Breaking Bread at the Grace House

While earning her PhD at Duke, third year pharmacology student Jovita Byemerwa also serves on the Duke Lutherans Leadership Team, helping us think about how we can engage more deeply in our neighborhood. One way she invites us to do that is by sharing meals with neighbors we might not otherwise eat with.

Each month, neighbors share a meal at the Grace House. Tell us more about what happens there.
The past couple of years, a few other Duke Lutherans and I started realizing that there’s a significant gap between our lives at Duke and the experiences of our neighbors in Durham. It felt as if the two worlds did not mix. We wanted to create a space where we could interact with our Durham neighbors in a mutual and faithful way. We decided to start sharing meals at Grace House, the house next to one of our partner churches, Grace Lutheran Church. This has facilitated great friendships, especially with those in the local refugee community. What draws me [to these meals] is an ever-present call, or conviction. I feel called to reach out to my neighbors, not just periodically, but continuously through genuine relationships.

What does a typical gathering at the Grace House look like?
Usually one or two people cook a meal from their home country or culture. We start the evening with a few words of welcome from Pastor Ali, and then the cook(s) share about the food they prepared and what that meal means to them. We then eat, talk, laugh, and catch up for the rest of the evening. When the weather is good, some people play games on the sidewalk. Afterwards, we all help clean up.

How have these meals shaped your understanding of what it means to be a neighbor?
I see God in the multiple cultures, languages, and experiences of people who gather at Grace House. People have accepted me and loved me, and they have invited me to share my life and culture with them, and for that I am grateful. These experiences have taught me that being neighborly is not an easy thing. It is about being vulnerable and willing to receive and give love, and to continuously challenge our default self-centered nature. It is about learning to actively listen to others. You very soon learn that you need God’s help to be a neighbor.

Why is taking part in your community important in your faith?
My community involvement is what helps me live out the faith that I’m taught and encouraged to live in Duke Lutherans. I get to truly experience life together with my fellow Duke Lutherans and neighbors in Durham. It is in these encounters that I learn about the meaning and the cost of life together. I get to challenge my own self-centeredness and experience the gift of God’s love and mercy through others.

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