I had the privilege of living and raising my kids in their early days of childhood in Malawi, Africa. My husband and I started the Sports Friends ministry through the local church and lived there for 6 years. The local churches are still running the ministry today and it is developing all across that beautiful country. About two years ago my father-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and we felt the Lord moving us back to the USA to be close to him and my mother-in-law. Our Malawian family graciously and prayerfully sent us off in July of 2017. We are now partnering with World Relief to assist the most vulnerable in our society, refugee children.
GOD’S HEART FOR THE STRANGER
God has always identified with the stranger, the refugee, the sojourner. In Leviticus 19:33-34 He gives clear guidelines to His people on how to view and treat strangers.
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God”.
This verse means so much to me because I was the stranger and the sojourner. I was the immigrant.
When my young family first arrived in Malawi, we knew nothing. We did not speak the language, we did not have a job, we did not have any friends or family. We relied on the Malawians to help us. And glory be to God, the church lived out this verse and treated us like family. They helped us learn the language. They gave us food. They graciously explained the culture that was so new to us and forgave us for our cultural mistakes.
“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Romans 15:7.
A STORY OF PERSEVERANCE AND ENCOURAGEMENT
Now in the USA, my family wanted to get together with some of our Afghan refugee neighbors for dinner. We asked two families with kids around the same age as our kids and picked a date that worked for everyone. We also invited an American couple who told us they wanted to get to know some of our refugee neighbors too. A picnic, we thought, is the best way to connect neighbors!
The day finally arrived, and as is common when a group is gathering, we started out late getting to the park. It was also in October and fall was blowing in. It was colder than we had anticipated and it was darker earlier than we had thought. Strike one.
We wanted the food to represent both cultures and be appropriate for our neighbors to eat so we brought BBQ chicken sandwiches and Halaal spicy kabobs. Well, the BBQ chicken didn’t go over so well and the spicy kabobs should have been named very spicy kabobs. Strike two.
After our attempt at eating our picnic it was time for tea. I love this part of Afghan culture, after a meal everyone sits together and has a few cups of refreshing green tea. Our lovely neighbors brought the tea and we were to bring the mugs. As we all settled in to pour the tea, I realized we forgot the mugs. Strike three.
My husband drove back to the house to grab the mugs. By the time he got back to the park we were sitting and shivering in complete darkness except for one park light nearby. This evening had not gone as we planned but it was still an important gathering. As we used our phone lights to aid us in collecting all the dishes, leftovers, toys and lost shoes from the kids; we were all together laughing, helping and seeing the comedy in the chaos.
HOSPITALITY IS PURSUING RELATIONSHIPS, NOT PINTEREST-PERFECTION
That’s what welcoming is, it starts with “Hi, how are you?” and an invitation to the table that is not (and I would say should not be) “perfect”. The goal is not to put our best foot forward. Sure we want all guests to feel comfortable but perfection is not the way to do that, authenticity is. If the goal is Pinterest hospitality then you are the focus and not the relationship. It’s ok for things to be awkward and even feel like your striking out. That shows your authenticity and invites your neighbor to show theirs.
So, welcome your neighbors with perseverance and encouragement! Welcome them to your table and get to know them for the glory of God. Welcome them the way Christ is welcoming you. Our Savior went to great extents, laying aside his glory and taking on human flesh, to reach out to us, the outsiders, and invites us into restorative relationship with him. Therefore, we can and must also show that same welcoming heart to those on the fringes, not so we can be the hero but so we can point them to the hero, Jesus.
“Let the love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:1-2