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Relearning the Art of Hospitality

6471353431_947e4a7599_oThere I was a few weeks ago, sitting on a bare wooden floor in a humble Thai hut, when God hit the reset button on my perspective of hospitality. This shift was not the kind of hospitality that rings of Martha Stewart or what Pinterest dreams are made of; it was true biblical hospitality.

My husband Matt and I were in Thailand on an Exposure Trip with 13 others from our church. We partnered with the Integrated Tribal Development Program, a grassroots Christian organization working among the hill tribes of northern Thailand. For 10 days, we lived among Karen villagers. The Karen are an ethnic group from Southeast Asia, with many having migrated to Thailand to escape persecution in Myanmar (formerly Burma). Like many other hill tribes in Thailand, the Karen have no legal citizenship, which means limited rights and less access to many resources we take for granted. They’re outcasts. Families live in modest wood huts, living off of their land and livestock, with few modern conveniences. In fact, the area where we stayed did not have running water until ten years ago.

As Matt and I sat on our sleeping bags, laying out clothes for the next day, our host mom and dad and two of their sons walked into our room and sat cross-legged before us, smiling. The Karen are known for their friendly demeanor. There we sat in pitch black darkness – with only the light of our headlamps to help us see – when one of our hosts started to speak to us in Karen. Matt and I knew enough of the language to say “hi,” “bye” and “thank you”– not much to work with– and our host family knew that. Despite this, I could tell they wanted to engage, to be present, to share their life with us. So for the next hour-and-a-half, we sat and piecemealed our way through a conversation – pointing at objects and repeating words, and excitedly writing down as much Karen as we could.

 

This shift was not the kind of hospitality that rings of Martha Stewart or what Pinterest dreams are made of; it was true biblical hospitality.

 

I’m pretty sure half the words I scribbled down were misspelled, misinterpreted or the like. But that’s beside the point. Matt and I got a taste of genuine hospitality. I experienced many more sweet moments like these over our two weeks in Thailand: our team invited to the second Christian wedding EVER in this region and asked to sing at the wedding ceremony (mind you, we were not the likes of the Von Trapp family). Here we were, a group of 15 Americans – strangers and outsiders – being welcomed and richly loved.

I left Thailand challenged by the generosity I saw among the Karen. I began to ask God to help me better understand his design of hospitality. In the few weeks I’ve been home, God has been performing some heart surgery on me.

In Romans 12:9-21, Paul lays out true marks of a Christ follower – qualities like loving one another, serving the Lord, being patient in tribulation and constant in prayer. And then in verse 13 he says, “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”

For years I glazed over this verse, assuming hospitality was directly connected to the saints and other believers. When I began to dive into the original Greek translation of hospitality, the term used here (philoxenos) literally means “brotherly love of strangers.”

Strangers, huh? How counter cultural! I mean, how easy is it to love our buddies, folks who are just like us, the people whom we know well and with whom we’re comfortable. But the hospitality Paul references here calls us to love in a way that casts a much wider net – to love the outsider, the marginalized, the outcast.

Don’t we see this kind of radical love of the stranger all over scripture? Moses reminded the Israelites, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

When we look at the New Testament and the life of Jesus on Earth, don’t we see much the same? Consider his interactions with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-30), his feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-21), and his teachings to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).

 

I began to ask God to help me better understand his design of hospitality.

 

And what about the greatest display of hospitality of all – God sending His son, Jesus, to die on our behalf so that we are no longer strangers, but part of God’s family!

Would you pause with me here and let this good news resonate?

God gave us – the alien, the outcast – new life through his son’s sacrifice.

This was the ultimate act of hospitality. God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

I can’t say enough about taking a timeout here and remembering the profoundness of this truth. This is at the very heart of why we love the stranger – we love because we (the once stranger) have been given new life through Christ! And God willing, may this kind of love lived out through us make Jesus better known.

I intentionally pause here because I fear that if we glaze over this truth, our attempts at hospitality can become duty rather than delight. Just another box to check off regarding what it looks like to call ourselves Christians.

But in those moments when we witness God’s design for hospitality, don’t we just know there’s something so right about it? John Piper says: “When we practice hospitality … we experience the refreshing joy of becoming conduits of God’s hospitality rather than being self-decaying cul-de-sacs…And there are few joys, if any, greater than the joy of experiencing the liberating power of God’s hospitality making us a new and radically different kind of people, who love to reflect the glory of his grace as we extend it to others in all kinds of hospitality.”

 

God gave us – the alien, the outcast – new life through his son’s sacrifice.

 

So I’m asking myself some hard questions and I’m asking you, too: How can we better love and engage the strangers around us?

Instead of passing by the homeless man on the corner, maybe we can start by making simple eye contact and smiling. Instead of just saying “hi” and “bye” to a visitor at church, maybe we can ask them to have lunch afterwards or invite them into our small group. Maybe we can start to better engage and understand the marginalized and outcasts around us – like the immigrant, the orphan and widow.

Just before leaving Thailand, Matt and I learned that our host family was among just a handful of Christians in the village where we stayed. There are many reasons I’m excited to know we share a common faith. And among those is knowing I’ll get to thank them face-to-face – with language a barrier no more – for teaching me a beautiful lesson about true hospitality. That will be a great day.

 

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Image Credit: Ram Reddy, Creative Commons


Jaime Strmiska

About

Jaime Strmiska lives in Fresno, California, and works with the Spiritual Formation Team at The Well Community Church. Besides her love of writing, she enjoys pointing others to Christ, having non-surface-y convos. She and her husband, Matt, also have an inkling for diving into other cultures and adventures. Her desire is to be a woman after God’s own heart and to encourage others in that same journey.


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