Despite our many failures in our shared home in Seattle, our relationships in that house blessed us. Our first daughter Rosie was born while we lived there, and after her birth, our housemate Kei called his mother in Korea, and got her recipe for soup for new mothers. He made it for me, thick and creamy with rice and chicken broth. Grace became Grace Ayi, or Aunt Grace, to our daughter. Anu brought a frilly princess dress from Nepal for Rosie to wear on her first birthday. They taught us all their cultural traditions, and Rosie was blessed in Chinese and Korean and Japanese and French.
And according to Scripture, when we practice hospitality, we can expect blessing.
In the biblical tradition, guests bring their hosts into connection with God. When Abraham welcomed strangers, he received a message and a promise from God (genesis 18). When the prophets Elijah and Elisha found themselves in need, they both found refuge in the homes of women. Both the prophets who received hospitality and the women who extended it were blessed by God as a result. Jesus taught that his true followers were those who welcomed strangers (matthew 25), and the author of Hebrews warned that strangers could be angels in disguise (13:2).
The need for the church to extend hospitality to strangers is as great now as it was in biblical times. In our world today, loneliness and displacement are real problems that hospitality can at least begin to address. We live in a fragmented society. In the USA, fewer individuals are getting married, and fewer young people are committing to churches, leading to a higher sense of isolation for many. But even more importantly, there are now more refugees and displaced people in the world than ever before—65.3 million people have been forced from their homes, and 21.3 million of those are refugees. More than half of these refugees are under the age of 18. Nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day in our world as a result of conflict or persecution. Who will welcome these refugees with the love of Christ?
Perhaps the first step in extending hospitality is learning to see those people who are in need. It’s easy and natural for us to limit our circles of friendship to those who are like us, who we’re comfortable with—but when we do that, we can easily overlook those who are in greatest need of welcome. Like Paul, we may have to go “outside the city gates” to find those people who look or smell different, who are waiting and hoping to hear from the God of love.
Hospitality can take a variety of forms. We can welcome immigrants and refugees to our towns and our homes, helping the recently arrived to navigate an unfamiliar world, helping them find furniture and fair leases, helping them learn the bus system or the English alphabet. We can adopt children who need families or we can welcome foster kids into our homes. We can look for the elderly in retirement homes who are lonely and isolated, and bring friendship to them. We can welcome single friends into our family lives. When we ask God to open our eyes to those who need hospitality, God will answer.
The danger of hospitality is that as we are blessed by it, we are also changed by it. As we build relationships with people who are not like us, we will find our perspectives widened, our empathies expanded, and our presuppositions challenged. God uses hospitality to change us just as it changed Peter and Paul. When our only relationships are with people who look like us, who come from the same socioeconomic background, or the same ethnic heritage, we have a limited perspective on who God is and how life works. Of course our perspective on God is always limited on this side of heaven, but we see more of God when we see him through the eyes of those who are different from us.
In fact, hospitality can offer us a foretaste of heaven, when we will be with a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, praising God together (revelation 7:9).
Hospitality is a foundational virtue for followers of God. Jesus is the host who has offered us a welcome into God’s kingdom, reminding us that we are strangers here on earth. He calls us, as strangers, to offer welcome to other strangers, welcome grounded in the truth that we are all humans created in the image of God, worthy of love and care.
Hospitality is a radical stance of faithfulness against fear. Hospitality says that because of God’s great love, we can welcome strangers rather than fear them. Hospitality has little to do with the “industry” of tourism and entertainment, hotels and restaurants. If hospitality is transactional, it is transactional only the in way that recognizes that you are in need now, and one day I will be in need; we exist in a status of mutual dependence, not independence. Many of us don’t really believe this. We believe in our autonomy. We are individualists who have lived independent and secure lives, and so we have forgotten how deeply vulnerable we actually are, the fact that we live and breathe at the mercy of God and our neighbors. If we could remember that, wouldn’t our hearts be more open to the vulnerable and marginalized? If we could remember that we are strangers, we would welcome strangers; but we have become so at home in this world that we have begun to believe that we are masters of our own fates. We take care of ourselves and expect others to do the same.
Hospitality is the remembrance that all we have now is on loan from God. God told the Israelites in Leviticus that the land he gave them was his, and that they were to reside in it as strangers and aliens. Peter echoed this thought in his letter to the elect, calling us “foreigners and exiles” in the world. Hospitality is at the heart of the Christian identity; it is an openness of heart, an openness of home, a stranger welcoming a stranger to a space where each person can be more fully who God has created her to be, can flourish, can come closer to a home that will a endure, a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
Ideas for Embracing Hospitality
Invite a friend or a family from church over for dinner. Start simple. Order pizza! Paul writes in Galatians that we are to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (galatians 6:10 niv). If welcoming strangers feels intimidating, start with people you know at church.
Volunteer to help refugee families in your area. Locate your local refugee resettlement agency and ask how you can volunteer. Or contact a group like World Relief, Catholic Charities, or Lutheran Family Services.
Visit a local retirement community. Ask the staff if there are residents who don’t have family or friends in the area. Become their friend.
Find an interfaith gathering. If all of your friends are Christians, find an interfaith gathering where you can go to meet and interact with people of different beliefs. Make friends who are different from you, and welcome them into your home.
Start an Airbnb. Have an extra room in your house? List it inexpensively on Airbnb. When travelers stay with you for a night or two, welcome them warmly and generously. I’ve known people whose Airbnb guests have attended Bible study while staying with them.
Use your spare bedroom. If you have an empty room in your house, be on the lookout for someone who might need it—a local college student trying to cut costs, a high school exchange student coming to the States for a semester or a year, or a single person who would love to be folded in to your family life for a season.