Crisis reveals character. That's something I lived out in 2010 when my oldest son miraculously won a battle with brain cancer. We saw our friends and community pour out support, love, and food for our "Little Iron Man". Iron Man 2 had just graced the movie screens, and Josh loved his Iron Man toys. In the following years, as I continued to reel from the whole experience, I would ask, "Why me? Why did he get sick? How can I prevent this?" I never stopped looking for answers.
In 2015, I came across a book called The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. I was captivated. His studies revealed that a whole-food plant-based diet was proven to slow or even turn off cancer cell growth. Before we knew my son had cancer, I remembered how he ate broccoli like a person would drink cold water on a hot day. It was unusual, and others had commented about his love for the cruciferous plant. Did he intuitively know that he could heal when eating this food? I believe so.
In 2017, my husband and I formed Little Iron Mom. A non-profit to be the salt and light in communities through faith-based nutritional education. I mused, "If I could educate others, perhaps they would not have to travel the same painful road of cancer with their child I had experienced." Unfortunately, as I was getting my non-profit going, I myself began to struggle with my health with no answer or diagnosis from the medical community. Knowing what I had learned, I started treating myself with a whole food plant-based approach and other holistic healing methods. Holistic healing is not like hitting the "easy button." My health issues became a large stall in my efforts to start Little Iron Mom. So, I began to pray again about God's calling for my life, and I asked Him to deliver that answer with 100% clarity.
In late 2019, still seeking God's direction, I applied for an Americorps VISTA position that would allow me to use my love for food and nutrition. I would be mentoring refugee women from Myanmar to gain workforce skills through gardening, farmers market, and sharing culturally relevant meals. In this new role, I saw how food was a language. It provided context for the incredible stories and cultural heritage my new women friends possessed. It also provided a common ground for us to learn on.
Randomly, In June 2020, I felt that God was leading me to pursue freeze-drying technology. It fit so well with my heart of gifting prepared meals to those in need, but the technology comes with a high price tag. I began to pray more feverishly about it. One morning I took a jog, where I often pray, and I said,"God, if I'm supposed to get this machine, and I can make a difference with Little Iron Mom, give me a sign so I know I'm doing the right thing." Now, I want you to know I hate the sign game with God because when you ask, then you have to listen diligently. I sat by the river as I continued to pray a man ran by. I recognized him. Long story short, he was someone who had held a very similar Americorps VISTA position like mine last year, and one of his Mentees had told me what a difference he had made in her life. Ok, God, that's encouraging, but I need a more solid sign I’m moving the right way. Pushing my luck, I brokered my next deal with God. If my non-profit bank account is within a dollar in the positive direction of the machine's total price, I'll get it. After my run, I checked. I had $2,295.46. The total with delivery was $2294.00, leaving me a whopping 64 cents.
God already knew what he was doing. I was walking in a direction he asked and I continued to listen to him. I began testing different foods in the freeze-drying process. My summer garden was revving up, and I tried all kinds of items from eggplant chips, fruit, and corn. It was all delicious. Ok, God, too many directions, what now?
The answer came on August 10, 2020, when an incredible storm hit the Midwest and was given a title, "Derecho." The storm that devastated my parents' home and business was later said to have been comparable to a category three hurricane. We weren't alone in our sorrows. The storm damage was unimaginable, and thousands were left homeless or without power for days or even weeks. In the days following the storm, relief poured in from all over the state of Iowa and beyond. Some relief efforts were helpful. Unfortunately, some were burdensome due to a lack of planning and empathy or understanding of those they were serving. Food, in particular, was the hardest to administer with no power in many places. Leftovers spoiled because there was nowhere for them to go.
The African refugee community located near our long time family business had lost the roof on their apartment and needed to be relocated. A local church that already specifically served this community was willing to let us host some meals and distribute food and paper products to them during this immediate relief time. This partnership allowed us to show up for that community in a way that wrapped around their heritage. Nothing says love or grace like comfort food and tools for relief that were culturally empathetic.
Disaster requires immediate relief, brokenness requires rehabilitation, and everyone needs development. Whether your crisis happens in a hospital, a car, an ocean, or on land, one common theme of these situations is that crisis reveals character, caring hearts want to help, and proper relief, rehabilitation and development require structure.
That is why Little Iron Mom is creating the World Grace Project (WGP). The World Grace Project (WGP) focuses on developing others through relief and rehabilitation in our city and creating leaders through mentorship. In Waterloo, we will build bridges for authentic living by promoting healing that happens at the table. The "Lead like Jesus" approach will provide safe spaces for reconciliation to happen.
By involving the existing cultures in the Waterloo area, we will create relief meals containing culturally relevant ingredients and multimedia educational materials to highlight each meal. Each highlighted meal will put a face and a name to a person's story, and all the participants will be linked to the Cedar Valley area to show how rich and beautiful our city heritage is.
WGP will do this by using food as grace with a "healthy" mix of ingredients:
The Table: Making room for my neighbor
The Food; Delivering grace, healing, and cultural understanding in relief and rehabilitation
The Utensils; Setting the table with a structure for education with an emphasis on teaching the younger generations
The Guests; Development through opportunities in mentorship and leadership