For freshman Katie Ito, hospitality is recognizing that both beauty and brokenness can coexist around the table.
As a young teenager, Ito’s family became friends with college students from the Middle East studying at IUPUI. Every Monday night, the Nelsons, a family from Ito’s church, would host a dinner open to the students and congregation.
One week, two of the students decided to share a bit of home by making a traditional Middle Eastern meal. When the preparation was done, they put all the rice on a large platter the size of the dinner table. Hiding the silverware around the house, the students encouraged everyone to eat with their hands.
Reaching for a handful of rice mixed with garlic, almonds, dried fruits and pieces of lamb, Ito tasted the power of hospitality shown to her by her Saudi friends.
Years later, Ito was reminded of the role of food in hospitality during a two-week trip to Lebanon with her church.
“I love the beauty of what people have created here (in Lebanon), and I want to somehow bring that with me,” Ito said.
After experiencing the culture of hospitality in Lebanon, Ito knew culinary school was the next step in growing in hospitality. During her gap year after high school, Ito learned how to make food in large quantities. She took her culinary gifts with her to Taylor where she began an event called Peace Meal.
Ito’s most recent Peace Meal took place on Saturday, Nov. 16 and focused on Lebanon. She hopes food and fellowship will nourish the body and soul, desiring reconciliation and harmony between those who gather at the table.
Ito’s dream is to establish an environmentally-sustainable urban farm and restaurant that employs both locals and refugees. She sees hospitality as an instrument for peacebuilding between Muslims and Christians.
“I want to engage that narrative (of peacebuilding) through food,” Ito said. “If people are much more open to food, I think that's going to be the greatest catalyst for the gospel.”
While Ito rejoices in the beauty of the table, she also knows the table can be messy. Brokenness and conflict often occupy the spots of peace and reconciliation at the table. She learned this during her gap year while volunteering at Heart Change Ministries, a discipleship program for mothers in crisis in inner city Indianapolis.
Every day, the women would have lunch together. The beauty Ito hoped they would experience was sometimes overshadowed by the burdens and bitterness they carried.
“And I think that's where the table gets really difficult. When you sit down and you realize things are hard, you have a choice,”Ito said. “You can either get up and walk away, or you can stay there, and you can make conversation.”
For Ito, the power of Gospel hospitality lies in inviting Christ to be the honored guest and recognizing He is the only One who can bridge the brokenness and beauty present at the table.