Very few miss Mark Buhler on the streets of Southeast Vancouver. Standing 6’6,” and crowned by a tilly hat, his smile is disarming. He ducks in and out of shops and restaurants, reconfirming friendships with Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and acquaintances from BC Housing nearby. Buhler works as a Fellowship missionary to Vancouver with a base at Faith Fellowship Baptist Church. He practices hospitality of the heart in his efforts to reach across cultures. Christmas is not familiar ground for many of his new friends.
Buhler, a missionary for 20 years in Kenya, is very much aware of the mental, spiritual, physical and emotional toll Covid has taken. “God isn’t surprised by any of this,” he says. Today, he is standing over two large bubbling pots of shrimp stew in Faith’s kitchen preparing them with assistants for distribution to another 50 ‘neighbours.’ He quotes Will Graham saying, “God is working to use these challenges and struggles to call the lost unto repentance and salvation.” His endless stories confirm the God things as Christmas nears.
Today, the stories are about an Iraqi who had a vision of Jesus and wanted another encounter. Buhler met the man while out delivering meals to Muslim contacts. He assured the Iraqi that most never have even one encounter and told him that God had some plans for him. The two met for coffee and a story of chaotic life in three middle eastern countries was shared. The man left wanting to learn more about the Jesus of the Bible.
An Egyptian brother was recruited to share truth in Arabic and after a Bible study some incredible clarity and understanding brought joy similar to that of the shepherds in the Bethlehem story who saw Jesus for themselves.
Buhler then adds, “A few days ago, I delivered another 40 servings of chili to the community (closing in on 800 deliveries to date). I went to the Middle Eastern restaurant which is generously partnering with us in providing meals for the community. I picked up six kabab specials and I was given fruit salad, steamed vegetables and extra naan bread. I went to a BC housing complex and brought two meals to a single mum and her son. And guess what? It was her Birthday, and she was thrilled with the special meals. Her elementary school-aged son was eating the fruit salad, steamed vegetables and bread almost as fast as I could serve it into their bowls. She said: ‘He has a healthy appetite!’ I told her, ‘God must have known it was your birthday – Happy Birthday!’ It was such a joy to them, to me and to the owners of the restaurant when I told them the story.”
The wave started in mid-November and continued for about two weeks. Not a COVID wave but a wave of plenty and provision. First, a completely unsolicited call to Buhler from a friend. “A shipment just showed up and we don’t have room to store it. Can you use 20 kgs of shelled shrimp and 15 kgs of chicken?” “Of course, thank you,” Buhler said. He was needing chicken for a Christmas stew on Dec. 21 and now made plans to make a Thai shrimp curry on Dec. 14. A French chef will do the cooking.
Then this chef called Buhler and said, “Can you use 40 Chicken Wrap meals that were ordered but cancelled at the last moment?” Buhler says, “I moved fast to distribute these in our neighborhood. Then a cheque came in the mail, then $400 came by e-transfers. All unsolicited. Then a neighborhood house donated Bagel buns and Cobs bread and 1,200 packages of roasted almonds and 400 large packages of almonds and cashews from an airline!! And that wasn’t all, someone called on Saturday and said he has a truckload of empty beer cans that I can redeem for money to get Christmas gifts for children. It is just amazing, and I am convinced it isn’t just coincidence but Christ orchestrating very interesting donations.”
Having taken part in the shrimp curry flurry a few days ago, I can assure you that the tantalizing temptations coming from Faith’s kitchens are enough to add a warmth to stomachs and hearts during this season and all year long. Buhler’s brand of hospitality is stimulating a whole community to rise up together and demonstrate the love of Christ.