Giant cooker assists feeding thousands at MWC Assembly
by Cathleen Hockman-Wert for MWC
When Adelheid Thiessen agreed to head the mammoth task of preparing 10 meals for 5,800-plus assembly participants, she knew the menu would have to be simple. She’d also need an awfully big cooking pot.
Originally from Menno Colony but living the last 25 years in Asunción, Thiessen found her mind turning to the big iron kettles her foremothers used in the Chaco. She envisioned a huge, propane-fueled cooking vat that would be custom built at the assembly site. But there would be no time to test it with anything but water before the event began. It had to work.
Worried about the design, she gave a testimony at her congregation, Concordia Mennonite Brethren Church, expressing her concerns. After the service a man came forward with a new idea: to divide the oval-shaped vat into four chambers, with two half-moons on each end and two rectangular sections in the middle. Rice and pasta could be cooked in the outer ends, while sauces would go in the middle.
The vat became the centerpiece of the tent-covered cooking area outside the Centro Familiar de Adoración (CFA) facility. Additional food preparation, baking and meat roasting — more than 2,000 kg/1,000 lb. of beef at a time — was done offsite.
“We had hoped to contract out the baking, but that didn’t work out at the last minute,” Thiessen said. “So we said, well, if Jesus closes one door, he will open another.”
She called another local bakery, which offered its space for free.
In addition to her husband, Edwin, who organized the dining area on the first parking level inside the CFA, Thiessen was assisted by co-leaders Hans and Nancy Teichgräf plus a host of volunteers, mostly from the Chaco.
With 12 serving stations staffed by 60-plus volunteers, the entire assembly crowd could get their food in less than an hour. Seating was only available for some 2,000, so everyone was asked to spend no more than 20 minutes eating and then move elsewhere for extended conversation.
Most meals featured a sauce of chicken or ground beef served over rice or noodles with crusty rolls, locally-sourced oranges or bananas and bottled water, sometimes with a salad of shredded cabbage with cucumbers or carrots. Paraguayan Mennonites are famed for their beef and dairy production, and roast beef and yogurt also appeared during the week, as did the local staple root vegetable, mandioca (also known as manioc or yucca). Snacks included meat empanadas (turnovers), tea sandwiches and pastries.
Businesspeople but not food services professionals, the Thiessens previously had never cooked for a group larger than their 500-member church.