Twenty years ago this month, I said good-bye to my parents at the Atlanta airport and flew overseas. Almost 13 months passed before I saw them again. To mark this milestone of 2 decades (!) since I embarked on that year-long adventure in Romania, I wanted to share with you this little essay I wrote that involves one of the changes in my life during that time in eastern Europe. SO much has happened in these 20 years, and this story tells of one of those happenings.
Nice to Meat You
I felt famished when I bit into the cheese steak I’d ordered that night, the same entrée my best friend had ordered, too. We—along with a handful of other high school students—had traveled out of town for a speech competition. Before checking into our motel that night, we stopped for a meal. As much as our mouths watered over those cheese steaks, we couldn’t eat them. The meat inside was almost raw. We sent our dishes back to the kitchen. While we waited for our food to return to the table, I muttered that I might just become a vegetarian.
That evening, at age 16, I made good on that threat. I decided then and there not to eat meat for a year. Once I started, I found no compelling reason to eat meat again—even when ordering at a fast-food joint meant requesting a hamburger with no meat. By the time I’d graduated from university, I had eaten a meatless diet for over 6 years.
A few months after receiving my college degree, I prepared to go overseas to serve as a missionary to students for a year. I arrived at my briefing session in Hungary—before traveling to Romania, where I would live and share the message of God’s love with others. By this time, I had misgivings about continuing with my current vegetarian lifestyle. A woman I met headed to a different country for ministry (Anne–who remains a friend of mine) encouraged me to consider giving up vegetarianism. I was already a step ahead of her. I sensed God leading me to surrender my “rights” to eat as I wished—and instead to eat whatever Romanians ate, to eat with them, to receive with gratitude whatever they served me, and to partake of it joyfully.
A few days after lugging multiple suitcases onto several different trains to get from Hungary to Romania and stepping foot in my new apartment, the landlord in the building where my team leader lived invited our team to a meal. This is it, I thought to myself, the moment I return to eating meat.
And I did. The landlord’s family served us many dishes, honoring us with their hospitality and generosity. I slurped down soup filled with rice and ground pork and sliced into breaded pork cutlets. Pickled vegetables, bread, desserts…we ate for hours. I took some of everything they offered, and I relished it–well, I didn’t really relish the plum brandy, but I certainly tried a little bit.
After lunch that day at the landlord’s, I felt too full to eat anything else for the remainder of that night (except for one Starburst candy that Mama had sent me off with). But I continued eating with Romanians, whatever they offered, receiving it gratefully—whether it was pastries in a student’s dorm room or pork-stuffed cabbage rolls in a family’s flat. For me, giving up meatless meals meant gaining fellowship around a table.