Praying Over Ramen and Learning from the Convoy of Hope

by Mr. Sheehy

I found myself praying over Ramen noodles this weekend. The act itself is not strange, I suppose. We say grace before eating, so it’s not like praying over food is strange. In fact, the content of my prayer might not have even been that strange. If Ramen could tell me the kinds of prayers typically offered over their noodles, I would guess they’d fall into three basic types:

  1. thanks that there is SOMEthing to eat,
  2. hope that there might someday be something better on the menu,
  3. hope that these noodles would be more filling than they appear to be.

My prayer was a type two, and I’ll share more of its specifics in a moment. First, I want to identify the parts of my situation that were unique. One is that I was I was praying over two pallets of Ramen (beef flavor, in case you’re wondering). Two is that these noodles were not mine; I was helping to give them away.

Churches from my area joined together to host a Convoy of Hope event. The concept is simple: in Jesus’ name, believers offer help and services to the poor of their community. Guests receive free groceries, haircuts, medical check-ups, food, family portraits, entertainment, and even shoes. For our event, more than 800 volunteers helped around 5,300 adults and their children.

I was assigned to the grocery area, and while packing the bags with Ramen noodles, I was praying out of John’s gospel. Specifically, I was praying the hope of John 6:35:

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

It’s an easy prayer to offer while packing Ramen noodles into a bag: Lord, please guide the recipients of this food to that which truly nourishes. Because as we all know, Ramen does not nourish.

If I’d been packing a loaf of my wife’s homemade bread into the bag, I might have lost the truth of the prayer. My wife’s bread is seriously healthy stuff, and passing that along, I’d feel like I was giving the recipient something particularly beneficial, not just filling. Yet even if I were to fill 2,000 grocery bags with her bread, the recipients would not be any better off than they are with the Ramen, at least in the sense that really matters. They need the bread of life, the stuff that, if you eat of it, you live forever (John 6:51).

Praying over packaged, artificially flavored noodles is not exactly glory work when it comes to ministry, but I sure loved doing it, and in faith I am convinced that it helps (Matthew 21:22). I want to remember to do more of that when I return to the classroom for teaching next week, praying for my students and their families.  I have done this before, of course, but I’d like to do it more. The students don’t have to know I am doing it—it’s not like the guy eating Ramen noodles tonight knows I prayed over them, but I did it anyway.

The wonderful thing is that praying for students is more tangible than praying over noodles, even if the scriptures I might pray into their lives are less topically obvious. As an experience, I think praying for students is similar to the encounter I had later in the day at the Convoy of Hope.

After we bagged the groceries, one job we took on was carrying guests’ bags to their cars. They’d always refuse help the first time, but usually if I persisted, I’d get them to break down by the third time I’d asked. One gal told me she had to walk all the way home, and I insisted that such a reason was exactly why I wanted to help her. She gave in and I took two bags away from her 10 year old son.

Two blocks down the street he announced that they lived in a hotel. Without hesitation, I told him that was okay, it happens, and her mom admitted that it was so, but in an unashamed tone. Five minutes after that she confessed that she’d dislocated her shoulder recently and wasn’t supposed to be carrying anything heavy in her right hand. Watching her son bash sticks, throw apples, and fall behind, I realized how crucial my persistence had been in trying to help her: she would have had to carry all the bags after four blocks. We walked and walked, her son pulling his pants up after they’d fallen so low it must have been a tad horrifying for his mom.

Twenty minutes into the walk she noticed what I’d spotted the first moments I met them: his shorts were torn up the inseam so far he looked like he was wearing a skirt. He couldn’t remember when it had happened, and his mom hoped maybe the hotel manager would have a sewing machine they could borrow. Though I had trouble understanding everything he said (he did not annunciate well), I liked him immensely: he smiled with his entire face, especially with his eyes, and though he abruptly accosted a group of Native American kids who most definitely did not want anything to do with this strange white kid, I could see he was motivated by fun, not meanness.

After walking a mile and a half, we were across the street from their motel, and the crossing was a pretty dangerous intersection. Mom made her son hold her hand, and as we waited for the walk signal, he looked up at me and indicated that I should hold his hand too. I was carrying all three bags of groceries by this point but happily proffered my left hand to accommodate his request. I prayed for him and prayed for him all the way across the street, and when we reached the curb, he didn’t let go. I loosened my grip enough that he could easily let go if he wanted, but I did not pull away, instead continuing to pray for this sweet little boy who lacked a shy helix of DNA somewhere. After we reached his door I shook his hand, bending down to see his bright eyes before I left. He had a big old booger under his nostril; with that kind of help, you don’t have to force a smile, and I offered them the Lord’s blessing as I left.

When it comes to ministry, I could not ask for anything better than that walk. Yet I had a pang of regret, too, wishing I’d been more explicit in discussing Christ, about the reason I think life can be hopeful. On the half hour walk back to the grocery site I prayed that I would have better ears for such opportunities, that I would be able to inquire openly and sincerely who Jesus is to others, a skill I tend to suppress when I’m under that hovering public school authority.

As it is, I’m still praying for that boy and his mom. I don’t know what God will do with them through a few bags of groceries and the encounters they had throughout the day, but I hope that the experience moved them one step closer to the bread of life. I do wish I’d been a better guide in that area, because when it comes to the kingdom of God, those are two I’d sure like to be a part of it.