Each Sunday at 6 p.m., Dr. Robert Rhodes and his wife, Elena, cook dinner and host a devotional in their home for a group of students.
Rhodes, provost of the university, began hosting dinners with his wife six years ago. Now, 20-30 students attend each week. He and his wife said they have built strong personal connections with each student involved in their Sunday night group. The relationships have even led to Rhodes performing wedding ceremonies for two couples who formerly attended.
“We always have a home-cooked meal and devotional together,” said Dr. Rhodes. “Elena is a great cook, and she spends time each week planning the menu and thinking about what the group might enjoy.”
Each week, regular attendees receive a text message from Remind with the upcoming menu, which includes special servings for those who may have an allergy.
Elena Rhodes said a typical meal might be enchiladas, green chili stew, chips with homemade salsa and guacamole, salad and fruit, and sopapilla cheesecake or Texas chocolate sheet cake.
“We want the meal to be a highlight each week,” said Elena. “We eat around tables inside and outside and have a chance to talk, laugh and enjoy the meal.”
During the weekly meetings, students are encouraged to participate in honest conversations about issues college students face. Dr. Rhodes said common topics include God’s plan, things that challenge faith and lessons he and Elena have learned as partners and parents over the past 30 years.
Shay Johnson, junior speech pathology major and soccer player from Coppell, started attending the dinners last semester.
“The Rhodes are the most selfless, caring and genuine family I’ve ever met,” said Johnson. “They have treated me like family and come to almost all of my soccer games. They even hosted my teammates for a pool party and give us ‘good luck’ baggies for our games.”
All students are welcome and may receive a Quest credit for their attendance. Dr. Rhodes said the purpose of the event is to have a meal together, build relationships and deepen the understanding of God’s presence.
Emily Flatt, sophomore education major from Midland, said she is grateful for the community the weekly dinners have contributed to her life.
“It’s been such a blessing to have a constant community to meet and fellowship with weekly,” said Flatt. “Dr. and Mrs. Rhodes are some of the most genuinely loving people I know.”
Dr. Rhodes said they are always interested in more students joining the event and encourage regular attendees to invite anyone they know.
“As provost, I can easily be caught up in the business of the university and miss out on getting to know students,” said Dr. Rhodes. “It’s amazing how well you get to know students when you see them every week for four years, and how much you miss them when they graduate.”