By Jan Barkley
When I felt led to go on this mission trip to Kenya I initially thought that one of my functions would be to help with construction. Michael and others had talked about building a new structure at the farm, and having worked construction on mission trips in the past, I had missed the opportunity to build something. On a work day in August when we were testing a construction technique, Michael turned to me and almost off-handedly said, “Hey, Jan, you’re a cook, right? We need to figure out how to bake fruit breads with our excess produce. Do you think as a side project that you could figure out how to bake some banana bread there or something like it? Oh, and by the way, we don’t have an oven and the only heat source is a wood fire.”
Well, I love a good challenge so I started researching baking in cast iron dutch ovens using coals, trying different processes and recipes. I had a plan that I thought would work and, thanks to my husband, we figured out a way to stuff six dutch ovens in suitcases without going over the airline weight limit. It was becoming apparent to me that my little side project was becoming my whole project. It’s important for the farm to be able to use the produce to create something of added value and help get the name of Sodzo out in the community. Most people in this area have never tasted anything like banana bread or zucchini bread and restaurants and hotels in the larger towns nearby might be willing to buy it.
Armed with my dutch ovens, cake pans, and baking ingredients, I arrived on Wednesday for my first day on the farm and met George the cook and his assistant, Josephine. They were so warm and welcoming. In the morning I watched as they skillfully prepared large pots of a kale, potato and carrot stew and a separate mix of beans and corn for the boys for lunch. They knew how to poke the logs just right to get the correct heat. The food that they prepare is so delicious! The vegetables are fresh from the farm and George gets amazing flavor out of a few simple ingredients. And there is plenty of it. George and Josephine make enough so the boys can take heaping plates of food and come back for seconds if they want—so important for growing boys.
In the afternoon it was time to work on the cakes. The bakery will primarily be Josephine’s responsibility so she joined me along with Eryoy, the farm manager, who also likes to cook. We worked on a sweet tomato spice bread because their tomato plants were so prolific. We immediately fell into an easy rhythm while working together, laughing and sharing stories about food and family. After we put the batter in the ovens and set them in the coals, I explained different ways they could modify the recipe, swapping mangoes for tomatoes as the season changed or adjusting the spices. “This bread is very forgiving,” I said. Josephine chuckled and replied, “That is very Christian!”
We had a good laugh about the pun but I found myself turning that phrase over and over in my mind for the next few days as we baked more bread and worked together. This bread is forgiving. I think it’s no accident that Jesus used bread and wine to symbolize forgiveness and redemption. Forgiveness changes the past. It wipes clean the wrong and lets us start again.
Bread changes our past. It satisfies our hunger and lets us start again, renewed for the task ahead. The boys at the farm have pasts more terrible than most of us can imagine yet this bread, this farm, this place is forgiving. It is changing who they are, allowing them to start again with future of plentiful plates of food, of education and skills to build a future, and most importantly, of people who love and care for them.
When I arrived at the farm on Friday, Josephine and Eryoy, pulled me into the kitchen and showed me what they had been doing that morning. They went on the Internet and looked up a recipe for a vanilla cake from the Cake Boss (I had to laugh!) and made it on their own. It was perfect. They were excited to try different kind of breads and cakes with things that they like. They were now the bakers, so I became the sous chef—helping George cook lunch. I got to learn how he combines his ingredients and regulates the fire and how he makes a pot of cabbage, tomato and onions taste so good.
This bread is forgiving—and I feel renewed for the future, too.