July 1, 2016

Adventures in hospitality

Written by  Nita Landis
Adventures in hospitality Photo provided by the author.

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

In the lobby of the building where Mount Joy Mennonite Church meets, there is a rough wooden door propped up against the wall. Every time one of us gives or receives courageous hospitality, we hang a key on the door to represent that adventure. 1,001 adventures in courageous hospitality is our goal by the end of 2016.

On the road

I’m in the middle of an adventure in offering courageous hospitality to a young East African refugee mom. I met Salma* in early February when I began giving her rides to a weekly support group for refugee moms and preschoolers run by Church World Service of Lancaster, Pa. She has two little boys, one four years old and the other six months old. Her husband and small daughter are still in Uganda, waiting for paperwork to be completed so that the family can be reunited.

I soon learned that Salma’s biggest goal right now is to get her driver’s license so that she can drive to work. To get to her first job in the U.S., she rode the bus. That meant very long hours in daycare for her boys, hours that cost more of her paycheck than she could afford to spend. A driver’s license and a car will mean the ability to get to a job that doesn’t have to be on the bus line and fewer hours in daycare for the boys.

So only two weeks after meeting Salma, I told her that I was willing to help her learn to drive and that another woman in the missional community (MC) I belong to was willing to watch the boys during the lessons. Salma’s eyes got really big. With a solemn smile she said, “These people who teach me to drive and watch my boys — I never, never forget them.”

Did I wonder about the wisdom of becoming so quickly involved in the life of a woman I barely knew? Yes. Is there any risk to my car? Yep. Am I out of my comfort zone? Absolutely. Especially during parallel parking instruction.

My retired father has been willing to give some of the driving lessons. Not too surprisingly, Salma says she prefers his instruction to mine. But between the two of us, Salma is learning quickly and will soon schedule her driving test, taking another step toward autonomy in her complex new context.

It goes both ways

Let me be clear. This adventure is as much about receiving hospitality as offering it. Salma has served me delicious tea (made with cardamom!) in the small row home that she shares with another refugee family. She brought sambusas — yummy fried triangular turnovers filled with meat and onions — to our MC’s party to celebrate someone’s new home. 

And when Salma learned that I would be driving eight hours to a niece’s wedding on a Friday and driving those same eight hours back home on Saturday, she offered to bring Saturday dinner to our home. In addition to cooking while caring for two small children, she persuaded a friend to drive her to our home to deliver the meal. Delightful. Humbling. Delicious.

Jonathan, another member of our MC, has also experienced receiving hospitality along with offering it. He recently visited Ahmed* and Jana*, a Middle Eastern brother and sister who hang out with our MC when we go bowling or play games or hike. Ahmed and Jana are seeking asylum in the U.S., and their parents, also asylum seekers hoping to be granted a safer, more stable life, had just arrived.

Jonathan went to welcome the new arrivals, offering the small blessing of a bag of fruit. After some warm conversation, he was blessed in return — with a beautiful red box full of baklava.

Significant, stretching, simple

These exchanges of hospitality yield blessing in the physical realm of needed driver’s licenses and tasty desserts. They also lead to life in the social realm, increasing our sense of connection and goodwill.   

And perhaps most wonderfully, these exchanges of hospitality have deep spiritual significance. They help to demolish the cultural and religious tribalism so prevalent in our hearts and world, a tribalism that leads to fear and division, and sometimes to violent conflict. These exchanges help to extend the kingdom of God through peacemaking fueled by hospitable openness to “the other.”

For many Christians, a Muslim is about as “other” as you can get. Hospitality plays a key role when building friendships with Muslims. EMM's Christian/Muslim Relations Team exhorts Christians to develop friendships with Muslims, to show hospitality to displaced persons who come our way, and to always commend Christ in our words and actions! Simple. And appropriate not only with Muslims, but with anyone who feels “other” to us.

Let’s be radical

At most recent count, 318 keys representing 318 adventures in courageous hospitality have been hung on our challenge door. We don’t know if we’ll make it to 1001. But we are trusting God to make us beautiful, like Jesus, on our way to 1001. And being beautiful, like Jesus … that’s the real goal.

Nita Landis is a member of Mount Joy Mennonite Church and leads a missional community, a family of Jesus followers focused on loving and serving refugees and immigrants in the Lancaster area. She finds joy in offering healing prayer, spiritual direction, and words that shed light and give life.

*indicates pseudonym

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

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