Rice & Beans & Two Little Boys

Stacy Nelson and her little boy, Emrick, often cook dinner together at home. Their family has loved participating in Rice & Beans Month as a way to eat in solidarity with the children they sponsor through Lahash. Stacy had the unique experience of traveling all the way to Tanzania to meet their sponsored children, and even got to help cook a meal at one of their homes. She shares her experiences cooking on both sides of the world, with two little boys whose lives are very different… and also much the same.

Rice & Beans & Two Little Boys
by Stacy Nelson, child sponsor and traveler

Jumping in to Rice & Beans Month was no question for our family. We sponsor two children through Lahash, Philipo and Mateso, and our decision to become sponsors was equally as heavy as our desire to have them truly become part of our family and to teach our son, Emrick, about them in every way we could. We thought eating in solidarity with their families would be a very tangible way to do this, and it has proven to be so!

Every year Rice & Beans Month evolves a bit in what it looks like for us, but I’m a “dive in all the way” kind of gal so we replace all of our dinners with some form of rice and beans. Monday mornings Emrick and I always go on our weekly grocery shopping trip where we talk about what to put in the cart. Many times, as he was begging for fruit snacks, yogurts, and granola bars, we would chat about why we were choosing to leave those things in the store. Over time, he definitely got it. Now at four years old, when I choose something outside of the Rice & Beans menu, he reminds me, “Mom, that money should be for Philipo and Mateso.”

Come dinner time, Emrick picks the variety of beans and pulls his stool up to the stove. He has always loved helping in the kitchen, so he stirs the beans and dumps in the rice while we talk about what “the boys” would have done at school that day, or what games they played with their friends, or what songs we think they would have sung about Jesus. We take the pot off the stove right as my husband Garrett gets home from work and sit down to eat. Sometimes we get crazy and try out a recipe, but honestly the simplicity of our meal is one of my favorite parts! We always pray for Philipo and Mateso and remind ourselves why we are loving them in this way.

This year has been even more fun because I can always think of something to tell Garrett and Emrick about my meals when I traveled to Tanzania. Last fall, I joined a travel team from Lahash and got the chance to meet both our sponsored children on the trip! So now I have lots of stories to share about little things that happened while I was there.

When I was at Philipo’s house, preparing the dinner we shared together ended up being the highlight of my time there. Philipo’s mom, Margaret, started the hot coals hours before we ate. As I played with Philipo and his brother, I could see her checking them throughout the evening. Once the sun set and darkness took over, we gathered outside in the small courtyard to cook dinner as about 12 other families did the same. The women were all sitting around laughing and catching up while the babies toddled around and kids played. Margaret had a large pot of ugali over the coals, and she was just about to begin stirring it. Ugali is a porridge most comparable to Cream of Wheat, but VERY thick – they actually use a small paddle to stir it!

I wish I could take you to the moment when I asked if I could stir – she couldn’t contain herself! She handed me the paddle while all of the women were watching and laughing and talking in the fastest Swahili I’d ever heard. As I began stirring, I realized I wouldn’t last long! I thought, “Well I work out regularly, no big deal,” but wow! I still don’t understand how these tiny Tanzanian women hold a burning hot pot and stir ugali at the same time. As I sat there struggling to stir, sweet Philipo came over with his giant smile, said something to me in Swahili, took the paddle from me, and took charge like it was no problem. I found out that Philipo loves to cook and often makes dinner for the family all on his own!

By the light of one solar lamp and a billion stars, I sat there watching Philipo stir the ugali and couldn’t help smiling as I thought of my heavenly Father’s amazing plan to bring me half way around the world. I was cooking with the little boy we’ve prayed for, dreamed of, and loved for years. He was just like Emrick: showing off his strength in the kitchen, funny and happy, just a kid making dinner with his mom. As I sat there I prayed, “Lord, help this simple meal and the act of preparing it in love bind our hearts together. Help it to feed not only our mouths, but our souls. And not just here, but back at home as well.”

Margaret formed the ugali into a ball and put it on her fanciest plate, and took the lid off another pot. Assuming it was beans, I looked closer to find it was small sardine-sized fish that she had boiled with tomatoes. A special treat because they had a visitor. I felt so loved! Much different than at my house, I realized that meal times are for eating, not chatting. We smiled at one another as we happily filled our bellies with this simple, special meal.

After being in Tanzania and preparing a meal with Philipo and Margaret, eating rice and beans at home has so much more meaning. This year, it is more than just eating in solidarity. It’s about knowing that Philipo is healthy enough to enjoy being a kid, because Rice & Beans Month helps provide him with extra nutrition. It’s about the bonds we now have because of prayer and because of God joining our families together. And beyond what is actually on our plates or theirs, it’s about the story of hope, encouragement, and love that is behind the meal.

The idea behind Rice & Beans Month is simple: change your diet to help change theirs. Whether you try it for one meal, or “dive in all the way” like the Nelson family, the money you save will make a difference for hungry families in East Africa and the meals you eat will make a difference in your heart. Find out more and donate at EatRiceAndBeans.com.