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Sunday Soup Pot

A little faith–and a lot of fresh ingredients–helped this New England transplant in a pinch whip up a hearty soup dinner for a dozen Southerners.

Nancy Sleeth and her daughter, Emma

We’d just moved to Kentucky from New Hampshire a month earlier, and I could barely understand the Southern accents—much less feel settled in our new home.

We came here because of my husband’s work on environmental issues. Matthew speaks to congregations about why it’s so important to be good stewards of the earth and it made sense for us to relocate to a part of the country with a lot of churches.

There was another big draw: our son, Clark, had just started his sophomore year of college here.

At the time, I didn’t feel like I was being a very good steward of my home. It was a mess—we were in the middle of making some energy-efficient updates to our compact 1960s ranch, repainting and unpacking.

I missed those nice, orderly days when I taught English at the local high school and everything at home was neatly in its place.

Church was the one constant in our life, but that too was different from our church back in New England. Everyone was friendly, but I didn’t even know their names yet. I missed those good friends I’d known for years, folks who would drop in anytime.

Will I ever have people over after church, like we did in New Hampshire? I wondered.

Early one Sunday morning, I started a big pot of my vegetable barley soup while my daughter, Emma, fired up the bread machine. Then we picked Clark up at his dorm to go to services.

The small chapel was much more crowded than usual. About 14 Asbury College students crammed into the back pews with us. While the pastor’s wife played the invocation, I studied the students’ faces. They looked as homesick and lost as I felt.

We stayed for fellowship and chatted with the students. “How are your classes?” I asked. “Getting along with your roommates?” They seemed so appreciative of a little motherly attention that there was only one thing to do. “Does anyone want to come to our house for lunch?” I asked.

They all said yes—more than a dozen of them!

Emma looked a little panic-stricken on the way home. “How are we going to feed all these people, Mom? You know the grocery store is closed on Sundays!” I said something vague about the good Lord providing, but inside I was anxious. Would we have enough food? And the mess!

I cringed when I thought about the havoc of our ongoing renovations. We didn’t even have a kitchen table! Some of our dishes were still in boxes—and for this group, we’d need every plate and bowl.

Soon as we stepped inside the house, the family got to work. Clark set out stacks of plates and silverware. Emma sliced the heavenly smelling freshly baked bread. I added frozen vegetables and more broth to the pot. Soup is a very forgiving medium—you can always add more liquid in a pinch.

Fortunately, it’s a very thick soup, so it didn’t seem watery even after I’d thinned it out. And because I’d used really good, fresh ingredients, it had loads of flavor. The students joined us, and within 15 minutes we were ladling out hot, hearty soup and serving up hunks of honey whole wheat bread.

The kids sat in a big circle on the floor, laughing and enjoying a break from cafeteria food. Somehow there was enough for every­one even after some of the kids had seconds!

After we finished cleaning up, Emma whispered, “You know, Mom, it’s like the story of the fish and loaves. You just need to have a little faith.”

Since that day over a year ago, we’ve had a constant stream of visitors. Our house is no longer just our own, but it’s more like a home than ever.

Recently we had 30 students over for a creation-care meeting and a great vegetarian cookout. With less than an hour to prepare the meal, it was still a scramble to get the food ready, but I didn’t panic. And that Southern accent that gave me so much trouble? A thing of the past.

“Y’all come back and join us for dinner sometime, you hear?” I called out to the kids as they headed back to campus.

Try out Nancy’s recipes for Vegetable Barley Soup and Honey Whole Wheat Bread at home!

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