It was stifling hot. Our team shuffled along a dusty Haitian road as we toured the neighborhood surrounding the school supported by Kozefo. The homes were a mix of makeshift dwellings, corrugated tin roofs, bare concrete walls, and mud huts as far as the eye could see. Curious faces peered out from windows and kids shrieked as they kicked homemade balls.
We came to a stop in front of a home where a woman was furiously sweeping and scrubbing the dirt floor. I suspect word had gotten out that the team was in the area and she was tidying up in anticipation of our arrival. “Bonjour,” she called, wiping the sweat from her brow and offering a warm smile. Our team leader smiled in greeting at this familiar face, a mother of one of the students, and the woman gestured for us to come in.
It was obvious that only a handful of team members would fit in the tiny abode so those nearest to the door ducked inside. We stood together a little awkwardly while she bustled around collecting a few plastic lawn chairs. After they were arranged in a small circle, we all sat down for a visit.
Perched on a wobbly plastic chair in the dark hut, I was treated like an honored guest and old friend all at once. I scanned the room – noticing the mud walls, the tiny window that was the only source of light and one solitary bookshelf held all the family’s meager possessions. Her home was beautiful in its simplicity and I was humbled and grateful for her desire to share it with us weary travelers.
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. Leviticus 19:34
In that tiny room on a Haitian hillside, I learned a lot about hospitality. It was offered without pretense or polish. It was offered with a place to sit and a heartfelt visit. It was offered without expecting anything in return.
I was immeasurably touched by the kindness of a woman who had nothing to offer me but a plastic chair and a warm smile. It filled my soul. This woman was everything I hope to be: inviting, sincere, open, and willing to stop what she was doing to entertain strangers.
If only more people practiced this sort of simple, unpretentious hospitality.
Our homes can be one of the greatest weapons of kindness in the world. Unfortunately, we all wage a war against the lie that unless our house is perfectly Pinterested, clean, organized, and stocked with refreshments we should not extend a welcome to anyone. I can’t think of many people who honestly would care if a house is flawless. But I can think of dozens of people who are longing for connection.
Hospitality doesn’t demand perfection. It only demands a willingness to open the door.
Often, we make ourselves so busy that having friends or strangers into our home can seem like one more thing rather than a treasured time of fellowship. It seems even friends rarely invite each other into their homes anymore, opting to meet at restaurants or coffee shops instead. But the truth is there is just no substitute for an unhurried chat with someone right at the kitchen table.
I used to tell people that I don’t have the gift of hospitality. And I meant it. Once upon a time, if we were having company, I would freak out and clean like a crazy person. I’d rack my brains over refreshments and chase the kids away. It was by no means effortless for me. I would have died a million deaths if someone dropped by and saw my house a mess. But the more I practice hospitality, the easier it gets and the less concerned I have become with perfection. And I have grown to love opening our home.
Besides, hospitality is not mentioned in scripture as a gift of the spirit. I am not even sure how it got that reputation. Some people are incredibly gifted in this area, but all believers are exhorted to practice hospitality … generously and without grumbling. All of us.
Christianity was, and still should be, the religion of the open door. ~ William Barclay
The truth is, when we open our homes, everyone wins. The host and the guest are blessed by the interaction and mutually encouraged. My Haitian visit was a clear example of this. During our time together, our hostess was able to share her story and be heard. We prayed together and hugged like old friends.
I am eternally grateful to this woman for opening her heart and home to me. By her example I will always remember that all I need to make someone feel welcome is a chair, a smile, and my time.