As the saying goes, there are those that eat to live, and then there are those that live to eat. France seems to be a country filled with the latter.
For a foodie, living in Grenoble is not half bad. The night I arrived I was served a risotto with chicken in a white cream sauce and a cucumber side salad. A few nights ago we had a traditional croziflette with Reblochon cheese on top and chunks of bacon, paired nicely with a Pinot Gris from Alsace and slices of fresh baguette. At any given time, I am within a hundred yards of a bakery, a butchery, and a café. There are whole sections of the supermarket devoted to different cheeses and localsaucisson (dry cured sausage that originates in France) and I cannot remember a meal in the last two weeks that didn’t involve fresh vegetables in some fashion.
But it is not the food itself that seems central, at least directly. Rather, it is the way in which that food is shared, the way in which everything seems to revolve around meals here in Grenoble.
I’ve started to notice that there is not an event that goes by without food accompanying it. Last Monday, I was invited to join a group of international students at a cookout, a common occurrence for the ministry here, where students far from home came and sat around the table, sharing a little bit of home with each other. On Tuesday nights there is a group of young guys that go running together, just a handful of friends that started a tradition of working out and enjoying community. After the run, they always collect back at the same apartment for a post-workout dinner. Wednesday nights is Bible study and prayer group, but not until after supper, prepared by one of the members at their apartment. Most Thursdays is the local student ministry, Le Foyer Evangélique Universitaire (Le FEU). There is an outdoor courtyard at the ministry headquarters with a long table that seats upwards of 30 people, a table the students gather around to share a meal before going inside for teaching and fellowship.
Barbecues and cookouts and picnics. These are the basis for most outreaches, and there is rarely a week that goes by without one. Why is that?
I think I’ve begun to realize the answer. One of the team members here is moving to a new apartment and is in the midst of some renovations, touching up the floors and spackling the walls and such. At Le FEU headquarters too, there are massive amounts of remodeling going on, in an attempt to expand the place and make it a multipurpose space, complete with guest apartments, a kitchen, a computer room, and various classrooms. And so I split my time last week between sanding and painting, and as I worked I began to realize the significance of what was being created. We weren’t just helping a friend move his family into a new apartment, or contributing our time to create a weekly meeting space for local students. The small part that our paintbrushes and sandpaper played was much bigger: we were working to create a place that felt like home.
Community is the bedrock of ministry here in Grenoble. And community starts around the table.