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Feeding the thousands

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When Adelheid Thiessen agreed to head the mammoth task of preparing ten meals for 5,800-plus Assembly 15 participants, she knew the menu would have to be simple. She knew she’d also need an awfully big cooking pot.

Originally from Menno Colony but living the last 25 years in Asuncion, Thiessen found her mind turning to the large iron kettles her foremothers used in the Chaco. She envisioned a huge, propane-fueled cooking vat 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.

She expressed her concerns about the design in a testimony at her congregation, Concordia Mennonite Brethren Church. 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 centrepiece of the tent-covered cooking area outside the Centro Familiar de Adoracion (CFA) facility. Additional food preparation, baking, and meat roasting – more than 2,000 kilograms of beef at a time – was done off-site.

Businesspeople but not food services professionals, the Thiessens had never cooked for a group larger than their 500-member church.

In addition to her husband, Edwin, who organized the dining area on the first parking level inside the CFA, Thiessen was assisted by Hans and Nancy Teichgraef 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 diners were asked to spend no more than 20 minutes eating, 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 coleslaw salad. 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, manioc.

Cathleen Hockman-Wert for MWC. Photos by Ray Dirks, and Lowell Brown for Meetinghouse.


Photos, from top: Rice, pasta, and sauces were prepared in this cooking vat; meals were served in the parking garage of the Centro Familiar de Adoracion, set for 2,000; an Assembly 15 service in the church’s 10,000 seat, 3-level sanctuary.

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