I have long thought the great pastoral theologian Henri Nouwen nailed it with this quote on hospitality.
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
It’s a quote that is particularly relevant in our current political climate. It is also very relevant in this phase of our journey. In a more profound way than any other time in our lives, we find ourselves as the stranger in need of hospitality.
We’re the ones who don’t know the right words to say.
Who don’t have the right accent.
Who don’t know our way around.
Who are trying to navigate a healthcare system that is foreign to us.
Who find “our foods” in the international aisle at the grocery store.
Who don’t know the rules of the road.
Who aren’t sure where to purchase household supplies.
Who don’t know how to read the names of places.
Who misunderstand and mispronounce names.
We are other.
And we are in need of hospitality—a kind of hospitality that allows us to become a friend instead of an enemy, that allows us to change and grow, that doesn’t create dividing lines.
It is this very type of hospitality we have received in ways that keep us feeling humbled and grateful and ever-mindful of the ways God is calling us to extend hospitality.
Our neighbor from down the road, Cedrick, stops by weekly to check in—usually with something like passion fruit ice cream, or a bag of freshly picked plums in his hand.
Cedrick and his wife, Stephanie, graciously invited us to share Christmas brunch with their family, where there were delicious foods assembled in ways we’d never tasted or seen before. They told us they’d be giving each of their grandchildren a gift and then provided Q with a small gift as well.
Paul spent hours and hours one week helping us car shop, price compare, negotiate, and complete the purchase of our car.
Hope has invited me to work out on Monday nights, hike Hakarimata Summit early in the mornings, join their family at the park, and try new restaurants—and she has driven every time so far! 😉
Carlos and Mercedes invited us to their house where they treated us to a Guatemalan barbecue complete with homemade salsa, guacamole, and tortillas. We savored their food and the familiarity of their accents and the commonality of being other.
Andum and Joyful and Joan, members of our new church family, gifted Q with thoughtful gifts to commemorate his first Christmas in New Zealand—sand toys for the beach from Andum and Joyful and a stuffed kiwi bird from Joan.
Gladys made extra sweet mince pies to share at tea time on Sunday so we could taste a treat her family loves at Christmas time.
Hayley, our next door neighbor, brought a pot of yellow flowers for us and a Christmas gift for Quentin, even though I usually just see her through our kitchen windows as we prepare dinner in our own homes.
The farmer we bought a dining table from stopped by a couple of days later with trout he had caught and smoked the day before. Never mind that the reason he had to sell his table in the first place is because a new motorway is scheduled to go right through the middle of where their house currently stands on their family farm.
The couple whose dog we’re dog-sitting (more on that next week) has invited us out to their farm for tea so we can get a true taste of the country-side.
Phill and Pam generously gifted us their old barbecue grill when they got a new one and then brought it over along with ready friendship and delicious pavlova to share.
It’s hospitality. Defined in word and deed. We couldn’t be more grateful. These and so many others have been a means of grace to us. Just when I thought I hadn’t ever been on the receiving end of such gracious and continuous hospitality, I read this blog post by Dr. Dan Boone, president of Trevecca Nazarene University. The entire post is worth a read, but in the midst of this season of Christmas, I can’t get these thoughts out of my head.
“The heart of Christmas is hospitality…This God has provided posada – a garden with food, water, air, shelter, safety, clothes, and companionship. God has thought of everything we need and shared it freely. What a gracious host. And even there in the garden, we raid God’s tree to rid ourselves from being dependent creatures on God’s hospitality…. The story of Jesus is the ongoing story of the hospitality of God.”
As I read and I reflected, I realized that perhaps I have taken such extreme hospitality for granted. I assumed that I was not the stranger that needed a placed to stay or the one who was thirsty and needed a drink. And yet, I am a person in need of the great hospitality of God as much as any other.
What’s more, my call as a Christian is to extend radical, gracious, limitless hospitality to both stranger and neighbor. Those who are like me and those who aren’t. Those who know how the systems work and the words to use and those who don’t. For it is in my extension of hospitality that others will see and come to know the very image of God.