It’s not easy serving over 100 meals to over 100 hungry people (mostly men), three times a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Just ask James Harsh, the kitchen coordinator for Life Challenge of Southeastern Michigan. He’s the man in charge of food service for the Flint and Detroit campuses. It’s especially hard when the annual budget for food is half that of a typical family of four.
But the hardest part, he says, is not the cooking, the meal planning, the clean up, or even keeping the all-volunteer student crew in line. He says with a sigh, “It’s the stress of knowing that people get very hungry, want comfort food and I don’t want to disappoint them.” People are typically gracious, he says, but like all good cooks, including moms everywhere, James wants everyone to enjoy the food he prepares and he always does his best to serve every meal with a cheerful heart.
James takes care of the entire food supply chain for both campuses. The challenge is often finding it in the first place. A truck comes every week from Forgotten Harvest. Without that truck, he says, there would be little to serve. Forgotten Harvest has been a tremendous blessing to us at Life Challenge and virtually every scrap of food served is donated. From the store houses, James can even find enough to give to others in need. He divides it up every week, sending some to Flint and some to other, smaller ministries that aren’t blessed with a regular stop on the Forgotten Harvest truck route.
special_recent_posts(Life_Gallery)There always seems to be enough. James tells the story of a recent example of God’s timely provision: “One day our store houses were low and my cooks and I put our heads together to come up with something for the meal. We were out of ideas. We suddenly realized we could make an Alfredo sauce from scratch. So, we gathered the ingredients, the butter, the milk, the flour, and seasonings. We soon discovered we were missing the most important ingredient: the cheese. We were almost too disappointed to speak. I turned to my two cooks, Phil Hall and Paul Bazinet, and told them to do their best to think up something else to serve.
“So, I left the kitchen for two hours to do paper work and inventory. When I returned, I saw that my cooks had started a bechamel sauce, the base for an Alfredo sauce. Shocked and frustrated, I asked, “What’s going on? I thought I told you to think of something else!” Phil just looked at me and said the two of them had gotten together and prayed for some cheese to come on our delivery truck that day. He said God would not let us down. I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances. I stood in agreement with them.
“When the truck came, the first thing I asked our driver, Curtis, was whether he had any cheese. He said, “Nope, sorry.”
It was like being kicked in the stomach. By that time we were really looking forward to our Alfredo. You might think we’d have lost faith at that point, but not Phil and Paul. They looked at me and said, ‘We will get the cheese, even if someone just happens to come unexpectedly in the next few minutes, we will have cheese.’ Well, we began to unload the truck and as we were going through our boxes, sure enough, there it was: 15 lbs. of cheese hidden underneath some vegetables. It was Asiago, Swiss, and Parmesan, the perfect blend for an Alfredo sauce. What a faithful, gracious God, I said.”
James knows first hand about God’s faithfulness and His grace. These are what brought him through fear, heartache and rebellion to where he is today. And now, finally, he’s able to look back and see how God has been with him all his life, even when James turned his back on Him.
James Harsh was the third child of four. His parents divorced shortly after his birth. “By the time I was three years old my mother had remarried an abusive man. I lived in constant fear and pain,” he says. “The only time I felt safe was when my mother took us to church. At the age of eight I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. I loved being in church.
“When I was 14 , we moved to Arizona, but soon we fled my stepfather to stay with friends. We hid, but I always worried he would find us. I used to look out the window at night watching for him.” His stepfather had cut a deep wound into his young heart and the insecurity sliced right through his life. James slowly turned his back on the faith of his mother. He began drinking and running with wild friends, eventually losing his faith entirely. “My mother later married a good Christian man who encouraged me to go back to church, but I ignored his advice.
“After graduating high school in 1985, I joined the Air Force. The structure and discipline helped control my drinking. “When I left the service in 1989, I reunited with my birth father and moved to Naples, Florida, where we owned and ran a restaurant together. “I eventually moved back to Michigan. After a brief marriage and divorce, I was a wreck.”
James was drinking heavily again. When someone offered cocaine to ease the hurt, he was only too ready. His new habit was expensive. He had to lie, cheat and steal. After writing $30,000 worth of bad checks, he was finally given an ultimatum by his stepfather: enter Life Challenge or be turned over to the police. His Christian stepfather paid his debts. James says, “Three months into the program I repented of my sins and recommitted my life to Jesus Christ.” He graduated, served for six-months as an intern and was asked to become Kitchen Coordinator.
It’s been a long journey for James and, thankfully, it’s far from over.
“Ever since I was a little boy I remember always being in the kitchen with my mom. If I was visiting my dad, I was in the kitchen with him. I love being in the kitchen. Food is a passion and an art for me. I believe God gave me this gift and I want to use it. I am now 43 years old and I am eagerly learning everyday how to make new dishes. “My dream is to open a bed and breakfast ministry with my godly wife.”
Godly wife? Hmm…as we go to press, we’re hearing James is teetering on the edge of engagement. It’s supposed to be a big secret, but we also heard Deb Jones, our Resident Advisor for Women, is looking forward to some gourmet cooking.