I love barbecue. Seriously, my heart yearns for it.
Owensboro, KY, where I’m from, is actually the epicenter of a unique variety: mutton barbecue. Mutton is meat from sheep around three years old, as opposed to lamb, which is meat from sheep less than a year old. It starts out fatty and tough, but if you cook it low and slow and add our special vinegar-and-pepper based sauce, then it comes out moist and tender. It’s typically served either pulled or sliced, but it also comes in a regional stew called “burgoo.” I was always told that outside of Europe or the Middle East, no one consumes more mutton than the residents of Owensboro, KY.
So, yes, I love barbecue. I love the taste of it. I love the smell of it. I love the skill and craftsmanship that goes into making it. I love the time and dedication necessary to get it just right.
I was recently at a friend’s house for some barbecue. This time it was pulled pork from Pickles & Bones Barbecue in Milford, OH.
I was excited.
I had never tried their barbecue before, and my friend was extolling its virtues. To my delight, it was everything he said it would be. It had the crispy bits mixed in, but it was still tender. It was juicy, smoky, and savory. Buns were available to make sandwiches with it, but I just heaped a hearty helping on my plate and ate it with a fork. SO GOOD.
Something More than Food
When I left for the evening, I wasn’t thinking about the food, though. I was thinking about the welcome, fellowship, and friendship. Through a sorcery I have not yet mastered, my friend has raised his family to be absolutely the most hospitable people you could ever meet. He has eight kids (with one on the way!), and it was as if each one was specially assigned to meet our needs. As soon as we walked in the door, one of his little sons ran up to my little daughter, gave her a big hug, and exclaimed, “I love you!” She was thrilled by this, and was right at home for the rest of the evening. They made sure my youngest son had plenty of chips (I don’t know how he grows because that’s basically all he eats), and my oldest son had plenty of space when he needed it … and video games, plenty of video games.
For me, my friend had a cold beer ready as soon as I walked in, he started prayer when he sensed I was getting antsy (I can’t stand milling about), and he generally made me feel like a valued guest in his home. His wife, for her part, was full of warm, loving concern for my wife and my whole family. There was great conversation, laughter, prayer, and even some praise-and-worship. It was one of the best nights I’ve had in a long while.
The Lasting Encounter
On the drive home, I couldn’t get over how happy I felt. As I thought about it more, I realized: my friend and his family evangelized me. They proclaimed the Gospel of love, mercy, and graciousness in their hospitality towards me. Ultimately, they spoke to a keenly felt desire to be loved, accepted, and fully known. In their friendship I encountered the friendship of the Lord.
It’s a shame that families can’t evangelize more often in this way, especially in their encounters with other families. There’s not much to it, really. When a family loves each other and loves others, this is what happens. They proclaim the Gospel by being who they are.
In my short time there, I experienced love, acceptance, unity, dignity, service, and praise. Isn’t that what eternal life with God is supposed to be like? Simply put, my friend and his family gave me a taste of heaven.
Well, that and the barbecue.