I was on my way home from a Mercy Chefs deployment in Van, TX and had planned on stopping at Stanley’s in Tyler, TX. They have excellent barbecue. In fact, I’d say they have the only barbecue in fifty miles. All other claimants in the area do not produce barbecue, but an abominable imposter. Sadly, Stanley’s is closed on Sundays, so I had to think fast and settled on Mooyah Burgers, Shakes & Fries. I won’t make that mistake again.
I was encouraged when I saw fresh cut fries on the menu. I also thought the burgers looked promising. I was thinking about Five Guys fries and a punched up burger as I consider five Guys’ burgers as consistent, yet average. If I hadn’t shelled out eleven bucks for a burger, fries, and a drink, I could have better enjoyed an otherwise unenjoyable burger.
The bun was soft and squishy like an old lady’s flabby neck (I mean this in the most complimentary way). The size of the party was impressive. The sheer number of available toppings and sauces were unmatched. The flowing grease mustn’t be confused with juiciness, though.
At first, I actually thought I was assaulting an incredibly juicy burger, but the unpleasant liveresque aftertaste coupled with grease that coated my throat, I quickly realized that I had stumbled into a nightmare. I’m not opposed to excessively greasy burgers, but this was no enhancement. This was obscenity on a bun. This was equivalent to grazing on a minefield of back acne.
If you want some tasty fries, Mooyah will satisfy. If you are still lusting for decadence, pass on the burger and get a peanut butter and banana concrete at Andy’s Frozen Custard down the street.
Being a Mercy Chef is a lot of work, but the rewards are seemingly limitless. I am always awestruck to be blessed when I set out to bless others. It’s counter-intuitive. Receiving sounds like it should be better than giving. It’s like saying 2 + 2 = 5.
Now we aren’t total kooks by going all the way to Dallas to feed homeless people. After all, we have homeless people in Shreveport. We do serve at home and are presently exploring ways to get even more involved, but in Dallas, I have access to equipment and a network of incredible chefs where we can go where the homeless live and set up shop essentially in their living room to feed and fellowship. (Plus, I get to drive around a thirty-seven foot mobile kitchen). A fantasy of mine is to have a food truck so I could do this every day, but that’s another story.
This is the second month where I was essentially in charge of the day. I did the shopping, drove the kitchen to the site, and oversaw the operation. I really enjoy the responsibility, yet I’m always humbled to be handed the reigns as I’m just a hack. I work with über talented chefs who do this sort of thing for a living. Cooking is my passion, but I’m just an amateur. When I started volunteering with Mercy Chefs, I was dishwasher guy. Even if I was still dishwasher guy I would be thrilled because it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus.
Every time I serve I’m reminded of Luke 14:13-14–“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
I don’t think our motivation to serve others should be for blessings, though. We shouldn’t serve for fuzzy feelings or because others will give us a pat on the back. Our direction is clear. Christ commands us. We can’t serve him from our couch. We shouldn’t wait for others to do the work while we sit idly by. We shouldn’t make excuses because of our limitations or because we are too busy. Can we really be too busy to disobey Christ? Can we really be so apathetic that we just turn away when we see our neighbor in need? Are we Christians or are we merely poseurs?
The fields are ripe, Christian, and we have work to do. Whether you are a chef, or a teacher, or a lawyer, or a ditch digger, you have an assignment from our King.
I just walked in the door about a half hour ago. It has been a long weekend as the family and I piled into the mommy van and drove to Dallas yesterday. Our main reason to go was because of a homeless outreach we participated in today, but as yesterday was my wife’s birthday, we had a nice lunch at Tolbert’s, then picked up a BBQ and cinnamon roll snack at Bartley’s BBQ, and let the kids swim in the hotel pool.
This was actually the first time we came the day before. On a typical trip, we get up at 3 or 4 am on Sunday, drive to Dallas, and cook for some outdoor friends. Maybe it sounds strange, but as Christians, we try to take the “love your neighbor” commandment seriously. Notice I said try. We are the typical hypocritical Christians that screw things up most of the time, but once in awhile, I hope we make adequate representatives of Christ.
I’m not being facetious. Christians are fallible. Oftentimes, Christians look just like hypocritical unbelievers. (Not that all unbelievers are…face it. We are all hypocrites.) Oftentimes, it is easy to pigeonhole a Christian because he is being compared to God.
Besides, the very best things I might accomplish in my life are nothing but filthy rags I present to my King. I am not looking to glorify myself. My humble efforts are only to point to Jesus.
It’s been less than an hour and the Luoma household is back to business as usual. The kids are fighting and I’m trying to convince them that we should be quiet. By yelling. Did I mention that I was a hypocrite?
Trekking from Shreveport to Dallas and back to head up a homeless outreach under a bridge is a big undertaking for me. This was my first time driving the kitchen trailer by myself. I wasn’t dragging a three foot popup tent. It’s something around 37 feet of culinary carnage. Really, I anticipated that careening in slow motion off a bridge was in the realm of possibility, but I drove like an AARP racecar driver.
The other concern came from my wife as I have a history of falling asleep at the wheel, and I had my oldest daughter and her best friend in tow. If I was feeding my candy crushing addiction and caused a fourteen car pileup because of my gross negligence, I don’t know how I could live with myself, but I think after community service, I could get back in my wife’s good graces. Catching my beauty rest at 75 mph with live cargo is a line my wife won’t cross. The other option was to go to sleep by 10 pm and guzzle about eight Red Bulls throughout the day. I thought aliens were going to burst out of my chest from this tonic, but it was a reasonable risk.
We served shepherd’s pie and delightful bundt cake to around 200 homeless people under the bridge on Hickory Street. A church comes out regularly to preach the gospel to these people who may never have the opportunity. It’s a gospel of hope, and I hope the simple gift of a hot meal does its small part in sharing the love of Jesus Christ.
Seventeen hours later, I’m on my couch reliving the day’s events. It is so amazing being to volunteer with fellow Mercy Chefs. It’s amazing to be trusted to move the kitchen to the site. It is just amazing serving Jesus Christ.
But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:13-14 ESV)
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14 ESV)
Yesterday, we had the opportunity to spend some time in Ft. Worth, TX to participate in Mercy Chefs’ “17 Days of Christmas.” Heather and I have talked about serving the homeless on Christmas Day for years, and we were blessed with the opportunity to serve around 100 homeless and underprivileged men, women, and children. This project will continue through December 31.
(In case you are not familiar with Mercy Chefs, let me explain. We are primarily a disaster response and relief ministry. We serve hot chef prepared meals to first responders, victims, and volunteers. Fortunately, we don’t have continual disasters, so when we have downtime, we partner with other ministries to feed the homeless.)
I’m always amazed when we are obedient to Christ. We serve with the intention to bless others, but we always seem to be the ones blessed by the homeless. Yesterday, I sat down with a 60 year old man who has been out of prison for 18 months. He spent a couple of years in prison after he beat up some creeper who was abusing his fifteen year old daughter. What surprised me was that this man, Terry Gibson, was a brother in Christ and could quote scripture better than I could.
Terry said that he was a manager at a classic car dealership for ten years before he went to prison. He was a single father who had custody of his three children. I spent about an hour listening to him as he told me that his predicament came solely because he didn’t trust God to handle the precarious situation with the sexual predator that was after his daughter.
As I imagine myself in his shoes, I know that if I was faced with a similar situation with one of my three daughters, I might be tempted to handle the matter similarly. I pray that I am never thrust into a comparable position.
His troubles are far from over as he is still picking up his broken life. His children, feeling abandoned by his imprisonment, have pretty much abandoned their relationship with their father. He attributes it to his unwillingness to allow God to handle his dilemma. Yet, he is still upbeat. He is thankful for his experience in prison as it has drawn him closer to God. He served as a father figure for many young men behind bars, and now he offers his wisdom to kids and young adults on the streets.
When we parted ways, he left with a full belly and a warm blanket and I left with a fresh perspective. God can and does use the least of us to serve Christ, and I’m blessed to have a new friend. We may never meet again, but I don’t have to worry about him. He is safe with the Lord, but I do pray for him and his family and I pray that God saves others through him. It was a Merry Christmas, indeed.
Last week I endured a marathon road trip to Portsmouth, VA and back to Shreveport in four days. It was somewhere on the order of 2500 miles. I went to assist a friend transport a mobile kitchen for Mercy Chefs. We only slept 3-4 hours a day so that we could cover these miles. As a result, we had our share of truck stop food.
On December 4, we decided that we needed to enjoy some fine BBQ, not once, but twice. Our first stop was at Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q in Fayetteville, NC. That evening we were passing through Birmingham, AL and had to make a stop at Dreamland BBQ.
Everyone knows that I’m a BBQ junkie. I take my fifteen year old daughter on Texas road trips to seek out and savor the best BBQ. I was pleased to sample some Carolina BBQ. I’ve heard about it and my chef buddy I was accompanying actually made Carolina BBQ on a deployment in Chambrun, Haiti. It was delicious then and I expected nothing short of perfection in North Carolina.
You may think a pulled pork sandwich is just a pulled pork sandwich. If you blindly accept that error as truth, then you live an empty life. I don’t want to sound mean, but the sweet pork tangified with the right amount of vinegar elevates this humble sandwich to something epic.
I was skeptical of the slaw on the sandwich as I really don’t like slaw. There is something unappetizing about shredded cabbage coated with a runny mayo. This slaw wasn’t runny and I had to try the sandwich as it was intended.
I’m not going to say that I became an overnight fan of slaw, but the crunch paired with the soft pork works. The fries were frozen, but were mightily fried and I hungrily scarfed them down.
My only regret is that I was too full to sample the fried chicken. The week prior, I enjoyed Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Little Rock, AR. I suspect that Smithfield’s chicken was insanely good. I’ve never been to a restaurant that sells sacks of fried chicken skin. If they sell chicken cracklings, the chicken itself must be unmatched. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to pit Gus’s and Smithfield’s against each other one day, but in the meantime, I’d like to see a restaurant at home sell fried chicken skin.
Volunteering with Mercy Chefs has given me the opportunity to work with many incredible chefs. One of the things I really like about deploying for disaster relief is the fact that I always learn more chef skills.
It seems that I have trekked all over the Western Hemisphere with Chef John, and God willing, we will embark on many more adventures. His life is one continuous adventure as he is a full time missionary chef.
One of the preeminent comfort foods is meatloaf. It appears to be one of those dishes that is publicly jeered at, but secretly is coveted.
I have eaten meatloaf from many places. There certainly is awesome meatloaf and there is meatloaf that is only suitable for Gallagher’s Sledge-O-Matic. It’s still meatloaf and I hungrily shovel it in.
This particular meatloaf is an amalgamation of my experiences in trying different recipes, but it leans heavily on the freeform method that is typically in a mobile kitchen with Mercy Chefs. I just happened to write down the process today.
I look forward to your critique as I’d like to know where on the spectrum it belongs. Maybe Gallagher and I need to eat smashed meatloaf.
If you really want to enhance your experience, try serving with fresh remoulade sauce.
3 pounds ground chuck 1/2 cup breadcrumbs 1/4 cup dried parsley 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning 1/2 teaspoon cayenne 1 tablespoon garlic powder 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 tablespoon Sriracha 2 ounces Hormel crumbled bacon with black pepper
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Mix ingredients thoroughly, but do not over mix as it will make the meatloaf really dense.
Form into loaf on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Coat meatloaf with homemade sauce (or ketchup).
Cook for 75 minutes or until internal temperature is 150 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest. Internal temperature should rise to 160 at rest.
Today has been a great blessing! Another day in Louisville, MS with Mercy Chefs, but a couple of volunteers showed up. How I love supervising! It’s still mentally taxing but I didn’t have to stoop or bend over. It’s the small things that I appreciate.
I’ve still been stiff all day and I had no idea how I was going to work all the way through. Ever since I climbed out of bed I’ve been walking like Boris Karloff. These trips are always physically taxing, and it’s only by the grace of God that I am able to do this.
If that wasn’t enough of a blessing, my wife called my rheumatologist and asked them to refill my Humira prescription because of last night’s debacle. I will be on my doorstep Tuesday, nine days sooner than I would have had my next scheduled injection. Heather definitely came through in a clutch on this one.
The first half of the day was rainy and the rest of the day was grey. It may not sound very pleasant as we spend much of our time prepping food under a tent outside, but my arms and neck are crimson. My neck feels scorchy, and I was glad to have had the clouds today. I also don’t want to completely obliterate my pasty good looks. Fortunately, this burn will tan and in about two weeks, all of this bronze will have flecked off.
When we are on deployment, every day is the same in that we get up early and cook, prep, and plan all day. We may have a menu planned only to scrap it two hours before the meal is to be served. The unpredictability of one of our days can be exhilarating. Some people get jazzed about NASCAR. I get jazzed about the excitement in our kitchen.
Finally, I only worked eleven hours today. I say that with all seriousness because this is a short day. I also had several breaks because we had volunteers. If I don’t have volunteers’ backs to break, my back does the breaking.
This year is turning into a busy year for Mercy Chefs. As always, we are torn because we want to serve others, but to serve others there must be a disaster. Ideally, our mobile kitchens would get lonely. The real world always has something else in mind.
This week we are in Louisville, MS. Last week’s tornadoes his this area pretty hard. I’m thankful that the damage isn’t anything like we saw in Moore, OK last year. Our rotation just started work this morning, and our plans are to stay until Sunday. Mother’s Day. It’s also my anniversary.
These deployments are difficult for my family to cope with. Here I am traipsing the world playing chef, while Heather handles everything. Two of my three daughters understand why I keep leaving home, but my four year old princess takes it hard.
I have a tough time remembering that my family is sacrificing a lot for me to serve. I’m not some one man wrecking crew. If I didn’t have a supporting wife who was capable and willing to shoulder all of this added responsibility, my small contribution would be impossible. I am so thankful I have her.
Today’s sunshine turned my neck a nice shade of red and I’m getting rested up for tomorrow. A local volunteer actually hassled me since I’m from Louisiana. It was all in good fun, but I’ve been craving red beans and rice since he brought it up. Unless the menu changes, we are serving Salisbury steak for lunch and pork loin for dinner. I believe we are preparing lunch and dinner for 500 each meal. We usually serve upwards of 800 per meal, so I may have some time to kick back and catch some rays.