The fields were covered in mist on the 90-minute drive from St. Catharines to Elmira, Ont., at 5:30 a.m. on a cool spring morning in April. A church elder had invited me to share in the Mennonite Central Committee mobile meat canning outreach.
This is what the pastor does, I was told.
As the new pastor of Scott Street (Mennonite Brethren) Church in St. Catharines, I looked forward to doing something new.
The irony is that I am a vegetarian. Since a struggle with typhoid and malaria during my 13 years of teaching in East Africa, I have not been able to digest meat. I don’t eat a vegetarian diet for health or moral reasons: my body simply rejects meat.
So, why did this reluctant vegetarian cross the road?
Some 20 men and women, all of whom who had volunteered before, greeted me warmly at the Elmira Product Auction Cooperative. I was indeed the fresh-faced volunteer in this clean and efficient production — fill, weigh, wash and label.
I was placed on the washing team, moving heavy cans from the pressure cookers to the cleaning table and the labellers. Basically, where I could work hard without special skills.
The team welcomed me with a kind word and a smile. Some people had come in horse-drawn buggies, some in black minivans and others in shiny new pickup trucks. But we all came with the same purpose: to serve God by preparing cans of chicken “in the name of Christ.”
Before starting our work together, we put on protective gloves and hairnets (wishful thinking on my head). The mobile canning factory’s big pressure cookers were at full steam as we entered. It was a noisy, steamy, exciting environment to work in.
As we got into the rhythm of moving cans from preparation, to cooking, to cleaning and labeling, we shared our names and a bit of our stories over the din of the machines.
It wasn’t long before Matthew, to my left, started singing hymns. Everyone joined in.
The machines clanked, the steam hissed, and God’s children sang his praise while hundreds of cans full of freshly cooked chicken passed through our hands.
After two hours we took a break for a cup of coffee and homemade baking.
Team members told me more about this incredible mission of mercy as I enjoyed the best buttertart I have ever tasted. No Timbits for this crowd — just tasty, fresh from the kitchen baking.
I learned that I was part of a team of 30,000 volunteers from Canada and the U.S. who produce 774,067 pounds of canned chicken, pork and beef. MCC sends the cans to countries where meat is difficult to purchase, places like North Korea, Zambia, Haiti and Ukraine.
Over five hours together, we canned more than 4,000 pounds of chicken.
What a joy it is to simply serve our loving Lord Jesus.
I wonder if the bright-eyed child in Zambia who enjoys a chicken dinner from one of our cans can sense the love of Christ, and the flavor of Christian faith as they eat.
This vegetarian looks forward to crossing the road again next year, meeting more friends in the faith, and sending another can of chicken to a family in need.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
Rob Patterson is lead pastor at Scott Street Church, a Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches congregation in St. Catharines, Ont. He comes to the pastorate after 15 years of teaching in East Africa and seven years as a lecturer at Tyndale University. This post originally appeared at mbherald.com.