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Hospitality beyond holidays

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Four snapshots of radical welcome

Lush wreaths, shimmering candles, and the scent of apple cider usher in the holiday season. Special events, celebrations, and meaningful services fill social calendars. ’Tis the season to be jolly, especially for those with the gift of hospitality.

But true hospitality is more than impressive parties, warm smiles, and a great buffet. Jesus calls every believer to a deeper kind of hospitality (1 Peter 4:9), a kind that goes beyond surface needs, comfort, and pleasure. This kind of radical generosity can take many forms. For several MB couples, welcoming other people has become a livelihood, through operating a retreat centre, a business venture, or simply by sharing a home.

“You are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3).

The kind of faith that allows the Spirit of the living God to write his message of love on our hearts to share with our community requires more than generosity and friendliness. It requires hospitality that is risky and self-giving, welcoming strangers and the unlovely into our day as an expression of our love for Jesus. It’s more than “making room in the inn” during the holidays. It’s giving up your own bed and setting aside your preferences to better proclaim the love of Christ.

Yes, radical hospitality is exhausting, both physically and spiritually. If we don’t take the time to retreat, to refresh, to draw close to God, and allow him to fill us with his power, we tire out. We lose vision. A lack of energy drains our strength and our good intentions fall to the wayside.

So it was on the hearts of these couples to open their arms to the hospitable themselves – to tired servants needing refreshment from Christ to continue their radical task.

Mark Centre, Abbotsford, B.C.
(Retreating to listen)

“To serve thousands to inspire millions to embrace the lifestyle of listening to God.”

The rhythm of the life of Christ inspires Mark Centre, a retreat centre devoted to leading people to intimate places with God to hear his voice. Jesus worked hard, discipled others, healed, and then withdrew. Luke’s Gospel says Jesus often retreated to lonely places to pray.  Mark Centre teaches people how to be still and listen.

“As people pay attention to this rhythm, they see Jesus as the Son of God, and also as a model,” says Steve Klassen, who with his wife Evy, gives leadership to Mark Centre. “There is great benefit to retreating and connecting with God. You emerge energized, refreshed, and empowered.”

Mark Centre welcomes people from all walks of life, in all stages of faith, including non-believers. The Klassens are determined to meet people where they are, minister to their needs, and teach them how to draw nearer to God through Jesus. “I’m on a journey of understanding that Jesus is very inclusive,” says Steve.

“As we follow Jesus around the Scriptures and watch how he works in people’s lives today, we’re impressed by his welcoming presence. We’ve learned to be open and sensitive to God’s plan. We will be clear on who we are, but visitors need not adhere to our statement of faith before we welcome them.”

Visit www.markcentre.org for more information.

Women Refreshed at the Well, Narol, Man.
(Retreating to slow down)

“God asked Noah to build a huge ark because the world had become too evil. God has asked Joy and Alvin Klassen to build the retreat house because the world has become too busy.”

—Joy’s daughter-in-law, Leah Klassen

Back in 2000, God stirred Joy Klassen. He gave her a vision for Women Refreshed at the Well, a place where women can “just be,” drinking deeply from Living Water (John 4).

“Anytime you open your life to another, it’s a form of hospitality,” says Joy. “Believers are called to do that: open up, share a meal, share our space. If we just go around with our Bibles, people don’t respond. They’re looking for relationships, watching our lives to see Jesus in us.”

Alvin and Joy Klassen are opening up in a big way. They sold their house and began building a 3,500 square-foot home: 90 percent of the space is designated for ministry, the remaining 10 percent for their personal quarters. They offer a bed, meals, and friendship to women needing to temporarily withdraw from the pressures of life, and dwell in God’s presence.

With opening day just over a month away (doors officially open in January or February 2013), Joy holds her plans loosely, attuned to the Spirit and his call toward radical hospitality. The journey has been much harder, more exhausting, and taken far longer than anticipated, but the Klassens are excited to see the vision come together. “God doesn’t call us to a comfy or safe life,” says Joy, “but to one where we live all-out, fully embracing his call.”

“We know we’re called and we want to be found faithful,” Alvin adds.

“When God calls you to action, you don’t counteroffer, you say ‘yes,’ and learn about trust, dependence, and waiting through the process,” says Joy. “It’s been a real adventure, but one I would not trade for anything.”

Learn more at www.womenrefreshed.com.

Hawsepiper Cottage, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
(Retreating in obedience)

“Hospitality requires us to not merely look out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). Society tells us to look out for number one, to help those who can help you. But in God’s kingdom, the opposite is true. We imitate Jesus by putting others first. Showing kindness to strangers is a witness to the gospel.”

—Peter and Darla Koop

When Peter and Darla Koop purchased an income property in a tourist area to prepare for retirement, they took a leap of faith that was not only financial, but also spiritual. “Involving God in our decision to purchase the cottage naturally led to us being open to using it for his purposes,” says Peter. “Perhaps he will ask us to offer the use of the cottage for free or at reduced rates for those in need or involved in ministry,” continues Darla.

“We foresee the cottage being used for hosting guest speakers at our local church or visiting missionaries, but we don’t know exactly how God will use it. We are open to his leading.”

In their first month of business, the Koops rejoiced over every new booking. They delighted in meeting vacationers to the area, and exhaled a sigh of relief that their business venture began well. Then they felt God asking them to sacrifice a weekend rental to accommodate a visiting couple in need of a bed.

“That was hard,” admits Darla. “Covering our expenses is forefront in our minds, but we promised to honour God by helping those in need. As soon as we offered the space, we received our first mid-week rental – essentially making up for the lost income. We’ve learned to let go of what we think of as security and follow God.”

Too often, we want God to reveal his entire plan before taking action. But, in the Koops’ experience, God reveals the next move after we take a faithful step of obedience in his direction.

Learn more at www.hawsepipercottage.com.

Stearns family, Northern Ontario
(A retreat for others)

“God longs to work in us and through us to bring his kingdom here right now. He blesses each of us with different skills, possessions, opportunities, even struggles, and it’s up to us to choose to use them to build his kingdom or to keep them for ourselves.”

—Jacqueline Stearns

Friends offered the Stearns family a week’s vacation at their trailer in Northern Ontario. The Stearns later learned this pattern of hospitality was normal for this couple who seek out families (some who might not otherwise have a vacation) to offer a week-long getaway at their trailer. This gift of radical hospitality encouraged Jacqueline to “ponder how I could use what God has blessed me with to bless others.”

For years, Jacqueline had dreamed of buying an old farmhouse with an extra “guest building” to offer pastors and their families for retreat. After the experience at the trailer, “it occurred to me that I have a beautiful home in a beautiful setting where many people vacation,” she says. “Why keep dreaming about this future prospect? Why not use what God has gifted us with right now?” She could easily think of people who might be refreshed by a week on her Niagara-on-the-Lake property, which backs onto a conservation ravine. “So that summer, when we were away on our vacation, we offered our house to friends from Mississauga.”

Her generosity came at a price: putting away clothes and toys, putting out fresh linens, cleaning, making notes to explain the peculiarities of the house and its contents, and creating a brief primer of inexpensive sites in the region. “Preparing for another family to stay in our house was a lot of work, but I’m glad we did it,” she says. “It’s fulfilling to find a new way to use what you have to serve others.”

Becoming radical

Radical hospitability is rarely easy, convenient, or instantly rewarding, and it comes with a cost. It can pull us from our comfort zone and drop us smack in the middle of what appears to be an impossible task. It forces us to reconsider our knee-jerk “I can’t” response and consider that God can – and wants to – through me.

When Christians practise radical hospitality, the world starts to see Christ in everyday people. We become the example he has called us to be. Instead of blending in with society, we shine like a light on top of a hill. We salt the earth with the flavour and love of Christ by the power of God’s Spirit.

This Christmas season, move beyond holiday hospitality and embrace the Anabaptist teachings that place extreme value on church as a visible counterculture, and commitment to servanthood. Hospitality is a logical outworking of our theology. And nothing is more countercultural in today’s cynical, individualistic world than Christ followers who radically live out what they claim to believe with a warm embrace for others through the love of Jesus.

—Stacey Weeks

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