Friday, August 9, 2013

3 Ways to Welcome in Strangers

What does it mean to be hospitable?  How do we best live out the bible's commands to be hospitable?

'Twin beds with an exotic flair' photo (c) 2008, - license:
Often, when we think of the characteristic of being hospitable, we think of someone who likes to host events: parties, dinners, play dates.  But when the bible uses the language of hospitality, it is referring to welcoming strangers into our homes, especially for overnight (see for example, Hebrews 13:2).  In the time that the bible was written, inns were rare and sketchy.  Travelers would often stay in the home of a stranger while going to a different town.  Christians are commanded to welcome in these strangers without complaint, rejoicing to get to serve in such a way.  In fact, this was so important that one of the qualifications for a person to be an elder was to be hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8).

These days, this meaning can be lost on us.  It is rare to have a stranger stay with us while traveling, usually they stay at any of the nice, welcoming hotels in town.  But the biblical command remains, even if our customs have changed.  So how do we show hospitality this day in age?  Here are three suggestions.

1.  Be a Couch Surfing host

You can publicly offer your house as a place to stay for "couch surfers" (the website i linked to is one way to network with people looking for a place to stay while traveling).  Often times these are young, single people, the demographic of people who are are questioning spiritual matters and looking for answers to life's big questions.  By hosting a couch surfer you are letting these people into your life and allowing them to see how a Christian lives.  Furthermore, if you invite them to eat with you (which you certainly should) you have the opportunity to learn more about them and let them learn about you, since these kinds of conversations happen best over meals.

This type of ministry reminds me a bit of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, who ran a guesthouse in Switzerland open to people seeking answers to spiritual matters. The Schaeffers had an impact on many people through this ministry.  In fact, Mrs. Schaeffer's keeping of the home was an integral part of this, as one person noted that, "As many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer's cinnamon buns as through Mr. Schaeffer's sermons."

2.  Host an international student.

The past two summers (this summer we didn't have the extra space) we hosted Chinese students while they were studying here.  The students we hosted were young and had very low English language skills, but we tried our best to communicate our faith to them and live it out in front of them.  We also sent them home with parting gifts that included Christian materials in the Chinese language.

Hosting international students is a great ministry opportunity for many reasons.  It gives you the opportunity to share with people who come from countries (like China) where Christianity is restricted and missionaries are illegal.  Many internationals have never even met a Christian, let alone heard a reasonable explanation of Christianity.  Many have been told lies about Christians that can be broken down when they live in your home.  If they are in your home for a length of time, you will likely have the opportunity to have multiple conversations about spiritual matters.  They may come with walls up about Christianity, which can be broken down over time with love and intelligent conversation.

Even if you don't have the extra space to have a student stay with you (though some programs will allow international students to share a bedroom with your children), look for opportunities to invite internationals (including co-workers) over for meals, especially on holidays.  Many internationals come to America and are appalled at the lack of hospitality when they are never invited to someone's home during the entire duration of their stay here.  It could be possible that you are the only person reaching out to the lonely international friend in your life.

3. Be a foster parent.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I am a big fan of foster parenting.  Foster parenting not only gives you the opportunity to invite someone in need into your home, but you may even be the first person who has ever truly loved that child.  You have the opportunity to change their entire worldview as they have likely come from a background of abuse and/or neglect.

Foster parenting is a ministry with a potential for great impact.  In contrast to ministries like after school programs, fostering is whole life ministry.  You don't just see the children for a few hours per day or week, when they can keep up a good face if needed to remain in the program.  When they are in your home it all comes out... but that means more opportunities to show unconditional love and forgiveness.  Furthermore, the opportunities for evangelism and discipleship of kiddos living in your home abounds.  Even on the hardest days, it is important to remember that everything you do for your foster children you are really doing for Jesus.  But not all (or even most) days are necessarily hard.  Fostering is fun when the kids write you thank you notes, when you see them become Christians, or when they just want to snuggle and hug.  There really is nothing else in the world that compares to being a foster parent.

Two verses that are very helpful and motivating in opening your home to strangers.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2, ESV)

This happened before (see Genesis 18:1-15, Judges 6:11-24 and 13:3-24), and it could happen again in your home.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gatheredall the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40, ESV)

What we do for the least of Jesus' brothers, we are doing for him.  This has been a very important passage for me in our fostering journey.

What have been your experiences with welcoming strangers into your home?  How have you seen blessings come from it?

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