by Francie Winslow
The silly faces made of whipped cream on their pancakes, the multiple options of colored syrup, and the fact that they will serve my 3-year-old mac and cheese for breakfast settled the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) as my kids’ all-time favorite breakfast joint. Many Saturday mornings over the past few years we’ve headed to IHOP to celebrate the start of Saturday, our family day.
As we roll our traveling circus through the doors of IHOP, we’ve begun to look forward to the familiar faces of the wait staff. One Saturday morning, we were enjoying a normal breakfast as our server named “John” brought our food to the table. When he was about to leave us to our syrup fest, we asked him if there was any way we could pray for him as we thanked God for our meal.
John didn’t have much of a prayer request, so we just told him we’d pray that God would bless him. He smiled widely and seemed to really like that idea. Before he walked away, we also told him that God had a good plan for his life and could see that God made him to be a great leader. When it came time to pay, we left him a $100 tip, because we wanted him to feel God’s generosity towards him.
With four sets of sticky fingers, we headed back to our car and started the messy process of buckling our four children with sugar-coated hands, hair, and shirts into their car seats. When I looked back, I saw John running toward my husband in the parking lot. A bit breathless, he said, “Thank you so much for praying for me. Thank you for believing in me. I think it’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.”
Whenever we go into IHOP, we have our eyes out for John and John seems to have his eye out for us. We’ve continued our tradition of praying for our servers and aiming to be as generous as we can in order that they might know the truth that they are seen and loved by a God who genuinely cares for them.
Most recently on a visit to IHOP, we were getting ready to leave our table and our 7-year-old stopped my husband and said, “Dad, see that table over there? I think we should buy their breakfast.” So we talked to their server, whom we’ve prayed for in the past, and he brought us the check for that table. We snuck away so it would be anonymous. But as we signed the check, we asked for the server to share with the table that God loved them. And with that, an IHOP server became an evangelist.
Evangelism doesn’t have to be mapped out and scripted. It’s as simple as genuinely caring for your server at a restaurant and backing up your care with actions. The actions of honoring, blessing, praying, cleaning up after your messy kids, and giving sacrificially for a stranger can open the door for the gospel in the midst of very normal circumstances, even in the midst of pancakes at IHOP.
Francie Winslow (@franciewinslow) speaks and blogs about how God’s real love changes our real lives and is the author of The God Experience: A 10 Week Guide to Feed Your Busy Soul. She’d love to connect with you at franciewinslow.com.