After a two year wait, Woodland Hills was finally able to send out another Jesus Kitchen mission team! Jesus Kitchen is a ministry led by Woodland Hills missionaries, Ben and Teresa Pothier, who have been doing this work for over 20 years.
Jeff Boatman led the Woodland Hills team, accompanied by his son Sage, Sage’s fiancée, Amelia, and their friend Michelle. Jeff and Sage have been attending Woodland for 25 years now, while Amelia has been here for five-ish years. All of them have served with Jesus Kitchen at three Rainbow Gatherings, while this was Michelle’s first Gathering. We asked each person to share their trip experience with us—read their responses below.
How would you describe the Jesus Kitchen experience?
Ben: The Jesus Kitchen works on soul care for everyone involved. Every year is different, but the Rainbow Gathering changes lives in a positive way. Any mission field has a risk of being terrible or great. You can’t control the weather or environment; all you can control is how you feel and what you bring to the table. Struggles happen, and that can be an opportunity for great things to happen in your life if you allow it. At Jesus Kitchen, you see and experience God in new ways.
Amelia: Being a part of Jesus Kitchen has truly changed my life. It is a ministry where I’ve learned a lot about myself and others who are often part of marginalized communities. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but I’ve seen Jesus more in those uncomfortable moments than anywhere else in my life. Rainbow Gathering is the event that solidified my faith and relationship with Jesus. In a time when I was having doubts, it made him real for me.
Sage: In many ways, Jesus Kitchen is a really tough trip both physically and mentally, but it’s also one of the most Jesus-looking ministries I know of, with the whole purpose being to love on people and be hospitable toward them. Hippies, street kids and transient folks are often pushed to the margins of society, so seeing the church actually do the right thing and help out/love on these people is a wonderful thing.
Michelle: Physically, emotionally, and spiritually Rainbow Gathering is a grueling experience, but I’m thankful Amelia and Sage prepared me for the intensity! I’m so glad I went and would do it again.
Jeff: In talking with others who have been to the Rainbow Gathering, one thing is unanimous: it’s so hard to describe. We can talk about things that happen there and describe what goes on, but it’s never really enough. I feel so incredibly blessed to be able to be a small part of Jesus Kitchen!
What were highlights from this year’s trip?
Ben: This year was the 50th anniversary of the Rainbow Gathering. I was able to connect with old friends from past gatherings and hear stories of how their relationship with Jesus has grown. Another highlight was the workshops we were able to provide at our camp.
Jeff: The people are the highlight. Everyone is accepted there! The typical greeting is, “Welcome home,” and conversations usually end with, “Lovin’ you!” And people mean it! Walking in with backpacks and carts, people are always willing to help carry your load for a while.
Amelia: My highlight was Main Circle, where we get to serve hundreds of people at a time. One of the best nights for me was a time we did an open communion and testimony share around the fire and then closed it out with worship.
Sage: Highlights for me include: putting up a big archway with a cross attached at the entrance to our camp, seeing our “living room” become more and more welcoming, and the first time we got to shout, “Free food in the woods!” after a tough set-up process.
Michelle: My favorite part was cooking for and feeding so many people. We had a rough start, but once we were able to share meals, it all felt worth it. I also loved the spoon carving skillshare time. Not only was I exceedingly pleased with my spoon, but it was also a fantastic time of relaxing and talking with a new group of people.
What stood out to you about this year’s team?
Ben: A highlight for me was how our team worked well together and overcame tough challenges. God showed up, and we got our encouragement from him.
Amelia: Several of the families who helped with Jesus Kitchen this year have children, ranging from ages four to eleven. Each and every one of those kids helped in some capacity. The simple hospitality they showed, without prompting, was absolutely beautiful. I saw kids sit with Rainbow family and whittle sticks into spoons as they chatted and laughed together. These kids were completely fearless and absolutely full of love and hospitality for people they don’t even know. They brought smiles to all in the Kitchen, including us.
Sage: Our team was smaller than we would have preferred, but everybody was really good about both doing their part and making sure others got what they needed and didn’t overdo it. The team from Woodland quickly became tight-knit, and it was cool to see us taking turns lifting each other up and playing to all of our different strengths.
How did you see Jesus at Rainbow Gathering?
Jeff: The Gathering is a very spiritual event. I think most religions are represented there, so it can be pretty overwhelming. But each year someone comes to the Jesus Kitchen camp and talks about how good it feels there and that it just feels “light.” I was praying with a woman when I sensed that there was a lot of deep pain and that God wanted her to know that she wasn’t going through it alone. I felt kind of weird saying that to her, but I did anyway. She immediately started crying. She’d lost a daughter a few years ago to an overdose. We talked and prayed some more, and although I’m not sure where she’ll end up, she’ll always be in my prayers.
Amelia: At communion and testimony night I could feel Jesus’ presence hovering over all of us. Some of the testimonies that night were so powerful, and brought us all renewed hope. No matter what dark or seemingly lifeless place you’re coming from, he meets you there.
Sage: I always find Jesus in musical worship. The worship we did around the campfire in the evenings felt like Jesus providing rest and refuge in a very difficult place.
Michelle: I loved the generosity of the Rainbow family. We had several people volunteer to help us drag carts of supplies into the Kitchen (a brutal two plus mile hike over hills), and it was so countercultural to see people give help joyfully and receive help without shame. Vulnerability and genuine care are often lacking in our society, so seeing it so frequently and openly was a beautiful glimpse of God’s heart.
What did you learn?
Ben: I learned a lot about my leadership style and what I can change. I learned about others on the team and how to appreciate them more for their gifts.
Amelia: I was still recovering from a broken foot on this trip, so I did a majority of the cooking, a lot of chatting and some listening prayer. I often think I only have physical help to offer, but this wasn’t true. Jesus helped me shift my expectations and helped me pray for and with people. Most importantly he taught me to ask for prayer after hard conversations or on tired days when our tasks seemed impossible. Leaning on my community in order to give back was the biggest lesson I’m still trying to solidify in my brain.
Sage: I learned a lot about how different people serve differently. I am not a huge people-person, but I am able to create a hospitable place for people to feel welcome and comfortable. The Jesus Kitchen ministry is about loving on people, and learning about my strengths is a good reminder that I don’t necessarily need to be the most outgoing or social person to be able to do that Kingdom work.
Michelle: Rainbow family is made up of people who have lived lives so different from mine that I could easily overlook them in building my view of God and life, so it was really meaningful to get to know some of them and be reminded to open myself up to ALL the ways God expresses themself in the world.
Thank you Jesus Kitchen team for sharing your stories, and for loving the Rainbow family!
To learn more about the Pothiers and how to support Jesus Kitchen, read their story here.