Navigating Beginnings: Student’s Bolognese

Image courtesy of hozinja on Flickr, via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Image courtesy of hozinja on Flickr, via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.


Instructions (15 minutes) Ingredients
  1. Thaw and Fry beef mince in pan
    with oil, onion, and seasonings
  2. Boil pasta
  3. Pour sauce into mince
  4. Plate pasta
  5. Spoon bolognese onto pasta
  • Jar of pasta sauce
  • Pasta, any kind
  • Beef mince
  • Onion
  • Oil
  • Seasonings, various



I will always remember the DIY Bolognese I received just after moving to a new country. One week before the beginning of the university term, my list included: power adapter, bank account, student card, email password, insurance, mobile phone, groceries. Visiting a church Sunday morning, I hovered at the edge of a conversation after the service, listening to a cluster of undergrads deep in discussion. We soon found ourselves in the comfortably-shabby environment of a student’s off-campus apartment, watching as he fumbled for ingredients. “How do you expect to serve Christ as a grad student?” he asked me, in earnest curiosity. Before long, our conversation hummed to the wobbly rhythms of boiling water and the sizzle of mince on the hob.

This simple impromptu lunch was a revelation to me. In my home culture, hosting is an art requiring careful preparation, an act of honoring guests with special treatment planned days in advance. By stocking a few staples in his freezer, remembering the rough outlines of a simple dish, and opening his life to serendipity, this student was able to convene a special moment of fellowship. That afternoon, I realized that I could do more than just survive in a new place. Even though I wasn’t settled yet, I could still be intentional about following Christ and improvise the rest.

During those years, Christ’s character was clearest to me in the anticipated acts of welcome, simple cooperation, and mutual care of others. The day I arrived, two Christians sat at a table in the train station to welcome incoming students. Their survival bag contained a spoon, a fork, a plate, a mug, a cookie, and a bag of tea, donated by local families. Later that year, my spirit was moved by the joyful cooperation of Christian students who booked a DIY retreat in a sagging saffron mill, sharing meals and washing dishes as we worshipped together. Most weeks, I accepted conversation and warm curry from a faculty couple who froze large batches at the beginning of the term. As we talked, they added prayer requests to a journal of student guests stretching back decades. In time, I too learned to anticipate the rhythms of the academic year, hosting bolognese moments for many others.

Sometimes when I move someplace new, I long for the rich community of welcome that I once experienced. Then I think of the Student’s Bolognese and remember that it’s not too hard. If I keep the pantry stocked and pray for an opportunity, that moment of welcome may well be mine to offer.


  • How can I extend welcome to newcomers in my university and neighborhood?
  • What kinds of care for community am I avoiding because it needs to be done just right?
  • If commitments are hard to make right now, what opportunities to serve others can I prepare and anticipate with minimal effort?


Dear Lord of bread and wine,

Who once grilled fish on the beach

For your weary and uncertain disciples,

Who invited children to you

When you had no place to lay your head,

Grant us your love,

So that we may welcome and support others

In your name. Amen.

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J. Nathan Matias

J. Nathan Matias (@natematias), who recently completed a PhD at the MIT Media Lab and Center for Civic Media, researches factors that contribute to flourishing participation online, developing tested ideas for safe, fair, creative, and effective societies. Starting in September 2017, Nathan will be a post-doctoral researcher at the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy, as well as the departments of psychology and sociology department Nathan has a background in technology startups and charities focused on creative learning, journalism, and civic life. He was a Davies-Jackson Scholar at the University of Cambridge from 2006-2008.

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One Comment

    keseaton commented on September 23, 2014 Reply

    Thanks Nathan for this reminder! I was reminded just this morning to watch out for impromptu “God moments” such as the one I had with an elderly lady this morning at breakfast. Great picture of welcoming and hospitality!

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