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[Jocelyn is an intern with the Center for Global Impact—World Next Door’s partner organization in Cambodia. In addition to writing and taking pictures for CGI’s blogs, newsletters and promotional materials, Jocelyn is a freelance photojournalist for WND.]
“I used to be a cold-hearted pastry chef.”
I couldn’t believe it. This Assistant Professor of Baking and Pastry Arts who spent nearly every vacation day throughout the last two years teaching impoverished teenage girls in the Majority World everything from international cooking styles to basic sanitation practices? This middle-aged Midwesterner who gave crystal beaded necklaces to students in celebration of their culinary training graduation and transition into employment at their own restaurant? This loving father of two biological children and countless international “daughters and sons” who sat—tears welling—before me?
You’re kidding, right?
Vision Turned Reality
During his trip with the Center for Global Impact (CGI) two winters ago, Barry shot a video about the organization’s Culinary Training Center (CTC). He mentioned the CTC would soon be equipped with a state-of-the-art kitchen and bakery, with future plans to attach a full-fledged restaurant and employ the teenage girls who graduate the program.
Within two years of its original conception, everything happened. This spring, six CTC students completed their 18-month cooking, customer service and life skills training and became the first staff—chefs, bakers, baristas, servers and dishwashers—of Green Mango Café & Bakery!
Now, here I was interviewing Paul Vida, CGI’s International Director of Culinary Education, over a breakfast of the Green Mango’s signature Banana Bread French Toast the morning of the restaurant’s Grand Opening.
A Pause for Reflection
I let Paul gather himself before we continued. While this appeared a savvy journalistic courtesy, it was really an opportunity for me to also get myself together.
When I asked Paul for a brief interview, I wasn’t expecting such raw vulnerability from a seemingly ordinary guy.
What I was expecting was for Paul to share a few heart-warming stories of the transformations he recognized in the young ladies he helped train. You know what I mean—the stories that highlight the typical success of the program that makes everyone’s heart happy.
Instead, I got a reality check.
Suburban mission trippers—myself included—often talk about how their latest volunteer excursion changed their lives forever. We’re deeply affected by the poverty we witnessed, the project we completed and the people we met. But oftentimes, these radical revelations fade after only a few months. We return home to our previous selves—despite our best intentions.
But not Paul. Because of his free, honest confession, I could see Paul’s self-perceived change of heart as genuine. This guy didn’t just change these girls. These girls obviously changed him too. And for a lifetime.
Huh. Maybe lasting transformation isn’t necessarily as fleeting as I thought.
Taking the First Step
After a few sips of iced coffee, Paul was ready to continue.
As he shared how he originally thought he was the wrong guy for the job, his former students flashed around the dining room—greeting customers, taking orders, refilling water glasses—in their electric lime green uniforms.
Before CGI ever takes anyone overseas, the organization works intimately with individuals, families and groups to help determine their interests, talents, resources and networks. This intentional approach becomes what the organization refers to as a “personal impact plan”. CGI truly believes everyone has a story—My CGI Story—that can change the world.
Based on his passions and skill set, Paul, a fellow parishioner of CGI’s President Chris Alexander, was naturally pegged as a possibility for the practical execution of the dream of the CTC.
Paul staunchly disagreed. A perfectionist, he realized the difficulties of what he would be getting himself into.
“You can’t kick people out here,” he reflected—revealing for the first time in our interactions a glimpse into this “cold-heartedness” he had mentioned. He then listed the other practical challenges of teaching cooking cross-culturally—the language barrier, the metric conversions, the foreign equipment and the unfamiliar ingredients—to name a few.
He honestly didn’t think it would be possible—and if somehow it was—worth the effort to invest his time, resources and knowledge with such an unlikely return of his desired success.
Until he met the girls excitedly tearing around us.
Here were people who didn’t want to learn to cook for fame or for fun like Paul’s American students. They wanted to learn to cook for their futures—to be the first in their families to actualize a life of self-sufficiency, breaking the cycle of generational poverty and proving to their society, and themselves, that they are capable and that they have worth.
What the Students Taught their Teacher
Later that afternoon, when I asked asked Paul’s students—now the Green Mango’s employees—what they had learned from their teacher, I got the nice stories I initially set out to find. The girls told me that because of their training and employment, they now have the funds necessary to support themselves but also their families struggling at home. They recognize their self-confidence in their ambitions to get married, to find jobs at local international hotels or even to one day open their own restaurants. Most importantly, they admitted their hope and restoration in Jesus who every day is becoming their Savior.
But that morning, without even thinking to ask the question, Paul shared with me what he had learned from these hard-working, determined and strikingly unbelievable young women.
“Look at these girls,” Paul offered. “Used and abused by their world. They don’t have a lot of opportunities.”
I took a quick glance around and became a little wet in the eyes myself.
“They’ve taught me to have more compassion and to understand my own frailties and arrogance.”
But the deepest lesson Paul believes he came to realize is that, “everyone, everywhere needs Christ”—including himself.
This Kingdom transformation is continuing all around us through the individual world changing stories of teenage cooks and pastry chefs and even ourselves. Everyone has a story that can change the world.
- Consider your own interests, talents, resources and networks. We are designed to glorify God through these gifts and to enjoy Him forever. Is this true of your life?
- Throughout Scripture, Jesus notes the special Kingdom revelations—like the daily need for God—deeply understood by the poor. The next time you encounter someone you believe you can “help,” remain open to the lessons they have to teach you in return.
- Interested in creating your own personal impact plan? Email myCGIstory@gmail.com to begin crafting your CGI Story.
- Pray for staff of Green Mango. While their lives are certainly filled with new hope, they still face many daily difficulties including living away from family and friends, overcoming intrinsic feelings of dependency and maintaining their newfound faith in a minority religion.
About the Author: Jocelyn is a freelance photojournalist with World Next Door. She studied Creative Writing and Missions at Concordia University Irvine. She enjoys reading, writing and traveling. She also likes butterflies.