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From the foot of the long driveway, I got out of my car and was taken aback by the fragrant aroma traveling through the air to greet me. Turkish spices, tomatoes, garlic and potatoes, kale and golden raisins, were all surely doing their best to behave and blend together inside the house.

My friends Nancy and Vivienne were working side by side in the kitchen. I arrived just in time to slip out and talk to Nancy’s husband, Pastor Marc, before we all sat down to bowls of the delectable Moroccan stew which had been prepared over the past day and a half. It would be delivered on Friday to the Stensbergs, who host and lead the Ministry through our church.

During the time I’ve been writing and barely scraping the surface of Marc and Nancy’s missionary journey together, Marc would often mention what a (creative and spontaneous) “amazing” cook Nancy is. She easily prepares large meals for the many, many people traveling through their lives and home, even when ingredients have been very, very sparse.

This is Lily. I consider it an honor when she brings me Bear. ❤️

Like when she made do with a single burner in Bulo Burte, Somalia where she could invent different concoctions out of rice, tomatoes, powdered milk and a few cans of this or that, then feed anyone and everyone from the Village who happened to stop by for a little Bible study or just to talk. Even her kids raved, “This is good, Mom!” No sirree, there were no finicky eaters in their house.

“Use what you have!” is her motto. And now I do, too. This week I transformed the tail end of an eggplant, three small potatoes, a can of fire tomatoes, some chickpeas, the remains of an onion and a frozen marinated chicken breast, into an aromatic stew that simmered all day. It was the assortment of spices I’d added. (We won a raffle for Penzy’s spices at our recent high school reunion.) The best part is the scent that explodes from those spices.

And that’s what I walked into this past Thursday morning, only better. I call the rich aroma the scent of heaven. As anyone who knows Marc and Nancy, knows, their home is filled with the aroma of heaven—love flowing out, filling everything in its path, from floorboards to ceiling and filling you and me as soon as we enter, whether we eat or not.

Today, as I remember my conversation with Marc that day, that’s exactly what I think of—love. Our Women’s Bible study has been studying Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs so I imagine that’s how Marc and I got talking about Solomon’s “Song of Songs”.

With all of Solomon’s wealth and wisdom, he lacked the love expressed in the young shepherdess’s voice, “the beloved” speaking of and to her “lover”—who both know they are the only ones in the world for each other. Or as Marc said, “The love expressed between two kids working together in a kitchen.” I liked that relatable comparison (but that particular story is for another time).

“Or two kids in a chemistry class together!” I chimed in. Marc and Nancy met as college kids in a chemistry class. It was love at first sight. I know this. It’s the opening chapter in the book the three of us are finishing up together. “That’s the love you two have!” I said.

Marc’s eyes glistened as he nodded, “I don’t know why she ever married me.”

Because that’s the way these two are. As selfless and humble as anyone you will ever met. The two things I strive for, hoping it will rub off.

It’s no surprise, that the more I am with them, the more I see how rich their lives have been, and continue to be, always filled with selfless, humble people. Like the leaders serving the International students that come from all over the world to study at UWM and Marquette.

The meals, community and fellowship these students have received and experienced over the decades through this ministry, returns home with them where it’s delivered, talked about, shared and received by new students who will travel here to attend school. They arrive already feeling the welcome and know they are about to taste the good food and sweet friendships that await them.

I get to hang on the long coattails of that overflowing love as I drop the pots off on the Stensberg’s front porch, leaving a trail of Turkish spice in my tracks—the trail of a history of this service that is as lovely and rich as the stew itself. Rob and his late wife, Amy, stepped in many years ago, filling their home every Friday night, even right up through her cancer and up to the end of her life. They followed the two decades when Glennda and Tom Meyer led, even bought their house when the Meyers downsized and moved across the street. The Meyers followed Helen and David Moberg before them.

Tom Meyer’s collection of flags from countries the students are from.

It’s about the kind of love that “is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding, burns like a blazing fire…its waters can’t be quenched and its worth is unsurpassed.” (From Song of Songs Chapter 8.)

Why it’s the very love of Christ, Himself, that flows in to us to flow out to others in need, and it’s as sweet and rich as anything you’ll ever taste. If you ever wonder if one seemingly small individual can make one huge impactful difference, I would answer you with a resounding, Yes! Oh, the stories I could tell…

Plaque above Nancy’s stove…I always imagine Jesus reading over my shoulder as I write.


Feature photo: Taylor Kiser, Unsplash.

The upcoming book, Just Along for the Ride, about Marc and Nancy Erickson’s missionary journey together, shares the stories of their love for God, for people and for each other. It’s my hope that these stories inspire more stories—yours and those you have of others. Marc says, in heaven there will be no more sermons, only the stories/testimonies of how Christ captured our hearts, redeemed and transformed us.

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