Tuesday, December 8, 2015

a beautiful thing

Photo: Aviva by Kameel
The line wound its way out of the Mediterranean restaurant and wrapped around the corner. We took it as a good sign, and so we attached ourselves to the end and waited along with everyone else. The clientele were not just conference attendees, but locals, and no one seemed the least bit disturbed about the wait. Another good sign. Soon we found out why. A smiling hostess with a tray of samples worked her way down the line. "Lentil soup," she offered. "Try it. You'll see. It's good." The lilt of her accent told me that she would know, and her obvious joy in working there boded well. It was good.

Kameel Srouji (Photo: Aviva by Kameel)
Still, nothing could have prepared me for the personna behind the counter. A tastefully decorated wall had shielded our view of the food line until we rounded a corner just steps away. "Hello! Welcome to Aviva. How can I make you happy?" His booming voice filled the atmosphere with life, enthusiasm. His tall frame matched his voice. His sweeping movements made food service an art form. "Excellent choice. It's natural. It's fresh. It's delicious." The customer two ahead of us smiled his thanks and moved down the line. Again the voice boomed, "Welcome to Aviva. You're beautiful. I love you. I need a hug."

A hug? Doesn't that break some kind of food service code? Nevertheless, the businessman in front of us in line ducked around the counter into the kitchen area to hug the man who was larger than life. The chef's eyes twinkled. He lost no time in filling another plate. "Thank you. God bless you. Have a beautiful weekend."

I'm afraid I was a bit thrown, wondering if this was for real. (Is he saying "God bless you" because he heard that the Evangelical Theological Society is meeting next door? Did some study show that enthusiasm is good for business?) When I got to the cashier, I asked, "Is he always like this?" A big smile spread across her face. "Every day!"

Photo: Aviva by Kameel
The energy was palpable.
The food was delectable.

And so the next day, with another friend, I did my time in line again. Brittany had her kids along with her at the conference, and her mom came to watch them. So the five of us waited, tasted falafel, and rounded the corner.

The booming voice. "You came back! How can I make you happy today?" (How can he possibly remember me when he serves hundreds of customers every day? Is it because he looks every one of us in the eye and recognizes that we are made in the image of God?) I suspect so.

Brittany asked if there was something less spicy for her kids. "Ah! For the little ones. This one is on me. No charge. Tell me -- what do they like to eat?" He proceeded to pile a plate with falafel, shwarma, grilled vegetables, and hummus. "Your children are beautiful. Thank you for feeding them real food!"

Kameel's passion for food is obvious!
Photo: Aviva by Kameel
It is not every day that you meet someone who is happy at work, someone energized by their labor who does it with excellence. Kameel is one of those. And the entire restaurant pulsed with this life. It occurred to me then that people come to his restaurant for more than just calories. They pay for lunch and get love, kindness, affirmation. His passion for eating well and living well is contagious.

When I arrived home from Atlanta I was still thinking about Kameel. We found him online, smiling just the way I remembered. I also learned the source of his joy. Kameel is a Catholic believer from Nazareth, eager to share God's love with everyone he meets.

When we have the privilege of meeting someone who has "found their calling" in life it's a beautiful thing. In that moment we get a glimpse of God's creative and redeeming power at work in our midst. Kameel's passion rekindled my own passion to serve God wholeheartedly in my own corner of the world. Whether restaurant or classroom, office or farm, retail outlet or machine shop, when we're doing what we were born to do, and doing it well, He gets the glory.

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:17)

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