July 1, 2016

Sharing life

Written by  Bethany Tobin
Jan, Steve, and Ja meet for house church. Jan, Steve, and Ja meet for house church. Photos provided by author.

This article appears in the July/August 2016 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.

Steve's phone rang. It was Ja, an Isaan house church leader from the Life Enrichment Church. He said simply, “I want to help you in ministry.” A few weeks later, he moved into our house. I was really nervous. The Isaan are a traditional, pre-industrialized people group only recently thrown into upheaval by modern materialism. Besides Ja's fast-paced dialect, I don't know how to cook Isaan food yet. It's a little hard to explain, but basically, we are from different planets. How was this going to work out?

The last two months have proved to me that it is worth taking the leap. He has grace for us, and we have learned many things about each other's planets. Like how hard Isaan people work. Ja is very pleased to come home from a 17-hour day driving a motorcycle taxi in the hot sun with $30 in his pocket. It's three times the minimum wage other Isaan migrant workers make for a day of dangerous manual labor. When he comes home and asks us what we did that day, it's very challenging and humbling.

Last Sunday I tried to think of what super spicy/sour food Ja might like. I made a big pot of fishy “gang som” soup. But Ja was exhausted. He slept through Sunday dinner, and I knew the rest of the week we wouldn't have time to eat together. Steve and I dutifully ate that enormous pot of soup all week long. But my efforts didn't go unrewarded. Later my house-helper ate with us and said, “That gang som is just right, good job.” I thought it was pretty ironic that I received my first cooking compliment from a Thai person on my least favorite dish.

The other planet we intersect with is the burgeoning refugee crisis. We met a desperate Pakistani Christian refugee family on the train who told us how they lost everything after being imprisoned at the immigrant detention center. Now out on bail, they have to risk deportation to work to pay off the astronomical bail loan from their employer. Each month he withholds all their pay, because he can. They are scrambling for cash for rent and food. At first impression, it seems rather lame to offer dinner at our house. But as we are learning, people need their rightful dignity. Friendship helps people survive.

Availability and an open heart

The lesson that we have learned about hospitality is really about our attitude. Put simply, it is this: availability. We are open to whomever God brings our way. This means always keeping the guest room ready. Keeping the public spaces of the house prepared to welcome others. Keeping an open heart that can adjust to accommodate others, whether that means our schedule or food preparation.

There is a balance. There are a lot of travelers through Bangkok. We don't want all our time absorbed hosting people who are not the people we are called to serve. We have to make our priorities carefully. How does investing in this person connect with our vision or call?

Hospitality takes preparation and effort. It makes life more exhausting and more complicated. But I believe it is worth the leap because the invitation to share life is akin to breaking communion bread together. It's helpful to me to host others, not so much because I am like Jesus, but because I am serving Christ in them. We do it not because they are deserving or responsive but simply because in serving them, we are loving Christ.

Bethany Tobin and her husband Stephen Horst, along with their children, serve in Bangkok, Thailand, in evangelism and discipleship among Isaan migrant workers. They are joint workers with Virginia Mennonite Missions (VMM). If you are interested in supporting their ministry, please contact  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This article appears in the July/August 2016 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.

Listen to the podcast