As we traveled across North America this past summer, what made it so special were the many wonderful people we met along the way. And the hospitality they showed us was beyond the imagination!
To open your home to an invasion like the Shannon family takes a special kind of person. It means decreased privacy, shuffling of space and the practical matter of feeding more mouths. But, people did it night after night.
I believe it stands out as being out of the ordinary to us because hospitality for many of us in the current day is a lost practice. The hospitality industry means that many of us turn first to a hotel room rather than opening our homes.
As those on the receiving end of hospitality again and again, it reminded us of the vital place of hospitality in New Testament times. Consider some ways the Bible spoke about the culture of hospitality that was expected in the 1st Century:
- Luke 9:3. “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town…’” The 12 were dependent on hospitality.
2. Luke 11:5 -6. In the midst of one of Jesus’ parables on prayer we see the vital nature of hospitality, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’” The expectation was that this man would have food to give proper hospitality to the friend on a journey. And if not, then his neighbor might come to his rescue to preserve his neighbor’s honor.
3. Luke 10:38. “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.”
4. Again and again we see it in the Early Church through Acts. In Acts 16 we read about Lydia, “When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.” Or Acts 21:8, “Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.” And in Acts 28 we see it in verse 2, “The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold,” as well as in verse 7, “There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius…He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days.”
5. And then we also find various instructions throughout the New Testament about how to practice hospitality. In 1 Timothy 5:10, a widow was expected to be well known for her good deeds, including hospitality. But, also in the list of Elder’s requirements in Titus 1:8 is the expectation that a potential Elder was hospitable. In Romans 12:13, we read, ‘Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” And a strong word in 1 Peter 4:9, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” And of course, there is Hebrews 13:2, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
By the way, I’m not inferring that our crew is anywhere close to angels in that last verse. 🙂
While it is Biblical, it seems that the hard part of these verses is found in the practical.
Here are some marks of great hospitality that we experienced along the way. You might be surprised by what stood out to us.
Marks of Great Hospitality as we experienced it.
- Mi Casa, su Casa. Any time anyone said to us, “Make yourselves at home,” that was a breath of fresh air. It never had anything to do with the quality of the home or the bigness or smallness of that home. Rather, a simple invitation made a huge difference.
2. Simplicity. When hosts made simple food or even said, “Here it is, help yourself,” it made us breathe a breath of relief. Hospitality is not about breaking our necks or spending our lives in the kitchen to impress…rather a simplicity of sharing warms the heart.
3. Sharing Life. We loved how people weren’t just giving us housing and food like a boarder. Rather, we sat around and shared life. We listened to stories and told our own. We shared our joys and our concerns. We prayed together and shared together knowing that God was knitting our lives together in a special way.
4. Power of Prayer. We had a number of settings where hosts prayed deep prayers. They spoke out words of knowledge and prayers of encouragement over us. And we had the privilege of praying for some of them, too. That was a special gift…again and again.
5. The Art of Service. The way folks served us was remarkable. But what it spoke to us was the love of Jesus. They chose to serve because they follow the Master Servant. They saw their houses and food and pools and toys as gifts given by God. So, they freely shared with other believers. They served out of what The Lord had put in them and it was beautiful.
The practice of hospitality is still alive and well among Jesus followers. And we were the beneficiaries of gift after gift as a result. Thank you to you heroes of hospitality. We appreciate the ways you served our family so well…giving off the fragrance of Christ again and again.
Martha* was born and grew up in the countryside, where her mother and father passed away when she was very young. Her well intentioned older brother chose to move her from the countryside to Addis Ababa with the plan of caring for her. However, he had little means as a daily laborer and after she came to live with him, he could no longer afford to support nor educate Martha.
When she became a teenager she found herself in a common situation as her brother made her quit school to instead work as a house worker to support herself, because he could no longer do so. He found Martha a house worker job and she started working and living with that large extended family for two years. Her monthly salary was 200 ETB ($20 back then), but she was required to work the whole day without a break and then worked late into the night, every day.
Her work was hard and demanding and included washing all the clothing of the extended family members by hand, baking and cooking meals for the large household. While working and living in these harsh conditions, tragedy struck when one day the oldest son of the family raped Martha. She now found herself pregnant, violated, overworked, poor and without options.
In the midst of this crisis, Martha visited her aunt who lived a very poor, subsistence kind of life. After Martha explained what had happened, her aunt gave her a place to stay with her, but she could not provide for her. Even though Martha was pregnant, she needed to work during the day hours as a Daily Laborer and then during the evenings and weekends as a house worker for her Aunt. She did this until she gave birth to her little girl Liya*.
After she gave birth to Liya, life became even tougher for Martha and her aunt as there was no income and no food. Martha and Liya were malnourished and feeling hopeless when she heard about Embracing Hope Ethiopia.
That was 6 years ago. Over the years, thanks to faithful sponsors and compassionate staff, both Martha and Liya embraced opportunities to change their lives. They received intensive counseling, and care. They also received house rent support, food items, clothing, medical support, hygiene materials and Women’s Empowerment activities. Liya received Day Care and nutrition in a safe place that meant Martha was free to work and support the family.
In addition when Liya contracted Measles within a couple of days of arriving in our Day Care, EHE Staff intervened. Measles is deadly more often than not when contracted while malnourished. EHE Staff designed an individualized plan that included caring for Liya at home with extra nutrition to help her to fight off Measles. In the end she is a survivor and not only pulled through, but today is a thriving girl filled with joy.
Today, because of Day Care, and the holistic intervention that goes along with it, Martha has worked her way up from being a daily laborer to become a Builder’s helper. She registered in a government housing program, saved enough money for the down payment, and recently received her house and is working to put the final finishings on it. She hopes to move in soon.
Martha also met a hard-working man whom she recently married. He is a great, loving father to Liya (which is uncommon for a step-dad) and the family could not be happier. Martha recently gave birth to her second child and has freedom to care for him, too. Their monthly income has reached 3500 ETB ($140) and they have outfitted their home with many household items. Martha has become self-supportive and she recently graduated from needing many of Embracing Hope’s services.
Liya recently entered Grade 3 in Embracing Hope’s Elementary School. She continues to be educated by EHE and receives daily food and other supports including spiritual ministry. She is a healthy little girl, full of joy!
A family preserved. A loving Mother together with her beautiful daughter, today living a life of health and dignity. They are beyond delighted. Thank you for making stories like this possible.
* Names have been changed in order to protect the identity of this family.
Your partnership means that some families have experienced radical transformation.
Consider Bethlehem’s* story. Bethlehem’s father died when she was three years old. He was the only person generating income, as her mother was primarily responsible for taking care of children. After his death, Bethlehem’s family fell apart and she had to go to live with her aunt. At first, Bethlehem was welcomed in and well cared for by extended family. did well in her new living conditions and she was treated like a family member. However, when she was alone with one of her cousins, he raped her and she became pregnant.
Bethlehem hid her pregnancy as long as possible, but when this was no longer possible she told her aunt what happened. Her aunt did not believe her and she began to tell members of the community that the father was someone from school in order to avoid shaming the family. Because Bethlehem did not have any other options, she remained with her aunt until she gave birth. However over time the Aunt forced Bethlehem to leave her house and she was forced to start living with other people. Bethlehem started to beg along the roadside with her baby in hopes of having food to eat.
When Embracing Hope staff first heard her story, they visited her and found her living in filthy clothes and crying. All Bethlehem needed was some people to believe in her and give her a chance. While family had harmed her and cast her off, now there was an opportunity for the love and compassion of Jesus to break into her shame. Bethlehem’s daughter, Ababa*, was welcomed into the Day Care where she was loved on and cared for while also receiving nutrition, socialization, health care and a safe, caring place. Bethlehem took the opportunity to start working.
Today she is full of life and dignity. She works as a cleaner and also has her own small business selling clothing. And Ababa is in 2nd Grade and thriving at Embracing Hope’s school.
Their story encapsulates the beauty of what God does as the Psalmist captures it in Psalm 113:7 – 9
“He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He settles the childless woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.”
He took an orphaned young woman who was raped and cast off and has brought her to the place of honor. O God, do it for so many more.
*The fictional names Bethlehem and Ababa have been used throughout he story in order to protect the true identity of this family.