When Giovanna Nezhati was contacted to be a potential candidate for Meet the Mormons, she was confused. “I thought they were looking for the perfect Mormons,” she explains. But her family was not made up of perfect Mormons. In fact, her husband was not a member of the Church.
But Giovanna quickly realized, “The Church is not just made of perfect Mormons. They have a variety of everything. I don’t need to be perfect to be a Mormon.”
As an artist who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, Giovanna believes that art is “not just in a paint brush. It’s in sculpting people’s lives.”
► You'll also like: Church Creating a Second "Meet the Mormons" + Sneak Peek
That’s something that she and her husband, Bardia, have been doing for quite some time now, not through painting but through the culinary arts.
At a point in her life when Giovanna was struggling to reconcile her and her husband’s different faiths, she woke up in the middle of the night after having a vivid dream—something she calls a miracle.
“I knew this had to be divine,” she says. “It was unusual. Nothing like this had ever happened to me.”
Despite the late hour, she got out of bed and immediately set to work, trying to make these ideas in her mind into a reality. Within six hours and with the help of Facebook, she had all the details planned out.
She wanted to create a culinary experience for the homeless in Las Vegas, and within two weeks, she was serving a delicious, home-cooked meal to 250 people at a nearby rescue mission. That quickly began the project Dinner on Us, which provides people in need with a gourmet meal and entertainment.
Since that time, Dinner on Us has become legendary at the rescue mission. What began as dinner and a show for 250 has turned into an elaborate evening with up to 1,000 dinners served in one night. To date, Dinner on Us has served over 23,000 meals.
“It’s been a miracle in the making,” Giovanna explains.” I do have a couple talents, but God is enriching and just pouring in anything I need.”
Giovanna mentioned countless times when she worried because she didn’t have food for an upcoming meal and food would literally appear on her doorstep. Giovanna, a native Italian from Pachino, remembers the week she decided to serve Chinese food—something she has had no practice in making. That week, a woman who had learned about Dinner on Us from the newspaper called, wanting to help.
“I said ‘Sure. You have an accent. Where are you from?” Giovanna remembers. “She goes, ‘I’m from China!’ Sure enough, I put her in charge and she cooked for 750 people.”
“It’s always like that,” she continues. “I don’t have food and then it just comes to my door. It’s beautiful. I have no doubt this work is the hand of God.”
It has also been the answer to Giovanna’s prayers by helping her and Bardia grow closer together as they participate in a core part of the gospel they can both agree on: service.
And the Nezhati’s have continued to answer others prayers through their service. “We fell in love with a man at the rescue mission, Jared [name has been changed], who was there for rehab for drugs and alcohol,” Giovanna says.
After his rehabilitation, Giovanna helped Jared find a job. Soon after, he got married and started a family of his own. But when Jared relapsed, slipping back into his former drug and alcohol habits, Giovanna and Bardia were there to love him unconditionally.
As Jared’s family struggled to pay their rent, Giovanna put up a post on Facebook. “Within two minutes I already had someone willing to pay his rent for the month,” she says. Then Giovanna helped find Jared, bringing him back into a rehabilitation center.
“Now he is so happy and so proud. The family is back together,” Giovanna says. “The other day, he told me, ‘You are my best friend. You are like someone who came from God. I didn’t know someone could make such a difference in my life.’”
As Giovanna has observed, every moment in this journey has been a missionary moment because “missionary moments are enriching people’s life with your love.”
“And that is what the artistry of love is,” she continues. “You have the big details or background and you go down to the details of each person’s life.” So whether feeding a thousand or helping the one, Giovanna says that love and the gospel is in every encounter.
But Giovanna’s journey finding a way to give of herself and grow closer to her husband hasn’t been easy. She understands first-hand the struggles of those living with a spouse who doesn’t share their faith, and she offered these five pieces of advice:
Focus on the positive.
“It wasn’t easy. I am fired up, full of energy, full of enthusiasm for the Church, for God, for Christ, and I had to come home and I had to zip it and I couldn’t talk about my faith because my husband wasn’t interested,” Giovanna shares. And though it pained her that she could not share this important part of herself with the man she loved, she focused on the positives. “He is a good man, a good father, a good husband.”
Never give up.
“Never give up because you never know what’s going to happen,” Giovanna says. “Keep the waters warm and at a nice temperature because you never know when he might want to jump in.”
Cherish your relationship.
“It was very hard for me not to have my husband there with me at Church and not to have him pray with me, so I understand the struggle,” Giovanna says. But if you look with perspective, she continues, you’ll realize that the most important thing is the relationship you are building together.
“Cherish your relationship with you husband. Love him; care for him; be an example.”
Find common interests.
“Find something that is a common place,” Giovanna adds. “Maybe you go to the gym together. Or maybe you follow his dream. It doesn’t always have to be your dream. Do something that will enrich his life.”
“Realize that in service, you can find each other and you can find something in common. That is our base for our new life now,” Giovanna shares. Because, when you get down to it, in serving together, you can share a common faith and common values together. Because for Latter-day Saints, service is the essence of the gospel.