Food has been a centerpiece of community since biblical times when sharing meals and offering hospitality to others was a regular occurrence. Over meals, kings have been persuaded, miracles performed, and ancient ordinances prescribed. A newly-resurrected Jesus shared breakfast with his disciples (Luke 24:42) and the early church regularly “devoted themselves . . . to the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42). There’s something special about gathering around a table together, and Jo Rae Bayless knows this well.
In a small brick home in South Louisville, the oven warmed a different homemade treat each week: doughnuts, sheet pan pancakes, cupcakes designed to resemble tiny hamburgers. Each Friday evening after dinner, a different group of kids made their way across the lawn from Hope Place. There, they enjoyed dessert and conversation with the Baylesses–Jo Rae and her husband Kevin–in the home they rented known as Hope House.
“Having a naturally curious nature, I’ve always loved trying new foods and new preparations of it and so I’ve always been very adventurous when it comes to food. I love to share that love and curiosity with others,” explains Jo Rae. “Even more important than the food is to look a child in the eye and convey to them that they matter and that they have great worth, that they are seen and heard.”
Jo Rae’s skill with cooking and hospitality make serving others look effortless and natural. Most guests only see the bright yellow dining table piled high with the good things she brings out of the kitchen, but time and effort go into the planning. She is committed to perfecting unique recipes, keeping up with all of her guests’ allergies, and executing each meal with excellence. It is her gift, and she stewards it well.
“My brokenness at a very young age came through the physical lack of nutrition and a lack of love and affection. My body at an early age needed food to heal, and my heart needed someone to tell me that I had worth. When you use your brokenness to help bring healing to others, I think you are both healed a little more completely.”
During her time serving with Hope Place, Jo Rae conducted a cooking summer camp and was often seen in the on-site kitchen, serving the evening Dare-to-Care dinner, but it was her time with the Hope Place After-School Program kids on Fun Fridays that have endeared her to them.
On Fun Fridays, the HPASS students divide into smaller groups that rotate through special activities that volunteers conduct for a 45-minute period. Past activities have included smoothie making, team-building games, creative movement, tea parties, and time with a therapy dog. Jo Rae naturally signed up to host a dessert fellowship in her home next door. And so, for about ten weeks, eight or so little heads gathered each Friday around the Baylesses’ cheery yellow dining table to be served some delicious surprise.
When Hope Place Hero Beatrice Makangila’s group was hosted, she says they were served hot chocolate and homemade doughnuts which the kids decorated with sprinkles. “Ms. Jo Rae sat down asked how our week was and what we did at school that day,” the sixth-grader explains. “I felt grateful and happy to be there.”
Six-year-old Noriah Ross adds, “She made me feel happy because she made food for us and she was being respectful and listening to what we had to say.”
In Jo Rae Bayless’ dining room, the yellow table became a place for children to be seen, heard, and nourished. “I have learned that to love is to be vulnerable. When you love through food, through your everyday lives, and in your home, you open yourself up to judgment and criticism and comparison. You have to be willing to be imperfect at all of that, but I think that people appreciate your heart, maybe even more, when we do it imperfectly. “
The yellow table, and the Baylesses, have recently relocated to Kansas, where Kevin accepted the call to pastor a church, and Jo Rae will no doubt begin using her gifts to bless the people of The Sunflower State.
What are your gifts? How is God calling you to use your gifts and experiences in his Kingdom? Who is at your ‘yellow table’ and how are you bringing community and healing to those around you?
Sheet Pan Pancakes
Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 tablespoons (½ stick) melted unsalted butter, divided
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
How to Make It
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line an 11-by-17 inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Coat the parchment and sides of the pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
Whisk the buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons melted butter in a medium bowl until combined. In a separate large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the milk-egg mixture and stir until just combined (do not overmix).
Scrape the batter into the prepared baking sheet, smoothing into an even layer with a spatula.
Bake until the pancake is lightly golden and springs back in the center when poked 11-13 minutes. Remove from oven and heat the broiler to high. Brush the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter onto the pancake. Broil until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes, rotating halfway.
Cut into 12 slices and serve warm.