah, I know. . . I'm still waitin'," he said.

Table No. 2 at which he was sitting exploded in laughter. Diners at the other three tables looked up, and pretty soon they, too, were laughing.

I had to admit, it was a fairly good, humorous answer.

So did some of his fellow diners. Even part of the volunteer crew did, too. Others, however, were angry at him for being what they called "a jerk." Moreover, they told him so.

Later on, while driving home afterwards it came upon me, "But what if he truly was desperate? What then?"

And I had to think -- was that God talking to me?

(© 2011 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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