The Most Precious Bowl of Curry


She limped out of our kitchen carrying a piping hot bowl of Cambodian chicken curry, a sweet smile on her gentle, lightly wrinkled face. The steam wafted around our dining room table in a delicate dance of fresh garlic, galangal, ginger and lime.

It was June 2006, my family’s last month in Phnom Penh as we concluded our first four-year term as C&MA missionaries to Cambodia. And Ming (“Auntie”) Saopoan was saying thanks to our family by preparing a feast, Cambodian-style. She gave us the very best she had.

Just a few months earlier, while maneuvering through a congested open-air market to purchase the day’s food for her family, Saopoan chose the wrong pile of trash to walk through and planted the full weight of her foot on a hidden nail. It drove straight through her sandal, the dirty point piercing deeply into the ball of her foot. Unable to afford good health care as a cook, Saopoan limped home, hoped for the best and continued working, staying on her wounded foot for everyday survival while it festered and refused to heal. Diabetes, along with the dirt and heat of tropical Phnom Penh, eventually forced her to quit when her worst fears were realized—it seemed amputation was her only option to stop the infection.

But by God’s grace, we and another missionary family helped Ming Saopoan secure an appointment with a reputable local physician, who prescribed effective antibiotics. Against all odds, her foot slowly healed. I’ll never forget when, one Sunday morning, Saopoan pulled me aside and quietly but insistently shared her desire to thank us. She said she didn’t have much to offer but her cooking skills, so she wanted to prepare dinner for me and my family.

As I looked at that fragrant, steaming bowl of curry, thick with tender chicken, in the center of our table, I knew Ming Saopoan had spent a small fortune to provide a feast for us—one she couldn’t afford to give to her own family.

Two and a half years later, I often remember that meal as I reflect on the new ministry God has called us to in the suburbs of Chicago, a universe away from what we thought would be our life’s work—building and equipping His church in Cambodia. As pastor for Blanchard Alliance Church’s second campus in Warrenville, Illinois, lessons I learned while watching God at work in Cambodia have laid the foundations for what I know God is already doing and will do in the future here in suburban Chicago, where the world is literally coming to us.

With a heavy influx of Burmese refugees, a burgeoning second- and third-generation Hispanic population as our nextdoor neighbors and thousands of Asian students in our many local universities and colleges, Christ is challenging the North American Church to hear once again the call of A. B. Simpson and R. A. Jaffray to “go as sent ones” and demonstrate a living, loving Savior to the peoples around us. I’m amazed that North American Christians have the divine privilege of sharing the story of Jesus with men, women and children who may never have had the opportunity to hear about Jesus in China, India, Mexico or Iraq but might be introduced to Him for the first time right here in Chicagoland!

I have been marked forever by the faithfulness of Cambodian Christians, like Saopoan, who taught me what it really means to demonstrate the gospel of Jesus, no matter the cost—that the Church was made to grow by engaging the community outside the walls of our church with the good news and good deeds of Jesus.* I testify to Christians in Battambang Province who volunteer precious daylight hours every week—hours normally set aside to earn enough money for the day’s rice—to provide hospice care and biblical training for families stricken with AIDS. These Christians serve their misunderstood, mistreated and ignored neighbors, even finding homes for orphaned children after leading dozens of dying moms and dads to Jesus. I testify to Christ’s healing power in Phnom Penh as He raised Nimith, a young man with AIDS, off his deathbed after local church elders prayed. Nimith’s Muslim mother watched the Church at work and dreamed—that very night—that the spirit of death visited her home to take her son’s life but a greater power prevented the spirit from entering!

Like Ming Saopoan and her precious gift of fragrant curry, what costly gift do I have, do we have, in this Natal season to bring to say thanks to our King for His gracious gift of salvation? Will we be the living demonstration of Jesus’ love to the broken and dying ones all around us? Emmanuel, God with Us, make this true of us!

  • Read The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson to better understand what this looks like.

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