July 015The end of an era.

If I had been pulled over by police on Monday afternoon, I surely would have gone straight to jail. By no small miracle, we managed to cram twelve whole children into the Rav4 and there was not a pocket of space to spare. Somehow we chugged our way across Mariscal Lopez unnoticed and made it to the warm enclave of the C family home to celebrate the very last day of Lo’s Kitchen.

I always knew it would feel this incredulous in the moment, but it truly is hard to believe I am finally on the tail end of my Paraguay commitment, reflecting back on a year and a half of cooking workshops. As a token of my enduring love for my faithful crew and a last ditch effort to ensure they won’t forget me too quickly, I compiled two years worth of recipes into a keepsake cookbook for each individual. Prior to space formatting, the tome was fifty plus pages. That is not only a lot of paper, but also many weeks of developing culinary skills and seeing the Lord’s goodness manifest in the establishment of deep rapport and trusting friendships.

What a blessing it has been to take something I deeply enjoy (food and consuming it) and turn it into a ministry opportunity, which against all odds blossomed into one of the most fulfilling aspects of my time in Paraguay. The Lord has been gracious over the last month in generously giving me glimpses of the fruit resulting from seeds planted over the past two years. This cooking class clausura was one such instance, and I am thankful for the affirmations that this season has not been in vain.

After lunch and an exhortation to my students to keep up the cooking, I started packing the kids back into my car. Just before T squeezed in, she thanked me for the cookbook. She sheepishly continued, whispering in the same breath like one big, hurried hashtag, “I-didn’t-like-the-fried-rice-but-lasagna-was-my-favorite-you-changed-my-life.” and dashed into the car for cover.

I could not ask for anything more.

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Ratatouille 009Love this picture and these girls.

Somewhere in the mix of discussing hamsters, rats, and lipstick, I realized that I have arrived.

Generally, the progression of time is an essential requirement for meaningful relationships. Now nearly two years into my Paraguay stint, many of the friendships I have established have finally stepped beyond the threshold of superficial. Bantering fluidly back and forth with the girls about life and love at cooking class last night felt so natural. It was a proud moment of accomplishment and belonging, but one, of course, tempered with tinges of regret that I am also leaving in a month.

Still, I am thankful to be departing with memories of easy conversations about the monumental and the mundane. In spite of the anguished tears and white hairs and nightmares accumulated over the months, I am grateful to know that Asuncion, against all hope, as become some sort of home, complete with friends, family, and comforting meals shared around a smoking space heater.

Ratatouille will always be a warm reminder of these times.

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Writer’s block has been holding this blog entry hostage for the better part of the week. Should I slant about how all the kids have insane spring fever (even though it’s winter) right now and are crushing on anything that breathes? Or that I caused a student to break out in hives as a result of this week’s workshop dish? Or that new students appeared because I randomly met one kid at the park on Saturday, who then showed up at church on Sunday, saw a Lo’s Kitchen announcement in the church bulletin, and proceeded to bring his brother as well?

Or I guess I could mention all of them.

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June 067A rowdy crowd.

“This is the first time in my life that I have been in the kitchen actually doing anything. I usually only go in to ask my mom for food or make my sister get me a drink,” nonchalantly said the 23-year-old Paraguayan male, who showed up to my cooking class on a whim. Twenty-three years and he had never lifted a finger inside the culinary room of the house. These sorts of things really shouldn’t shock me, but they always do.

Naturally, I put him right to work—slicing onions, frying bacon, and doing dishes, and I was so proud to see my nine-year-olds schooling him in his tasks. He did not come back to class the following week and perhaps it is no wonder, but at the very least he notched that first on his belt and even got to sample bacon while doing it. A pretty sweet (or savory) deal I might say.

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