Participating to Change Eternity + Creamy Tomato Basil Chicken Pasta {The Grove: Participation}

Currently, we live on a college campus 45 minutes from the city, near a small village and a few small mountains. Our campus bustles with 40,000+ people living, working, and visiting. During the week, the streets are bulging with students going to class or their next meal. On weekends, cars take over the small roads with tourists coming to hike the small mountains.

We enjoy living outside the crowded city. We don’t take for granted that most days, the smog where we live is much better than a lot of places our colleagues live. We marvel at the fact that we have hike-able mountains and a river (albeit smelly) a 5 minute walk away.

But we’d also like to change some things.

“Food Street” as we call it, is an eyesore. Vendors line one side of the street for over a mile. They each have a small cart where they sell fruit or cook a sort of snack, bread, or meal for those who want a quick to-go option. The other side of the street is piled high with all of their trash and food waste. In the winter, it freezes into a mound of nastiness. In the summer, it reeks of rottenness.

I wish we could do a massive clean up of this street or think of a solution to put all that garbage somewhere else. I often buy fruit there, but recently I can barely stomach buying anything else, because it just doesn’t seem right to have to hold my nose while they prepare what I’m about to consume.

Our team of foreigners comes from a country where you can voice your opinions, and if you’re loud enough, you can get people moving and perhaps get something done.

But in this foreign country, we are silenced. We can’t share our opinions, or we may make someone lose face. We can’t be part of any movement because, well, we’re outsiders, and that would raise some major red flags, even if the movement was for something good. Some people may get a foot in the door every now and then, but it usually takes years of building relationships.

It’s easy to focus on all that we can’t take part in as foreigners, but the things we can do could change eternity.

We are university English teachers. (We can’t call ourselves professors because that’s the title one gets after publishing numerous papers, even books, and working their way up the system.) As mentioned before, we live on campus, so along with being recognized by our students and a few colleagues, we are famous among the campus security, restaurant and store owners, and any other brave soul who has had the guts to say “Hallow!” to the strangers walking by.

We aren’t only teachers, though, we are their friends. Our “superstar status” as a foreigner makes us popular in a lot of ways, and we tend to take full advantage of that! We invite students to our homes on a regular basis, teaching them how to bake or playing games. We encourage them to befriend our kids and teach them how to play badminton or ping pong. We go to the city with them, shopping, watching movies, or introducing them to the wonder of coffee.

They are giddy with excitement when the invitation is extended. They giggle with their friends as they come through the door, curious and excited to be able to see how these strange, yet adored, foreigners live.

Now let’s imagine if we extended these types of invitations to college students in the States. If my professor, especially if he was male, invited my friends and I to his house to hang out, I’d be so creeped out! Right? That’s a line you just can’t cross. But that line doesn’t exist here. We make ourselves available to befriend students, colleagues, and workers on campus, and they eagerly accept.

It’s nearly impossible to get involved in any sort of politics or major changes surrounding us, but I’m ok with surrendering those if we continue to be allowed to participate in our students’ and neighbors’ lives, one conversation, cup of coffee, or freshly-baked cookie at a time. Those conversations could change their life.

In what ways have you wanted to participate in the place you serve, but are unable to? What do you get to do with those you serve that you wouldn’t get to do in your passport country?

This is The Grove and we want to hear from you! You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.

Here’s our Instagram collection from this week using #VelvetAshesParticipation. You can add yours!


I sure love quick meals. I spend enough time in the kitchen prepping 3 meals a day, that if dinner is easy, I just may do a dance in my kitchen with all the extra time. All the while, people watching me as they walk by since we’re on the first floor and my kitchen is a wall of windows. I digress. This is one of those quick, delicious meals! I hope you have the ingredients to try it out. It’s a new go-to for us!

The original recipe doesn’t call for chicken, but with 3 guys in the house, I can’t not serve meat in a meal. Just be sure to cook it first, then set it aside.

Let the oil and butter sizzle and dance.

Saute chopped onions for a few minutes, then add in the garlic until you can smell it.

Pour in tomato sauce, and watch it transform in the next few steps!

Cooking it down gives the sauce a richer, deeper flavor. Who knew, from a simple can of tomato sauce and a few veggies?!

Cream, yes cream. Just have a smaller portion if you’re worried about calories. 😉

Sadly, I don’t have a basil plant and can’t find it in the markets, so when I use dried herbs, I rub them between my fingers to bring them back to life a bit. {Is it weird that this color reminds me of Thai iced tea? Anyone else a fan of the orangey delicious stuff?!}

Voila! A simple, quick, delicious meal. (With a side of roasted broccoli…of which I could eat an entire plate of.)

Creamy Tomato Basil Chick Pasta

Slightly adapted from Pioneer Woman

Serves 8

Ready in 45 minutes

3/4 – 1 lb. chicken breasts, diced and cooked

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons butter

1/2 onion, finely diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 cans (15 Oz. Size) tomato sauce or marinara sauce

salt and pepper, to taste

dash of sugar (more to taste)

1 cup heavy cream

grated parmesan cheese, to taste

fresh basil, chopped, or 2 heaping teaspoons dried basil, “awakened” by rubbing between fingers

1-1/2 pound fettuccine (or any pasta on hand)

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.

Cook diced chicken (if adding) with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add onions, saute for 2-3 minutes, then add garlic and continue cooking another minute. Pour in tomato sauce and add salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Stir and cook over low heat for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and stir in cream. Add cheese to taste, then check seasonings. Stir in pasta, basil, and chicken and serve immediately. (Thin with pasta water before adding basil if needed.)


  1. Jodie March 16, 2017

    Ashley, I can relate to so many of the things you described about being a foreigner in China! I wanted to share this picture from our time in Gaoli village in Gansu province. The man in the middle is the shiek who is surrounded by villagers who were crowding in to seek a blessing from him (much in the way that I imagine the crowds pressed in on Jesus). When we participated in the Sufi memorial festivals there, I wore the same kind of black head covering that the women are wearing in the picture, and I actually blended in! My light hair was covered up and my white skin was not so obvious. At one festival my husband was taking pictures of the women eating, and he didn’t even notice me sitting there around one of the tables. Even though I could never be one of them, to be able to not stand out like I always do in China felt really significant. It was like some of the us/them barriers had come down.

    1. Amy Young March 17, 2017

      Jodie, thank you for sharing this picture . . . helps me picture both Jesus (as you said) and the desperation many have, but may not express so obviously. Again, thanks!

      1. Jodie March 17, 2017

        Thanks Amy. If you think of it, you could pray for the next festival there on April 8. Charly will be traveling back to participate (after two years away). These are the Bao an (or Bonan) people.

    2. Ashley Felder March 19, 2017

      Wow, what a great picture! I agree, how wonderful to be able to blend in for a moment to just connect with people in what they are doing then, not worrying about cultural blunders or saving faces. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Annalisa March 18, 2017

    Actually, the chaplain where I went to college did regularly invite students over to his house to eat. He called them “Interfaith Suppers” and invited a different special guest each time from a different faith background. We sat around various tables in his house (and patio if it wasn’t snowing) and ate food (usually vegan so as to accommodate everyone’s dietary guidelines), and then we would all mash into his living room and have a time of learning from whoever the special guest was and a time of [respectful] Q&A. On the list of things I actually miss from college, that’s in the top 3.

    1. Ashley Felder March 19, 2017

      How cool! I wish the teacher/student relationship wasn’t so delicate and sometimes awkward as it is in the US. If we were professors in the States, it’d be hard not to want to connect deeper with students daily or weekly. So glad your professor was able to find a way to do it!

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