When we were planning to go to the States for my husband to pursue graduate work, a young pastor and his wife offered to host us in their home until we found a place of our own. What we thought would be a couple of weeks in John and Nina Yenchko’s home ended up being more than two full months, and besides our youngest son (at that time aged twelve) being with us from the beginning, our eldest and a friend (college students) joined us all for the last month and they were invited to stay until our living arrangements were settled.

I shall never forget their generous hospitality, taking them out of their newly married comfort zone into the boisterous presence of a “foreign” family of early forties and teens. After we moved, among several jobs tackled, I worked at a public library, where I enjoyed access to many good books and a very low income. However, the Lord provided us with half a mansion, which we shared with another pastor and graduate student and his family (of two small kids and a wife who worked full-time as a nurse – Canadians).

Many times our friends from Brazil came along on their way to other tourist spots, and more often than not, we had a full house and an almost empty larder.  I had grown up as a missionary kid in Brazil. Since our marriage, I had been welcomed into my in-laws’ home and learned many lessons of hospitality with them, as well as in the homes of people all over Brazil who hosted us when Lau was guest preacher, or we were the visiting missionaries at a church. At the seminary where we went to school, hospitality was taught and practiced. When still single, I remember a Terena Indian pastor and his wife hosting the visiting Bible school students – putting us five girls to rest in their only double bed (they resorted to hammocks), while the men slept on the thatched roof church benches. Generous, inconvenient hospitality!

Once, when Lau and I traveled with our then five and two-year old children throughout the USA on our first evangelistic trip in which he preached in twenty-two states, the people who were supposed to put us up for the weekend had an emergency, and resorted to their parents to host us. I will never forget the white-haired, aged lady with a heavy German accent saying to the twenty-something couple and their two rambunctious kids, “Welcome in the name of the Lord Jesus!” They took us in as if we were angels (which we definitely were not) and when we prepared to leave for the next location, sent us off with bags full of sandwiches, fruit, juice and cookies to “tide us off” until we got to the next destination. I had worried about our being in the home of a couple of people well over seventy, but they showed us what it means to feel welcome in Jesus’ name.

I enjoyed entertaining – throwing a Christmas party or shower for a friend, having a professor over for dinner or a prominent preacher in our home for the church’s weekend conference, but was less enthusiastic when a couple who was in town for medical treatment and had nowhere else to go was stationed in our home for several weeks. Sometimes I am a slow learner, despite having been on the receiving end many times – and the Lord had to teach me the difference between entertaining and being biblically hospitable, not when it is convenient to us, but when and wherever the need arises.

One of the ways he taught us was through irony. We were called upon to offer hospitality – actually, to entertain – some VIP’s from Brazil. Not our ordinary pastoral or missionary fare, but a State governor and several representatives from Brazil’s states of Goiás and Tocantins and the Federal District. When our friends Marcos and Beth called us and said they were bringing the “comitiva” over to get to know an authentic American-Brazilian home, I was flattered – and my stomach fluttered at the perspective. I rallied several friends in the church and neighborhood, to loan me proper dishes, silverware and glasses, and prepared my best recipes, proudly telling my friends that we were hosting so and so. Everything was perfect – except this imperfect hostess.

Half an hour after the expected time, our friends called and said they were running late, and the Governor and his entourage had apologized saying they had decided to go to Atlantic City instead, and it would be just our old friends Marcos and Beth – whom we had entertained, as they had hosted us, zillions of times with anything from popcorn to mortadela sandwiches and lemonade or roast pork and gnocchi.

When Paul instructed Timothy about who and how to care for widows, some of the attributes listed were being “well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds” (1 Tim 5.10). Peter sandwiches hospitality between loving love each other deeply, “because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another” and adds an interesting thought: “ without grumbling” – he admonishes to use our gifs in service toward others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms”, and adding, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:8-11). Whether preaching or serving, our goal is God’s praise – not that of host or hostess!

How do we practice biblical hospitality in the twenty-first century? With the solicitousness of Martha and the personal interest of Mary of Bethany. With the generosity of the woman who broke her alabaster box and the strength to serve of Peter’s mother in law after being healed by Jesus. We may not be as cunning as Rahab (I doubt that you will be called upon to hide your guests on the rooftop under piles of flax!) but we can glean from the Source of wisdom for every situation. Our homes can be warm, caring places that show God’s love to the stranger as well as to those we love. We will exercise and develop patience while practicing hospitality. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it “(Heb. 13:2). Some day we will be permanent guests in God’s eternity. That will be quite a party -- bustling, joyful and eternal home!

Elizabeth Gomes

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