by Julie Thoreen
A kitchen is a focal point for community. A place for gathering and participating and sharing. A reason to unite.
The Jesus Kitchen started in 1995. It serves meals and builds relationship with the hundreds and thousands of people, many of them traveling homeless, who attend regional and national Rainbow Gatherings. Growing out of the love movement in the 60s and 70s, these gatherings that take place in national forests can attract as many as 50,000 people searching for love, peace, belonging and spirituality.
Before last week I had no idea any of this even existed. Woodland Hills supports Ben and Teresa Pothier, local missionaries that spend much of the year building relationships with traveling homeless people, particularly youth, and working at Jesus Kitchen. Having spent a few days talking with Ben and finding out more about Jesus Kitchen and the Rainbow Gathering, I must say, the whole thing really captivated me.
It may give you some context to watch this video made by the Rainbow Gathering in 2008. It doesn’t share the whole story, but it certainly helps set the stage. Many who attend the gatherings search for the very things that Jesus offers us, but as Ben tells me, “A lot have grown up and been hurt by the church. Many feel unworthy of God’s love and/or are stuck in addiction.” Though there are all sorts of people at the gatherings, Ben and Teresa’s heart breaks most for the traveling homeless who attend. “These aren’t people who are just going to walk into a church. They are a marginalized subculture present in every city and state; however they may be rarely seen,” Ben tells me. Their hunger for community is strong and that leads many of them to the Rainbow Gathering.
Writing a story about Jesus Kitchen has had its challenges. If you search “Jesus Kitchen” online, you won’t find that much publicized. The group has worked hard to gain the trust of those at the Rainbow Gatherings, and this means making sure they know that this isn’t some Christian marketing ploy. They are there first and foremost to share Jesus’ love and to serve the people. They ask permission before sharing stories and they respect anonymity. Ben tells me, though, of a woman who gave him permission, Red Dread.
Jesus Kitchen met Red Dread, a young traveling homeless woman, at a regional gathering in Florida. She joined them during a campfire, sharing her gift in spoken word. She stayed with them for the week, but her departure came suddenly as her ride was leaving. The group prayed for her, asking that she would encounter Christ and that God would place Christians in her path. Many times, the group doesn’t get to experience follow-up with those they meet at gatherings so they take prayer seriously.
Fast forward two years. Jesus Kitchen is setting up for another gathering in Florida. Along comes Red Dread. “God is stalking me,” she insists. She goes on to tell them that ever since she left two years ago, Christians have showed up everywhere in her life and she can’t escape it. She asked to be baptized right then and there. The group began digging a hole for her in the ground (how amazing is that!?!) while she went around to everyone she knew at the gathering, inviting them to her “party.” She was baptized that day with great celebration. She went home to Chicago, where she lives now with her daughter.
“The whole theme of Rainbow Gathering is to find a place to plug in, a place where you belong,” one of the interviewees in the Rainbow Gathering says. One of the hopes of Jesus Kitchen is to offer people a chance to plug in to a community that lives the love and peace that only Jesus can give. “A lot of people at the gatherings are on a journey. [Much] of what we do is break down walls and show them who the real Jesus is. Our goal is for them to start a journey with Jesus,” Ben describes.
This year, the Jesus Kitchen has its largest crew ever (including some Woodland Hills goers), and they need prayer and financial support. Often, like this year, Jesus Kitchen is the only group of Christians represented at the gatherings. Please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry so it can remain an oasis of Christ’s peace serving those in need. You can offer support or find out more this weekend at the Hello Desk, or by visiting Ben and Teresa Pothier’s page on our website.