Editor’s note: Missioner Maggie Van Roekel begins a three-part blog series on how kitchens and cooking have become important to her on mission. In part one, Maggie shares her memories around the Carmen Pampa volunteer house kitchen table. 

To some extent, I’ve always been pretty comfortable in the kitchen. Growing up, I spent a lot of time preparing meals or baked goods with my mom. In college, the kitchen provided a space to shake off the stress of exams. During school breaks, it provided a space for my sister and I to catch up. On mission, kitchens have opened new relationships, taught me many valuable lessons, and have shown me what it truly means to live in community.

One of the first kitchens I encountered on mission was in the volunteer house at Carmen Pampa. For us, the kitchen was a sacred space where the very fabric of our community was woven. It was also in a central location in our house, and in the midst of our sometimes chaotic schedules, the kitchen was often where we found ourselves bumping into each other during the day. Sometimes, it was just long enough for a “Hey, how’s it going?”, for a hug, or to crack a joke.

Around the big table, we gathered each night. Often, before dinner began, we would sit in the kitchen. While someone cooked, we shared about our days. When words weren’t enough, we sat in silence.

Time spent in the kitchen made us grateful for the simplest of things: the excitement of trying a new recipe, a community mate offering their services in veggie-chopping, or just a good song to sing to. In that kitchen, around that table, we shared tears when our sadness was more than we could bear on our own. We laughed until we couldn’t help but cry when the joy came shining through. We struggled to process the realities of life and we slowly opened up to bare our souls.

Over the years, I’m certain that the volunteer house kitchen in Carmen Pampa has witnessed the growth of many, many communities. It has seen a great amount of tears and laughter, grief and sadness, passionate conversation and joy. Sitting around a table and sharing in food is such a simple act. But it can also provide a deep space for lives to become intertwined.

For me, that kitchen represents so much. When I was recently asked what community means to me, my memory immediately flashed back to scenes of that community, gathered around the big wooden table, simply, yet profoundly, sharing in our lives.

Reflection question: What does community mean to you?