by Jay Benfante
What would it look like if the feast of a king was prepared for the homeless and the refugee? What if those, who many in our societies see as a problem to be dealt with were treated as esteemed guests, being offered not only the dignity they deserve but honor and respect? I got to speak with Peter Dewit of Serve the City Paris to find out.
The King’s Table is a monthly program that was started by New Song Church in Santa Ana, California and now shares its abundance with other countries on annual trips. Fifteen volunteers from Santa Ana traveled across the world to co-host the King’s Table in Paris. On the first day of their visit, Peter introduced them to the community STC Paris serves weekly during their food distribution with a large pot of soup to share with people sleeping on cardboard and in tents on the streets. They served them and invited them to the event.
The day came and the volunteers crowded into Peter’s house to cook the three-course meal. Across the street was the cafe that hesitantly offered to rent its space for the evening. Food was prepared and carted down apartment floors and across the street while others prepared table settings and decorations.
Soon evening came and with it the arrival of guests from South Sudan, Iran, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Côte d’lvoire, Afghanistan, and beyond. They filed into the cafe of tables covered with bright white cloths with gold ribbons running down their centers set with glass dishware, steel cutlery, and vases of arranged flowers, all glowing in the candlelight. The meal soon began with the grazing dishes; cured meats, cheeses, bread, and various sauces, followed by a soup featuring five varieties of mushrooms with a main course of oven-baked vegetables, seasoned rice, and roasted lamb.
“It was way too much food!” said Peter.
Jessy Elsa Palma (a singer-songwriter based in Paris) was invited to perform and showed up with friends and fellow musicians to form a 5 piece gospel choir. The meal commenced with music, conversation, and plenty of eating.
Jesse sang a solo song in French with the simple yet poignant refrain “as long as you have life you have hope and as long as you have hope you have power.”. After the song a man from Côte d’lvoire stood up and remarked how the song had touched him and told his story of losing loved ones crossing the Mediterranean Sea on his journey to France.
“But I am alive, so I have hope, and I have hope so I have power.” He said
Another man shared his journey from South Sudan. He made three attempts to cross the Mediterranean with his first vessel capsizing, and his second and third being captured by the Liberian government before finally arriving in Italy to poor treatment and heading on to France.
Two other South Sudanese men shared a rap song in English, singing for freedom and for a new day to dawn on their country. Many of the guests (like so many residing in Paris) are seeking asylum hoping they will be offered the chance to stay and create a better life.
The owner of the cafe was brought to tears and deeply moved. She shared posts of the evening on Instagram and told the volunteers how much she loved the work that they were doing. Peter was looking for a location to host their upcoming English Exchange project and she offered to rent her space for less than the price of one night’s rental fee, to support their work.
“Little miracles along the way, little things that you wouldn’t expect. The refugees are touching lives in a beautiful way because I think for the most part the French are jaded by the numbers [of refugees] but when they can hear the stories and when they can meet the people it does make a difference,” said Peter.
The King’s Table hopes to return to Paris one day to repeat this moment of abundance, but Peter says next time, they are taking it to the streets, or the subway, inviting anyone who would accept the invitation to sit at the King’s Table.