Like Moses in Idaho

Called by God to Serve BBQ

Josh Retterer / 9.11.23

Things changed in Idaho Falls, Idaho the day Lloyd and Loretta Westbrook opened up their Southern barbecue restaurant. The first difference folks noticed was that their food came already seasoned for them, a departure from the bland meat and potatoes they were used to. “That’s what makes it edible,” the Kentucky-born Lloyd said. “It’s a cultural thing,” Loretta observed, noting that introducing recipes from her own Mississippi family’s roots didn’t take much of a hard sell. “And then when people start trying it, they’re like, ‘Wow! Oh, yeah this is good!’” I can’t imagine their apple wood smoked ribs, brisket, and chicken required much in the way of arm-twisting. “We put a little blessed oil on all of our meats. It just seems to make a difference,” Lloyd said. Loretta’s buttermilk and sweet potato pies sealed the deal for any remaining doubters.

Almost exactly a year ago, Monica Gokey traveled to Grandpa’s Southern Bar-B-Q to interview the Westbrooks for Gravy, the podcast of the Southern Foodways Alliance. What captured my attention was something so powerful, it came out through the speakers. Their Christianity.

It’s a rare thing these days for Christians to be portrayed in the media as anything other than a deranged Piper Laurie in Carrie or that creepy singing preacher with the rain cloud following him around (Henry Kane, from Poltergeist II). Gokey approached the subject with openness that seemed genuine. She didn’t even flinch at the accouterments of the faith strewn about the restaurant, either. Instead, she pointed it out.

Faith is a cornerstone of Grandpa’s. You see it everywhere in the restaurant. “Thanks be to God” is painted above the entrance to the kitchen. There’s an open Bible in the dining room, blessed oil on the food. When you find yourself in this family’s orbit, there’s a strong sense that Grandpa’s is a force of good in the world. Whether or not it’s the faith, this is an open, loving, kind, generous space. The kind of place that’s making a difference in its community.

Once you get to, “Whether or not it’s the faith,” I imagine Christians everywhere all start nodding knowingly to themselves. I know I did; it’s the faith alright. Gokey describes the energy of being around the Westbrook family at work.

The kitchen is a buzz. As customers start to trickle in for the lunch rush, everyone is greeted like a friend. It feels so warm, so congenial. That kindness, It’s not just for customers, either. Back in the kitchen, Lloyd, Loretta and Dani work alongside three other employees. There’s a friendly, collegial feel to their interactions. The vibe is fun and wholesome. Whatever it is, Grandpa’s feels like it has its own gravitational pull tugging you to sit down at a table and stay for a while. Many do!

Loretta Westbrook has worn different hats living in small Idaho towns, like Arco previously, and now, Idaho Falls. She and Lloyd both served on city councils, she was a deputy sheriff, and worked in the local schools. She loved being able to try different careers. There was one area that she was holding out on, though — the restaurant. She felt a pull to commit to it about seven years ago.

One day I was praying. I said, “God, I said, what do you want me to do? Cause I feel like I’m out here.” And I just heard this. It wasn’t an audible voice. I heard this voice say, “Go down to Grandpa’s and help Lloyd”. I opened my eyes and I looked up and I said, “God, I’m not doing that. I’m not doing it. I don’t want to have to live with Lloyd and work with him.” So I’m not doing that. And about a year later, I was sitting at my desk and I said, “You know what, God, I’m going to do exactly what you told me to do.” And I typed up my resignation letter. […] Here I come. And you know what, Monica, I tell you what girl, the best decision ever, ever. And I mean it has been, it has been amazing.”

I was so taken with the Westbrooks, I reached out to Pastor Loretta to ask her about experience of living and serving God in a place so different from her upbringing.

Retterer: As I listened to your interview, I kept thinking of Mark 6, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown,” it’s not unlike how the Lord put you and your husband, both Southerners, in the middle of Idaho, a completely different culture. I wonder if that might have, in actuality, helped you be heard? Does it ever feel like that, maybe even more so now that you’re a pastor?

Westbrook: I’ve been thinking about Moses a lot in the past weeks; him on the backside of the desert. I believe I was sent here not only for others, but to learn more about me and to grow to the Lord. It has been amazing what the Lord has been doing in me. I am loving the growth! Growth is not always comfortable, but necessary. Now I have more to offer to others.

For a number of years I worked for the school district. I will never forget, one particular morning during prayer, I asked the Lord what he wanted me to do? His reply: go to Grandpa’s and help Lloyd. When I finally submitted to Him, I can honestly say, it was the best move! It’s crazy how people come in for prayer or encouragement as well as to get food. Even pastoring the church, God’s hand is so evident. As we say, “Look at God!”

At the very same time I received Pastor Loretta’s reply, I happened to be reading Jason Micheli’s new book, A Quid without Any Quo. There seemed to be a whole lot of overlap in what she just said and Micheli’s commentary on Galatians 3, namely at where they both were pointing.

Notice: in the first four verses, the apostle Paul reminds the converts in Galatia that when Christ and him crucified was proclaimed to them and when they trusted his work for them, the Holy Spirit came into their lives and began to work miracles in their lives. Now notice again: in verse 5, Paul makes the same exact point, but this time he puts it in the present tense: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law or by the word of the cross that elicits faith?” He puts it in the present tense. In other words, faith in the gospel is how the Holy Spirit continues to work in your life, which incidentally is exactly what Jesus says in the Upper Room in the Gospel of John. […] Paul’s point here is that the way you get into the faith is the same exact way you grow a faithful life. There is absolutely no difference between how you become a Christian and how you progress as a Christian.

That is exactly how Pastor Loretta can enjoy her growth, down to the very feeling of it, even when her location is the backside of the desert. She knows the source of the changes in her; Christ and Him crucified, His blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins, hers, yours and mine. That forever changes us, remakes us. We now come completely seasoned, just like the food the Westbrooks make. It isn’t a choice, or something we do. It’s a done deal, because of Who did it, and He says “it is finished,” which means it is. The glimpses we get of those changes in us all prompt us to repeat, “look at God!” Where else could we look?

I do want to check Lloyd’s smoker, though — just in case. Can I have some brisket while I’m looking? Please and thank you and Amen.


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One response to “Like Moses in Idaho”

  1. David Zahl says:

    Gosh, such a beautiful story and commentary!! Thank you Josh. And this closing song… it’s blowing my mind. I did not know that ‘backside of the desert” was actually a phrase. Praise God for Loretta and Lloyd, and for Geri too. (And Josh).

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