“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” John 13:14-15.

That’s just what Thousand Oaks Associate Pastor Jonathan Clark and his wife Gaylene set out to do when they invited people from the community who serve in different ways into their home for a special dinner. Pastor Jon constantly looks for ways to build relationships with people in the community — whether it’s avoiding the ATM so he can go inside and visit with the same bank teller each time, or frequenting the same restaurants to get to know the waiters and waitresses. As a result, he and Gaylene have developed a rapport with several of the servers in the community.

“We had this brainstorm … I really feel like it was from the Holy Spirit,” Gaylene remembers. “‘We should do something for these people to appreciate them — a relationship on a different level than them always serving us,’ we thought. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a holiday every year when we celebrate those who have served us?’”

Felicia, Mayra, Pastor Jon, Gaylene, Lauren, Leila, Josiah, Debbie and Adara gather for a group photo. Photo by Debbie Nguyen
Felicia, Mayra, Pastor Jon, Gaylene, Lauren, Leila, Josiah, Debbie and Adara gather for a group photo. Photo by Debbie Nguyen

At first, they wondered, “Who would possibly come to this? Are we a little bit crazy?” But that fear was soon dismissed when they shared the idea with the servers at one of the restaurants they frequent, and it was met with enthusiasm. So just like that, the idea became a reality. They set a date, sent invitations and began planning.

The guest list included:

  • Gaylene’s hairdresser, Felicia Felipe
  • Felicia’s daughter, Mayra Navarro
  • Mayra’s boyfriend, Arnod Adjemon
  • Felicia’s grandson, Josiah
  • Debbie Nguyen, waitress at a local restaurant 
  • Adara Graves, waitress at a local restaurant

On the evening of the dinner, Jonathan, Gaylene, their son Jordan, Intern Pastor Lauren Cline and church member Leila Dali dressed in aprons, ready to serve. “We wanted to have opportunities to serve them as much as possible,” Gaylene explained. They took a turn serving for the night, offering to grind pepper, grate Parmesan cheese and refill water for their guests.

Menus were printed and waiting on the guests’ plates. On the menu was salad, soup, an artichoke appetizer, lasagna made from scratch and homemade crème brûlée for dessert. The Clarks used their best china. “Everything was something you would get in a restaurant,” Gaylene said. “It was the very best we could do for them.”

Cline helped to arrange games and mixers to get the evening started. One game gave guests the opportunity to tell the most interesting story about their work, the most unusual thing that had happened to them. Another game was a take on charades, similar to the mobile app Heads Up!. There was even a prize table guests visited after the games.

In addition to the games, they felt it was important to give something to the guests that would help them remember that night. Jonathan and Gaylene bought small individual clocks as gifts. “We told them how meaningful it was for us that they took the time to go the extra mile to make us feel very special in their service to us and how we appreciated that and wanted to take the time to give back,” Gaylene recalls.

“They just couldn’t believe it,” Gaylene noted. “My hairdresser brought her daughter, her daughter’s boyfriend and their child. Her daughter’s boyfriend couldn’t believe it and started to say how much he wanted to come back to church because he hadn’t been treated like that. It really touched him.” Some of the guests from a local restaurant started talking about their experience, and they said they would like to do something like this for others — even discussing with Pastor Clark the possibility of inviting people they have been blessed by to the next event. “Hopefully, this is something that can continue,” Gaylene said.

Gaylene’s hairdresser also took her experience a step further. She hears many stories on the job from people who pour out their hearts to her as she’s cutting their hair. She texted Gaylene one day asking about the name and location of the church so she could send one of her clients there.

One of the invited guests, a waitress named Jessica, was unable to attend at the last minute. Jonathan and Gaylene had a burden on their hearts for her, and she was one of the inspirations for the event. After the event, they visited her to share pictures of the dinner and to give her one of the clock gifts, sharing how much she meant to them. She had had a very negative experience with Christianity. “I’ve never met people who are like you guys,” she told Gaylene. “You guys are the only ones who haven’t tried to push religion on me.” She then asked if they offer counseling even to those who are not members of the church so she could talk though some of the hurt she carries.

“It was a huge ministry — unexpectedly,” Gaylene said. “We are trying to do what Jesus has done; to share what Jesus has done for us through action.”