Let me introduce you to a sphere in which vulnerabilities lie. Some lie hidden behind facades of wealth, religion, and our downtown districts. Sometimes we merely see the city towers, the mirage of cultural diversity, the success, and still think the needs lie in a foreign land, dusty and scorched— Africa. But what if “Africa” is everywhere?
A Case for Revolutionary Hospitality
Every morning I wake up safe in my very own bed. The smell of breakfast wafts upstairs. I pour over God’s word, inhale Jesus, and face my day. Typical? Many of you do the same. Home is our safe place. It is the place we live and live out of. What do I mean by that? Hint. Hint. Hospitality happens out of our homes. Growing up, hospitality looked like a big cast iron pan-full of refried beans and plantains sizzling on the griddle. The guest was served first, and their place was intentionally set. Mom made sure the best china was set out, and that each person ate more than their fill. Spanish culture was aromatic in the air. Not all of us grow up with the same image of hospitality. Each home has their own traditions, or some have none at all. Some of us grew up with extra places set around our family table and some of us didn’t.
Today I want to make a case for hospitality—an unconventional type of hospitality. There is a Jesus way of doing hospitality. It looks into the hovels around us and brings those people in. It lets a Samaritan woman touch his hem and the little children sit on his lap. It reaches out and touches the untouchable leper with his ragged and stinky garment. It lets Mary sit at his feet. Serving the vulnerable was the revolutionary shift. People stood about, Pharisees especially, shocked at this radical way of ministry. The onlookers got caught up in the plot of his stories. Remember the story of the prodigal? Revolutionary. The Father does not take a look at the prodigal with a sneer, but instead runs to him with a hug. That’s our Jesus way. Jesus hand-picked his disciples and embraced them despite all their rough edges. He gave Judas a place to call home even though in the end it meant a betrayal. He gave them a safe place to belong—a place to call home even though much of it was spent on the road. Jesus gave us the ultimate example of what characterizes hospitality. We can become accustomed and calloused to comfortable hospitality, but what if we became more aware? What if we would allow God to pry apart our squinty eyes to see the visage of abuse behind our neighbor woman’s eyes? What if we’d walk our city’s back streets at night and see the teens playing with weed, knives, and drowning in the ache of fatherlessness? We must hear the unearthed stories of our church brothers and sisters. We must see the homeless man we drive by weekly with Jesus’s eyes.
Hospitality can be all nice and pretty, and our guests can be all perfect and made up. Then when we bring our revolutionary Jesus into the picture, it becomes a gospel key. When the homeless, abused, and war-torn victims sit at our tables, Jesus smiles. He doesn’t smile just at his servants, but at them. When our guests sense his smile through our hospitality, they meet a true Jesus. Jesus is no longer that of the religious. He becomes their Jesus.
- My heart
How do we expect to meet raw vulnerabilities when others are hidden in the hallows of our heart? To serve the vulnerable well, we have to deal with our own vulnerable hearts first. Once we come to terms with our own needs, inadequacies, and find Jesus in the midst, we then can be his hands and feet. God even uses our own life’s battle scars and healing experiences to connect with those that sit about our table. His Holy Spirit within us can minister Jesus to the people that come before us, only because we have allowed him to minister to us.
- Feeling Less Than
Sometimes life is stressful and our heart feels spent. Maybe the baby was up all night or the day at work was long. Yet there is that neighbor coming over for supper or that friend that is stopping by for coffee. You sigh, because you don’t know if you are capable of listening to another sad story about her husband or past. You sigh because you are not sure if you can handle the messy clothes and dirty smells. Yes, rest is called for at times, but sometimes Jesus does call us to serve when we are feeling empty. We learn to lift our hands and trust him to fill our empty cups. We depend on him to be what spills out. Miracles happen in others when they happen in us.
There are times when we need to hear the cries of our children or bodies and say no. Sometimes we need to plan Sabbath rests or a weeks’ vacation to get away from all the chaos. We have to shelve our savior mentality, and remember who is the actual Savior—Jesus. The Holy Spirit can show us when to go beyond our strength. We also might find it helpful to have nights dedicated to intentional hospitality and other nights dedicated to rest. Pray about it and decide accordingly.
- A Mary-Kind-of-Hospitality
In Luke 10:38-42 we meet Martha— oh blustery and busy Martha. She wanted the bread toasted just right, and the table just so. She wanted her Jesus and his men to be served the best, but she missed the true best. Mary sat at his feet. I can imagine her face upturned toward the one she loved, listening. Neither woman was wrong, and neither was right. Martha meant well, but she let her hospitality give an aroma of anxiety and perfectionism. We need to have a Mary kind of hospitality that listens to our guests, and allows Jesus to be present among us. Beauty is good, but can flower into anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t reflect Jesus’ heart.
How to Serve the Vulnerable
This is the simple stuff and has already been hinted at here and there.
- Look and listen. Hospitality to the vulnerable is not about us but them. It is about Jesus. Ask Jesus to show you the needs in the person before you and don’t miss out on that by doing all the talking. Create an environment where the vulnerable feels free to speak.
- Be a trustworthy source. The vulnerable need to know you won’t share their tears to every next guest. They need to know you care enough to be confidential.
- Give time, resources, and lots of love. Maybe that is by mentioning your doors are always open, inviting your guests to return. If there is monetary need, ask Jesus to show you how to fill it.
- Pray for your guests and be a visual testimony of Jesus. You may be the only Christian they know or the only Christian who has ever taken time for them.
- Learn how to serve vulnerable hearts. It never hurts to read a book or learn about the effects of trauma and abuse. Be prepared to meet hard journeys by learning from others.
Angels and Scripture
What if I told you that you would host angels unaware? Scripture mentions this possibility. Something tells me we will host people that seem far from “angel-ish,” but they will be. Yeppers, even the stinky homeless or that vulnerable woman who always needs a box of tissues. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2 ESV).
What kind of judgements do we render to those who enter our homes? Instead of judging, do we welcome them into our homes as a place where they can sit at Jesus’ feet, just like Mary? Can we let the homeless come home? We were all aliens at one point in our life, spiritually for sure, and maybe some of us naturally.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another” (Zech 7:9-10).
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Lev 19:34).
Testimonies of Hospitality
I am inspired by the people who are practicing hospitality. So let me invite you to a little real-life story time:
The first and only time I met Ginger was in her book, Kinda Like Grace. She tells the story of a man called Victor, and a woman called Ginger (herself) who found grace. Victor lived unloved on the streets and somehow ended up on her couch time and time again. The journey to his transformation was arduous. Along the way Ginger realized even if he never changed it was worth the journey it took her on. She ends her book this way, “And the Lord is gracious. He allows us to see the fruit. I see how our reaching out has compelled others to seek to lend a hand to the less fortunate. I see how Victor’s kindness and his smile that lights up a room have inspired people to give those on the street a second look. I love to see the fruit of kindness and compassion growing in our city and across the world, as stories pour in from people who have stepped out and stepped up.”¹ Victor did change, but not all Victors do. Is it worth it? Yes, revolutionary hospitality is worth it, because Jesus is worth it.
Meet Kristen from New York City. She is not your average college senior. She juggles school, work, and hospitality. Her family lives in a small city apartment, but still welcomes their neighbors into their lives. Their motto is “the more the merrier.” Kristen is also an avid writer who writes primarily about education for Christian women and evangelism. Here is a quote from her perspectives on evangelism and hospitality and how the two coincide:
Living in a city has shown me the value of hospitality. People connect over food, and having someone over for a meal can open doors to spiritual conversations. We need to evangelize on the streets – I am not trying to take away from the importance of that. But I believe that when we host people in our homes, questions about God can enter the conversation naturally. When people are comfortable in your home, they are more open to share their stories or ask questions about your life, giving you opportunities to share your own testimony or even the plan of salvation.
Meet Rosaria Butterfield. She is a woman I am still learning to know as I work through her book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. She is a redeemed woman who has learned from her life experiences as an unbeliever. She came to Christ through the hospitality of a dynamic Christian couple. Transformed by Christ, she is now living a life that includes a lot of revolutionary hospitality. What do unbelievers need? She addresses this so, so well. “Unbelievers need to see genuine acceptance from us. They need to see genuine love. They need to see that being made in the image of God is a higher calling, bestowing a greater dignity, than inventing your own rules for faith and life.”²
Meet Kate, a beautiful soul with a heart for the vulnerable. She resides in Greece and frequently mentions the things Jesus is doing in the lives of those closest to her—vulnerable trafficked women. She mentions the prayers and miracles that take place, and her need to look into the face of Jesus. The longer she has spent in Greece the more she has come to the realization of the need for hospitality. Her women need to meet Jesus in the homes of believers. They need to be invited to sit at Jesus’ feet. In her own words:
Trafficked individuals are so often homeless people, caught in our foster systems, in and out of our rehab centers, and sitting on our street corners. They have programs they can go to and shelters they can collapse in at night. They can make an appointment for an hour with a psychologist. But do they have an open church door to enter where they are embraced? Do they have at least one open door to a home that welcomes them, where they can sit around a family table and be one of us? There are other doors that are open for them if ours aren’t. The girl from the park told me a man circled around the shelter inviting the women into his car. The girls without basic needs here in the camp are sometimes provided for by the individuals who will use them the most. Perpetrators open their doors and seek out vulnerabilities.
The last woman I want you to meet is Mary Beth. She is a busy mom, house wife, and teacher to her kids. She is also an active pro-lifer and spends one day a week on the sidewalk. She has a heartful love for the vulnerable, and her passion is that others may experience Jesus. When the Lord laid a vision on her heart to start a gathering place— a place where people can come together and pray— she willingly said yes. Prayer driving began and she located an old school building and a room. It was a dusty hole of sorts, but with extra hands and a burning vision she transformed it into a cozy space where hospitality will take place. She envisions it being a place where people can meet Jesus.
Bring them Home: It’s that Simple.
It is as simple as the above phrase and as the verse below. You find the hungry and you feed them at your table. You find the thirsty and give them a cup of coffee. You find the stranger and give him a place to come home to. It is here that the vulnerable meet Jesus. Your home becomes the place where they experience what it means to sit at Jesus’ feet. You love over and over again until you are spent and your race is done. This is your “Africa.” This is your ministry. You go out and find them.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Mat 25:35-36).
And guess what? They find Abba on that journey. Because you said yes to hospitality? No, but because you said yes to revolutionary hospitality. A kind of hospitality that welcomes more than your comfortable church friends, but also the blind, the lame, the fatherless, and the needy.
“I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know. I broke the fangs of the unrighteous, and made him drop his prey from their teeth” (Job 29:15-17).
Bring them home. It’s that simple. Period.
¹ Ginger Sprouse, Kinda Like Grace: A Homeless Man, a Broken Woman, and the Decision That Made Them Family (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019), 178.
² Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 53.