Interview With Tessa Gillespie , by Bethany Reid
This week I have the tremendous pleasure of interviewing my own MOTHER, Tessa Gillespie. As a Missionary Mother to 7 biological children and many more ‘grafted in’ she has serious authority on the subject of gathering around the dinner table. It would be accurate to say that most of my training in the ways of the Lord etc happened around the table. Countless times I came home to the news that a homeless gentleman would be joining us for dinner, or the single mom with the naughty boys was stopping by etc. Tessa’s RADICAL obedience in hospitality has set the standard for me.
My mother, Tessa and I circa 1986
You can find out more about how Tessa is still being used by Jesus : www.johnandtessa.org
This interview is really just a taste of the wealth of wisdom that is Tessa Gillespie! We look forward to more!
Tessa and her family (I’m on the left with the braces…) circa 1995
Tessa and her family circa 2012
1. The Gillespie Family Table is famous! Can you describe what it looks like
when your family gathers around the table?
‘Well, the ‘family’ is much smaller around the table now, with only two of your siblings still home. But 16 years ago, after Ben arrived and our 9 no longer fit around the table we had, Dad built a new plywood tabletop which fit on top of the old one. It was huge! We could fit at least 14 around that table. What it used to be like was busy, relational, eventually loud (sometimes with arguments!), and often very interesting when including someone new. Dad and I grew up in homes where our families ate together every evening and we wanted to do the same. When we married, we agreed it would be time for communication with each other with no other distractions; TV, radio, and all reading material were off limits during meals. Breakfast was our time for Bible memory. We’d all take turns reciting the passage we were learning and Dad would comment on it briefly. Sometimes we would each choose a name from the prayer basket and pray for our friends, family, missionaries etc. We would talk about the activities of that day and pray for God’s presence and power with us all. Every evening, dinner was at 5:30, so everyone knew to be home for food. We didn’t eat snacks between meals, so we’d all be truly hungry! At day’s end, it’s so important for the family to reconnect, review our day, share news, ideas, plans and sometimes sort out problems. Since it was a time when we were all together we tried to engage each member of the family. As the kids got older, Dad would open the Bible or a Christian book or biography and lead discussions about character, current events or some topic of interest. He was good at bringing a biblical worldview to the subject and making us really think and discuss!’
2. When we children were little, how did you create peaceful mealtimes?
‘Well, first of all, be sure everyone is hungry by limiting or banning snacks between meals. Sounds mean these days, but If everyone’s hungry, they will eat what is provided and focus on the eating! We always began our meals with a prayer of thanks to God who provided it and the person who prepared it. Learning to close eyes and fold hands from infancy and focusing on God helps start every meal quietly. Mom, make the family meal the event of the day! Engage the children in meal planning, cooking, setting the table, and clean up.Put something interesting or beautiful in the center of the table. Plan colorful, wholesome meals and serve small portions of everything. Again, if hungry, children will eat what they are given with few exceptions. We worked on simple manners at the table; please and thank you, one person talking at a time and respectfully listening to the one talking, everyone stays seated until they are excused (easily learned when insisted on from day one). Mom and dad need to engage in eye contact with each child and show genuine interest in them. Family meals should not be when mom and dad discuss issues with each other as though the children are not present. Make meals a relational and loving time when everyone feels valued. When there were just three or four small children, sometimes I lit a candle, turned down the lights and promised the quietest child could blow out the candle at the end of the meal. That often gave us a few minutes of sweet peace!’
3. Tell us about the ‘Saturday Night’ tradition in your home? Those really shaped my idea of hospitality and use of the table for training etc.
‘When you and Johnny became teenagers, Dad and I discussed how to keep our teens home (as we had 20 years of teen parenting ahead!). I think we got the idea from the book, Keeping Sunday Special by Karen Burton-Mains. She talked about preparing for Sunday on Saturday. Many Christian families in England make Sunday Lunch the best meal of the week and often have company. With Dad preaching on Sunday, he was rarely up for visitors for lunch so we decided to make Saturday evening special and make the best meal of the week (even if it meant I had to serve MORE lentils during the week to make room for it in our budget!). We never made plans as a couple and the kids all had to stay home. Once a month a different child chose the meal and a fun activity for afterwards. We had presentations of poems, plays, music, jokes and object lessons. We watched movies and played games or simply walked around the back field at sunset. We celebrated birthdays and achievements with ‘The Gold Plate’. Kids took turns inviting friends, some even asking to be invited! We invited new church families, single parent families, missionaries and sometimes complete strangers. The Foots, a cool young American couple, became regulars. Dad’s international cooking was a huge ‘carrot’ and Tracee Foot’s desserts completed the meal with delectable satisfaction! Dad hosted the table-talk being sure we heard from our guests, young or old. All the children got to sit and listen to testimonies, stories, failings and victories. As the kids grew older, Dad would sometimes throw out a controversial subject or theological question. Sometimes there would be heated discussions or several conversations going on at once!’
A typical Saturday night dinner at the Gillespie’s ! circa 2000
4. You easily seem to invite and host strangers into your home and share a meal with them. Why did you start doing this?
‘I suppose the simple answer is Jesus. His love for us can’t help but spill out of our hearts towards others. We want others to know the joy of sins forgiven, freedom from bondages, and the acceptance and love of others who know Him. Dad is a natural evangelist. He loves talking to people, strangers included. It always amazes me how quickly he can befriend someone! I guess I am a nurturer. My grandmother had 12 children. I loved going to her house, full of people, as a child. She was always warm and welcoming. The atmosphere was full of the love of Jesus. I want others to experience that in my home. So many people are lonely, feel rejected or unworthy. Jesus reached out to them all. I want to, as well. Sharing your home, your table, your food is a way to share your love, your acceptance, your openness, your interest in others. Israel was told to include strangers; remembering they were once strangers in Egypt. The New Testament tells us in Hebrews 13:2, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”. We all know what it feels like to be in a new place, to feel left out, or even intentionally excluded. It is a joy to include others and in so doing, show the love of Jesus. We always end up receiving more than we give when our desire is to serve others.’
There was always plenty of entertainment in our household…. circa 1998
5. I learned so much from the ‘interviews’ that you would conduct with these dinner guests. Can you share with us some of the ways that you honored your dinner guest and helped them open up about their lives etc?
‘As I said before, Dad would host the table conversation. He was so good at it! He would ‘interview’ our new friends asking about their coming to Christ, about their home country, or their area of expertise. Sometimes he knew something interesting about them and would ask them to tell the rest of us. Sometimes he would ask what advice they would give our teens or a certain person present who had a special gifting akin to theirs. These basic questions usually opened the person to begin sharing what they wanted to talk about or asking US questions! It also prompted the children to ask questions, too. We might ask, ‘What was the toughest time in your life’, or ‘ What is the Lord teaching you at the moment’, or even ‘What is your favorite movie or book’. Occasionally, we might give our guest ‘The Gold Plate’ or make a welcome sign for their arrival. We would sometimes ask how we could pray for them or we might ask them to pray for us. Basically, if you ask people questions about themselves, you are showing they are important and have something to offer others. We can learn something from everyone we meet.’