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First Pentecostal Church in North Little Rock celebrates unity, diversity with international food festival

by Frank E. Lockwood | November 6, 2021 at 3:17 a.m.
Dressed like a member of the Queen’s Guard, Chris Herring (right) stood watch near the United Kingdom food both Sunday, guarding the scones and posing for pictures with visitors. First Pentecostal Church in North Little Rock organized the free event, which included dishes from nearly two dozen countries. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Frank E. Lockwood)

At a time when the country is polarized, First Pentecostal Church in North Little Rock decided to showcase its unity and its diversity.

So its members organized an international food festival, promoting it on social media and mailing out roughly 20,000 invitations.

"Within our church, we have a lot of different nationalities, cultures and ethnicities and we wanted to celebrate that," Pastor Nathan Holmes said. "Especially in our climate, it's so divisive and we just felt like we needed to come together as a church [and] as a community."

Billed as "All Nations Sunday," the event featured an outdoor worship service, a concert and a free global food court in one of the church's vast parking lots.

Many of the participants wore clothing that is representative of the nations they sought to highlight.

The more than foot long menu featured delicacies from nearly two dozen nations: Russian-style borscht soup; German bratwurst, sauerkraut and pretzels; Greek roasted olives and dolmades with rice filling; and Turkish kabobs.

The popular American booth featured cheeseburgers, chips and Coca Cola.

Donning an Uncle Sam outfit he'd rented for $25, Ken Bourn grilled 480 beef patties while his wife, Marlo, dressed up as Betsy Ross, prepared 480 buns.

The burgers were quickly consumed.

Gallery: First Pentecostal Church's All Nations Celebration

"In less than an hour. The line didn't stop; they were gone," Bourn said.

Several parking spaces to the west, Sherwood restaurateur Darin Keith manned the Holland booth, passing out a variety of cheeses.

"We've got regular gouda, smoked gouda, we've got a beemster goat cheese, a havarti," Keith said before rattling off a couple of other European varieties.

The restaurant he owns, Bennett's by Keith & Co., doesn't specialize in food from the Low Countries.

"It's all American cuisine over there. I don't serve any Holland food," he said.

Keith nonetheless quickly agreed to provide visitors with a taste of the Netherlands.

"This has been our first year doing it so we really didn't know what to expect, but it's really been fun," he said. "The crowd was great. The people were great. It was fun, exciting. I see this as being an annual event."

Savory options included Guatemalan street corn; Mexican tamales, Moroccan couscous, Southern fried chicken, Italian bruschetta and Brazilian cheese bread.

Sweet items included French macarons and crepes; Spanish churros and tres leches; Belgian waffles and British scones.

At the United Kingdom booth, visitors could sip tea or sample wassail, warm glasses of mulled cider mingled with spices.

Towering over the booth stood Chris Herring, dressed like a member of the Queen's Guard, with a faux-bear-skin cap sitting atop his head.

Now 43, Herring was a teenager on Dec. 5, 1993, the day he visited the church for the first time.

"I've been here close to 30 years," he said. "It's amazing: the experience, the Holy Ghost, it's just life changing," he said.

Sunday's food festival was a way to attract more first-time visitors.

By holding the event outside, the church helped minimize the risk posed by covid-19.

The pandemic has left many Americans feeling isolated, disconnected and alone. First Pentecostal Church seeks to bring people together, Holmes said.

"The purpose of this church is to connect people with God and one another. It's that simple. Church is about community. It's about loving your brother or your sister as yourself, which is what Jesus told us to do."

At least 200 people volunteered to help make the event possible, said Holmes, who donned a Bavarian outfit he'd picked up on a trip to Germany.

Given the response, this won't be the last international food festival at First Pentecostal Church.

"We're excited about next time," Holmes said.

At First Pentecostal Church’s international food festival Sunday, tamales were on tap at the Mexico booth, while the Guatemala booth offered street corn. The North Little Rock church celebrated All Nations Sunday by singing, praying and enjoying a multi-course, multicultural feast.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Frank E. Lockwood)
At First Pentecostal Church’s international food festival Sunday, tamales were on tap at the Mexico booth, while the Guatemala booth offered street corn. The North Little Rock church celebrated All Nations Sunday by singing, praying and enjoying a multi-course, multicultural feast. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Frank E. Lockwood)
Darin Keith greeted visitors at the Holland booth, offering them a selection of Dutch cheeses.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Frank E. Lockwood)
Darin Keith greeted visitors at the Holland booth, offering them a selection of Dutch cheeses. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Frank E. Lockwood)
Sunday’s menu included grilled corn on the cob, slathered with sauce.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Frank E. Lockwood)
Sunday’s menu included grilled corn on the cob, slathered with sauce. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Frank E. Lockwood)
Takeout cartons came in handy at First Pentecostal Church’s international food festival in North Little Rock on Sunday. Guests sometimes struggled to balance all of the dishes they were served. More photos at arkansasonline.com/116allnations.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Frank E. Lockwood
Takeout cartons came in handy at First Pentecostal Church’s international food festival in North Little Rock on Sunday. Guests sometimes struggled to balance all of the dishes they were served. More photos at arkansasonline.com/116allnations. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Frank E. Lockwood

Print Headline: First Pentecostal Church showcases unity with global food court

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