by Lauren Heywood
I sat with the leaders of three Christian groups on our college campus and listened to their airing of grievances. As my interest waned, the topic suddenly changed, and a sophomore from my group piped up, “I want to reach out to the Greek life community.”
A junior from a different group asked, “What if we give out food late at night when people are walking between parties?” Murmurs broke out and heads began to shake. Someone said, “Who has time to start a new ministry?”
As I looked around, I was surprised to hear my voice, “I will!”
I was a sophomore and a new (inexperienced) leader in the Navigators, one of the smallest interdenominational Christian groups on campus. I sat alone at my desk after the meeting, head in my hands, and asked myself what I had been thinking. We had committed to begin in two weeks, and I had nothing—no volunteers, no waffle irons, no money and no precedent.
Ministry of waffles
So I prayed with Mary Scott, my fellow Navigator, and the call began to take shape as we talked with our peers.
“We’ll do waffles!”
“With a waffle iron right there on the sidewalk!”
“And we’re not going to ask anything of anyone—this is unconditional gospel love, in a waffle.”
I visited churches and fellowships on and off campus, asked for contributions and gave speeches about our mission. I faced groups who thought it was too Christian, too secular, too idealistic and everywhere in between. I got laughs, suspicions, refusals and encouragement. The people who I expected to support the plan refused, and those who I expected to act with indifference surprised me with their instant enthusiasm.
And, as I prayed and spoke, I realized a “theology of waffles” was forming within me. I was called to gather Christians from every fellowship to give a free waffle, no questions asked, to whoever walked by. We would serve our campus community—notorious for heavy drinking and Greek life—where they were.
We would get out of the chapel and the auditorium to serve and talk to our peers where they were. And we would do so as one body, not under the auspices of any one Christian fellowship. We would act out Christ’s love as one body, without beating anyone over the head with the gospel. No, we would let the action of gospel love; that is, unconditional, surprising love, speak for itself.
Answer to prayer
In answer to our prayers, supplies, money and volunteers poured in. One of our mentors Benny helped me to raise energy and support among the local churches. The first night, two weeks after the first meeting, a Christian a cappella group gathered with numerous volunteers to pray before we headed to frat row.
We were a large, unlikely group of pilgrims, straggling forth to be Christ’s hands as strangers with ladle, waffle iron, and cries of “Free waffles!” I set up my waffle iron, and as the group sang, a crowd began to gather, eating waffles, talking, singing, asking us why we were there. Some shared stories of their experiences, good and bad, with religion, while others wanted to talk about how hard classes were, how awesome freshman year was, why their roommate was hard to live with.
One asked for a waffle, another for my theology, and another for my phone number. Most of all, we heard the surprise of our peers that anyone would be out at midnight on a Friday to serve others in the cold. One student said, “No one’s that nice. Really, what’s the catch?” Then someone called out, “Hey! Waffle people! Don’t you know you could get money for this? Why are you doing this? It doesn’t make sense!”
At that moment, something clicked for me, and I realized, “You’re right. It doesn’t make sense. The gospel doesn’t make sense. God’s love doesn’t make sense. But we’re here, God’s here, and you’re here, and somehow, with the Holy Spirit, we’re making a community out of a silly—but delicious—bit of common ground: waffles. And that’s ministry.”
1. How can you best serve the physical and emotional needs in your community, and how do those needs relate to spiritual needs?
2. Who in your community do you feel distanced from? Why do you think that is, and how can you reach out to them?
3. Has anyone ever served you in a way you didn’t expect? How did that make you feel?
Lord of unconditional love, you find us where we are and meet us there, offering us more love and life than we could ever imagine. Help us to turn again, confident in your abiding presence, and share your surprising love with those around us. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Lauren Heywood, a graduate of Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H., is a first year master of divinity student at Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. She is exploring a call to ordained ministry in the urban church.