The Starbucks Barista and the Senator: In God's Mission, the Last Shall Be First
Photo by Flickr user Berto Garcia
I am new to the Wild West, but I do have the cow-girl boots to prove I am not averse to a little rough-and-tumble cowboy culture. Last fall, when I moved to my newest hometown of Casper, WY, I was transitioning out of seminary and into pastoral ministry. I chose to work at our local Starbucks as a way to get to know my new community. People and coffee are two of my life’s great passions, so what better intersection to participate in God’s reconciliation mission than a coffee shop?
I did not know until a few months into working at the shop that Sen. John Barrasso and his wife, Bobbi, were regular customers. I came to know them by their preferred coffee drinks as every good barista identifies their customers.
When I graduated from high school in Kenya and left our family home in Malawi to attend university in Idaho, my parents gifted me with a necklace from which hangs a pendant of the African continent. It has been a great conversation starter, including with Sen. Barrasso, who inquired from the other side of the espresso machine about my connections to the vast continent. I explained that South Africa was my birthplace, and we chatted about his visits to the country.
Little did I know when I was chosen as a Hunger Justice Leader for 2012 that serving coffee to one of Wyoming’s senators would become a powerful point of connection when I found myself lobbying on Capitol Hill on behalf of hungry people across the globe, in America, and in my new home-state.
Lobby Day 2012 found me with quite a few jitters. Bread for the World was able to organize personal visits with both of the Wyoming senators. I was the only constituent present that day to represent Wyoming and to speak on behalf of the voices that are so drastically ignored in our nation today: the poorest and hungriest among us.
As I walked the halls of the Russell Senate Office Building toward Sen. Barrasso’s office, I said a prayer: “God of Love, you have placed me in privilege today to speak on behalf of the ignored. I will speak with courage so that the eyes of the powerful will be opened to the plight of the hungry. God of justice, have your way.”
When Sen. Barasso entered the designated meeting room within his Senate office, I rose to greet him. “Hello Sen. Barrasso, my name is Libby and I am your barista at the CY Ave. Starbucks in Casper.”
“Of course,” came the reply. “We have South Africa connections.”
I breathed a little easier knowing he remembered me and that sharing my story would be welcomed based on our relationship built over coffee. “Would you like some sub-par coffee?” Sen. Barrasso joked. “How can I deny such an offer?” I quipped. He stepped outside the conference room just out of eyesight, but not out of earshot and continued to converse while he grabbed me a cup of coffee. Packaging in hand, he showed me it was Starbucks coffee he was brewing. I laughed out loud and sipped the steaming caffeine with a heart of gratitude to the God of role-reversals.
What others might consider ironic, I consider the imaginative humor of our Creator-God. I had travelled all the way from serving coffee to Sen. Barrasso in our Wyoming hometown, to being served coffee by the senator in his office of power in Washington, DC. That muggy June day in the nation’s capital, as I shared my story with Sen. Barrasso and used my voice to ask that he consider poor and hungry people while making vital legislative decisions, the jitters were swept away by God’s spirit.
In some small way, this reversal of roles between a minister-cum-barista and a senator became symbolic of what God is up to on the global and cosmic scales: reconciling all the shattered pieces of creation into perfect balance once again, turning on their head the expected structures of the powers that be. In God’s restored reign, the last shall be first. But until all creation is made new and until the last hungry person on earth is fed, those of us who choose to identify with the God of Love are called to end hunger.
Let us remember the admonition of Deuteronomy 15:7-8 and 11: “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be … . Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’”
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