Be my guest
“Drop in any time!”
I waved goodbye to our guests, then closed the door and slumped against the wall, bleakly surveying the detritus left in their wake. What a mess.
The idea of hosting a support group for new immigrants seemed simple enough. We excitedly prepared for the dozen or so that responded to our invitation, but were completely unprepared for the 43 that arrived over the course of several hours.
We should have known that setting a start time might be considered only a suggestion. We ought to have expected that our guests would bring along extended family and neighbours. We might have checked whether “potluck” actually translated well, and saved ourselves a frantic raiding of the freezer and a panicky last-minute trip to the grocery store. It could have occurred to us to stock emergency rations of Kibbles, for those who assumed that it was perfectly normal to bring their dogs.
Strangers and sojourners
Hospitality is inconvenient. But, being one of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Peter 4:9– 10), it is also a command. Ancient Israel incorporated love for the stranger into the very fabric of its law, with extensive legal rights established for the alien (Leviticus 19:9–10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 10:17–19; 24:14–15, 17), a provision not found in any other culture of that time. Israel’s history of captivity and exile added poignancy to God’s command to care for other sojourners (Leviticus 25:23). In a Near Eastern culture, it would be unthinkable to withhold hospitality; Israel was to be a paragon of this virtue, ever vigilant at the gate and in the town square, watching for those in need of welcome.
Likewise, the early Christians – sojourners called to be in the world, yet not of the world – were also commanded to show philoxenia, the Greek word for hospitality which is literally “a love for strangers.” New Testament writers left no doubt as to the importance of hospitality (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2), making it one of the specific character requirements for church leaders (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8), and Jesus saw it as an essential evidence of salvation (Matthew 25:31–46).
The inclusive, communal meals in Acts 2 were defining elements of Christian community in the first three centuries. Diverse humanity came together in peace (Ephesians 2:14–18) and anticipated becoming a countless multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language, worshipping together before the throne of God (Revelation 7:9).
Globally, God’s people are rising to the challenge of this vision.
Around the table
In small, cramped apartments in Berlin, more than 30 Syrian, Macedonian, Canadian, German, Chinese, American, and Vietnamese people gather monthly to eat together as God’s children, graciously open their homes to neighbours and soon-to-be friends. All are invited to come and share their food, friendship, stories and, inevitably, their perspectives on God and faith.
The same is happening in the thatch and bamboo shelters of Myanmar, mud huts of Burundi, barrios of Panama and shanty slums of South Asia, where homes are not just a refuge, but a primary means of extending the Kingdom of God.
Lives are being transformed around the kitchen table.
In the midst of a worldwide refugee crisis, the Holy Spirit is transforming catastrophe into life-changing encounters with Jesus Christ. In a global climate of fear and angry protectionism, the church is modelling sacrificial love, radical hospitality and risk.
In Central Asia, Christians are finding creative ways to reach local Syrian refugee communities. In Southeast Asia, where Burmese immigrants are not even granted legal personhood by the government, the church boldly presents a biblical perspective on social justice. In Europe, God’s people oppose the abuse refugees face on politically antagonistic foreign soil, and advocate for safety regulations to protect the vulnerable.
In North America, the nations are on our doorstep. Members of our faith community are literally moving into the neighbourhoods where refugees are settling, crowding their families into tiny apartments to offer friendship and guidance through the complexities of cultural integration, and to share Jesus.
There is a cost. The knock at the door always comes when we’re at our busiest. The phone always rings just as we sit down to our favourite episode on Netflix. The people with whom we have the least relational connection will come to our homes needy, hungry and oblivious to the myriad social cues we emit. Some will stay for a meal; others may end up moving in.
Fragments of fish and bread and compassion somehow miraculously emerge as Jesus multiplies what we give away. And as we open our hearts and homes to others, the triune God comes to make his own home in and through us.
Drop in, any time.
—Nikki White writes for MB Mission, and is a member of North Langley (B.C.) Community Church.
For more stories about how MB global workers share radical hospitality, visit www.mbmission.org/news/stories/.