A Different Kind of Chef

July 13, 2016
By Johnna Bain

IMG_3307But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

-Luke 19:8

Thanks to Vacation Bible School, many of us remember Zacchaeus as the wee little man who climbed a tree to see Jesus. But if we look deeper into the story, we see something much, much bigger than a short guy scaling a Sycamore. First of all, Zacchaeus was a bad man. He was a tax collector. He was a gangster and a thug. He was the type of guy that would send big, burly men to break your kneecaps for not paying what you owed. Those silly VBS songs we sing about the guy would be more accurate if they were changed to songs from the soundtrack of “The Godfather.” People hated Zacchaeus. He was a crook that swindled folks out of their money and gave some to the Romans and kept the rest for himself. He was rich and could buy anything he wanted. But it seems that Zacchaeus also had something missing in his life.

He hears about a guy named Jesus who is doing all sorts of miracles and unbelievable things. Jesus is healing people, walking on water, and turning water into wine. So, Zacchaeus thinks, “This guy knows how to party, let’s go meet him.” So Zacchaeus and his boys wander over to the part of town where Jesus is, but the crowd is thick, and Zacchaeus can’t see. That’s when he climbs up the tree to get a better look.

But then something crazy happens. Jesus looks up in the tree and calls Zacchaeus by name. I’m sure the tax collector was thinking pretty big of himself. Even Jesus knew his name. Jesus invites Himself over to Z’s house for dinner, and though we don’t know the details of the encounter, we know that Zacchaeus has a life changing experience.

He vows to stop being a crooked mob boss and to pay back everyone he’s ever stolen from and with interest. It was a crazy plot twist for the people in that culture.

This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I love how Zacchaeus stopped at nothing to see Jesus. I love how there was an obstacle in his way, and he literally climbed over it to be able to see the Lord. I love how we get to see another instance of Jesus loving someone no one else cared for. And as a crooked tax collector, people were definitely not fond of Zacchaeus. But most importantly, I love how Zacchaeus allowed Jesus to totally transform his life but didn’t sell everything and become the 13th disciple.

So often, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there are different levels of Christ followers. It’s easy to think that people who sell everything to go live in a third world country to be missionaries are somehow on a higher level than a soccer mom who stays at home and raises four kids. Or we think that the drug addict who came to know Jesus in prison and now helps get homeless people off the street is somehow a better follower of Jesus than a janitor who cleans the same hallways for thirty years.

The story of Zacchaeus shows us that it’s not about doing what Christian culture tells us are grand, wonderful things. No, ultimately, it’s about being a different kind of whatever God has placed in your heart to be. Zacchaeus didn’t sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor, and fall in line with the rest of the disciples. That’s not what Jesus called him to do. Instead, Zacchaeus became a different kind of tax collector. He paid back anyone he had ever swindled and became honest in his work.

And that’s what the world needs more of.

More Christians heeding the call to be missionaries would be amazing. But more Christians heeding the call to be different kinds of doctors, lawyers, janitors, teachers, and etc. would be world changing. Most people aren’t called to sell everything and become missionaries. However, anyone who follows Jesus is called to be different.

It’s time to get over the idea of there being different levels of Christians, and it’s time to stop buying the lie that ministry should be left up to the “professionals” (i.e. pastors, missionaries, youth directors). It’s time to realize that Jesus has called all of us to different things—different places, different professions, different lifestyles, etc. But He has called us all to live in a way that reflects Him and loves others. He’s called us to be a different kind.

I’ve got a friend named Alex Reethof who is one of the best chefs I’ve ever met. He’s made some of theIMG_5611best food I’ve ever had the privilege to enjoy. He’s worked in the restaurant and hospitality business for years and even had his own cooking show for a while. He currently runs an amazing catering business and puts together awesome meals for parties and events. But a while back, Alex felt like there had to be more to life than just making food and making money. He felt compelled to use his craft to help people in need.

One day, he called me asking if I would help him get into contact with leaders at different organizations that worked with the homeless. He told me that he wanted to start a non-profit organization that would help people get off the street and learn how to work in the restaurant business. I set up numerous meetings with some of the various leaders I knew from shelters, rehab centers, and transition programs, and after a good bit of prep work, Gathering Industries opened a small kitchen toward the end of last year.

Gathering Industries specializes in box lunches that have a sandwich, chips, cookie, and a drink. But this is no ordinary food. I’ve tasted every sandwich on their menu, and they are all amazing. It’s not like what you’d get from Subway. These are gourmet sandwiches made with fresh and delicious ingredients. Chef Alex demands excellence, and it shows in how well the food is both prepared and presented. (Also, the made-from-scratch cookies are absolutely phenomenal.) But most importantly, Gathering Industries provides training for men coming out of homelessness and addiction. Men with felony convictions, who would find it nearly impossible to get a job, are learning how to handle and prepare food so that they can go on to work in the restaurant business. And Alex is able to use his credibility in the restaurant industry to vouch for the men and to help them get a foot in the door.

It’s what being a different kind of chef looks like.

There’s nothing wrong with making great food and great money. But Alex knew there was something more to life. So, now he’s using his God-given talent to help people out of the ditch and back on their feet.

Gabe Barrett
M25 Missions Camp Manager