I grew up in a house with an open door policy, meaning if we were home, you were welcome. At any time, knock, and if you didn’t already have a key, you knew a twist of the knob would most likely do the trick. In this house, if you were hungry and even thought about making a sandwich, the rule was that you had to ask everyone present, and even those on their way, if they would like a sandwich before you made yourself one. It seemed as if the house was always full and rarely quiet, and there was nothing abnormal about this way of living. Yes, there were many days where not wanting to make food for everyone taught me to wait for dinner, but as a child, the concepts of caring and kindness came without limits.
The more I reflect on growing up in a family so bent on hospitality, I noticed that some very interesting things began to happen in response:
It created community. By opening up their house with the intent of inviting others in, my parents became the catalyst for community in our neighborhood. Our house became a home for many people over the years. It wasn’t just ours; it was theirs, too. Others came and shared in all that we had. They in turn invited others not only to our house, but into their homes as well.
Needs were met. We did not just toss money at each other in response to our needs. When we were robbed, the community felt that they, too, had been robbed. For example, I remember when our laptops went “missing” in one of these incidences. They were replaced by an old gaming laptop, and an extra one from the neighbor down the street became the replacement so that my sister could continue to complete her studies. Not a beat was skipped. If it could be helped, no one went without, and there was always enough to go around. We examined the assets and resources we possessed as a community, no matter how insignificant they seemed, and we pulled those resources together to meet the needs of all.
It defined a culture. Radical hospitality was a defining characteristic of the culture we created. And because you shared in it, you never felt obligated to give nor were you shamed when you didn’t. You simply did what you saw others doing and thought very little, if at all, of it. It was discipleship in action, and we didn’t even recognize it.
Family was redefined. Because of the environment in which I was raised, when I think about family, I don’t just see the “nuclear family.” My understanding of family is so much broader than my parents and siblings. This understanding not only crossed lines of color and class, but as a young child, it dismantled them. The idea that we are family in Christ isn’t just a symbolic understanding but a practical way of living. You are literally my sister or my brother, and I respect and treat you as so. It also means that I intentionally offer front row access to my best and worst self at all times.
Last year, I was called to join a missional community overseas in east Africa, and since accepting that call, I’ve begun to notice an attitude within the church that contradicts the way of Jesus. It seems we believe that the will of God must always coincide with our happiness and comfort. Yet, the one thing that has been made abundantly clear as I walk this journey is that I lost my right to “self” the day I embraced Jesus as Lord. As a child, caring and kindness knew no limits. As an adult, this same truth has taken an even more redeemed form—my love for others comes at the expense of what I perceive as my own well-being. This doesn’t mean that I must now lead a reckless life, ignoring common sense and rationality, but it does mean that my being is centered around Jesus and the will of God. What is transformed is my outlook. I am not just going to help a group of poor refugees in another country; I am going to join my brothers and sisters of another culture. We are one in Christ Jesus, and the Spirit of God is at work in this world unifying and transforming the hearts of humankind. Therefore the talents and resources I have been equipped with belong to the global body of Christ, and I will steward them according to whom God has called me to go, regardless of where. At its core, this is the mindset from which radical hospitality truly takes on form, and as an itinerant missionary, being a part of a community who lives into this reality made it possible for me to stay in northern VA with no job, no apartment/house, and no substantial income to call my own.
I was adopted in as an honorary member of the family who hosted me this past summer. I wasn’t just “the young lady who lived in the basement.” I was a part of their daily rhythms. I had front row access to their best and worst, and I never went without. The feelings of familiarity overwhelmed the little girl within me with peace and joy, but I quickly noticed that the “adult me” fought so hard to resist their kindness. When I was younger the flow of giving and receiving seemed effortless, but as an adult, I found myself so quickly exhausted because the relational connection I had invested into the community was transactional. Consequently, I struggled with accepting their hospitality because I knew there was no way I could repay their kindness. They were not expecting me to, but at some point in my “maturing,” I had adopted the belief that in relationships my investment must always yield a return. What I pour in, I must also receive or else the relationship is too much of an expenditure and needs to be cut off. More so, I had been living on the belief that God works on this same principle and therefore would not call His children to live in complete abandonment of self—giving despite the possibility of never seeing the fruit of our labor. Yet, while being with the Hill City family, I was reminded that a life of surrender is the very way of Jesus.
I honestly see no way around it. To identify with Jesus is to be a people of radical hospitality. Jesus “had no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Yet as I read the gospels, he not only can be characterized as hospitable, but he actively redefines by way of his teaching and his example hospitable living. When we open up our homes to our neighbors, feed the hungry, embrace the brokenhearted and the poor, and fight alongside of the oppressed, we are living as Jesus lived. It is because of Jesus’ example that I believe we are not called to simply be spectators of the power of God, but by his Spirit, we partake in the miraculous as it meets the mundane through our way of radical and intentional hospitable living.
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