Mosaic from the Papal Basilica of the three visitors to Abraham
As we moved into a new way of blessing others through our zoom connections, I was surprised at how so many strangers became dear friends over the course of a two-week training. Staff worked so hard to provide a welcoming atmosphere as they focused on using creative ways to help make meaningful connections. We enjoyed a closeness as we opened our lives up through thoughtful questions and shared our personal stories. Together we did experience one of the definitions of hospitality which says, ‘Gladly received, as one whose coming gives pleasure.’ We looked forward to our times of deepening these friendships where we were all growing together despite being an online community.
Of course, hospitality has historically been a central part of communities that are followers of Jesus. Before inns, hotels and restaurants, every stranger needed someone’s hospitality. Travellers were dependent on the kindness and generosity of others who were often strangers to them. Many biblical texts reflect this understanding. For instance, the wonderful account of Abraham and Sarah offering hospitality from their home to three strangers who turned out to be angels (Genesis 18). This story must provide the background for the Christian instruction on hospitality from Hebrews 13:1-2 (TPT)
‘No matter what, make room in your heart to love every believer. And show hospitality to strangers, for they may be angels from God showing up as your guests.’
So even making room on zoom if our hearts are full of love can be another way to provide a safe place to anyone and everyone so that all feel included.
My last trip before lockdown was to Romania to share with educators some practical principles in child development. It was in a YWAM training centre and the team there set up the space with a lavish table overflowing with food and drinks, personally welcoming each teacher so that they knew they were ‘gladly received with pleasure.’ Many were strangers to each other, being from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and faiths. This hospitable space cultivated equality between the varying groups, and all experienced value and acceptance.
This value and acceptance were beautifully demonstrated as one of the participants, a Roma woman with little education, shared her experience of trying to serve the needy children in her poor village. Her resources and staff were few yet she was welcoming over sixty children doing what she could with the little she had. The seminar participants were deeply moved by her story and our eyes filled with tears. When she sat down the group spontaneously applauded her remarkable efforts. I like to think she was imagining these little ones as ‘angels from God showing up as her guests.’ She relied on the Father’s unconditional love to be poured into her so that she could welcome and receive them knowing their value and worth. What a delight that we could honour this woman in these extremely difficult circumstances.
Hospitality is about being present to others and attentive to their needs. It’s listening to them and silencing all our own thoughts and inside voices. We give our full attention to the person and are prayerfully looking for ways to encourage, validate and bless every person that we meet on our journey.
An old quote by John Wesley was given to the members of his cell groups. He had a requirement for each individual to be engaged with deeds of kindness on a daily basis.
This was their challenge:
Do all the good you can
By all the means you can
In all the ways you can
In all the places you can
At all the times you can
To all the people you can
As long as you can
For followers of Jesus, hospitality is not to be an occasional gesture but a whole way of being. It is not an interruption to our normal life but a habit, practice, or value that needs to consistently characterise our lives. We all live in and from the hospitality of God. This should cause us to be people of gratitude and generosity. It’s an overflow of God’s goodness to us enabling us to reach out and love others with His liberality.
Opportunities for hospitality frequently come to us as ‘interruptions’ in our task-orientated culture. This often requires a rethinking of our priorities. The challenge of being hospitable is to be able to set self aside and make room for another by having the attitude of Jesus. Paul reminds us of this in Philippians 2:4-5 (TPT)
‘Abandon every display of selfishness. Possess a greater concern for what matters to others instead of your own interests. And consider the example that Jesus, the anointed one, has set before us. Let his mindset become your motivation.’
As we look at Jesus, we observe how he embodied the kingdom of God. He demonstrated his deep love and care for all peoples: young and old, broken and law-abiding, rich and poor, all cultures and races. Men and women alike found his hospitable friendship to be life changing. No one left the same after being in his presence.
With some normality returning to our communities, it’s good to ask ourselves ‘How are we cultivating the kind of welcoming spirit which Jesus personifies?’ Do we have open hearts and open homes that provide places of calm and rest during the storms of life? Do we leave space in our lives for the unexpected opportunities to extend invitations for meals for the strangers or neighbours or a discouraged team-mate?’
One of the desert Fathers used to say, ‘There are three things we honour: the fellowship of Holy Communion, the hospitality of meals, and the washing of one another’s feet.’
This autumn let us creatively find ways we can put at least one of these honourable expressions into practice on a weekly basis and expect our communities to grow in their love for one another. Who knows – we may even entertain angels!
Rite was born in Canada and joined Youth With a Mission (YWAM) in England in 1977. She married Stephe in 1979 and they continued with YWAM in Scotland for the next 26 years.
Rite has a passion for children and established a preschool in Paisley, Scotland in 1987 that is still functioning to this day. In order to encourage the multiplication of schools in other nations she developed a 3 month preschool training course. In 1997 this training went on the road as a preschool resource team with the vision of taking a “preschool in a suitcase” to other nations.
Rite has also worked together with Stephe in leadership development and from 2008 to 2018 ran a leadership retreat centre in Malaga, Spain. They currently serve YWAM Europe as elders although now based in Vancouver, Canada.
They have three married children and four grandchildren living in Calgary,Canada; Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia.