This summer I had the experience of being the new kid in town. I moved to a country that I had never visited before and whose language I didn’t speak.
In my mind, and largely in American media, being the new kid means being an outsider and an outcast for a while until you’re slowly brought into the new community. After a while of viewing you at a distance – or perhaps making fun of you – people slowly warm up to the fact that someone new is around, they realize that perhaps you have some unique contributions you could make to the community, and then you are grafted in, if you’re lucky. The basic movement in this narrative is one from hostility to hospitality.
Yet, from the moment I arrived in Central America I was treated with radical hospitality and rarely with any sense of hostility.
As I moved into the house of my host family in Guatemala, my soon-to-be friend, Rodolfo, moved out of his room and onto the floor of someone else’s so that I would have a room to myself.
One of my Spanish teachers, Apa, invited me to play soccer with some of his friends, and even after I played horribly – remember that at this time I did not understand words like “pass,” “cross,” and “shoot” – they invited me to return the next week.
After going to a restaurant with Cristian, one of the family members in my house in El Salvador, I told him that I really liked the grilled tortillas with casamiento – a mix of rice and beans. Sure enough, I found him in the kitchen a few days later trying to replicate this dish so that I could have it for dinner.
And when I visited struggling church members in the community with Pastor Marta, the members graciously welcomed me into their homes and allowed me to be present while they cried and talked with her.
While these four anecdotes alone may seem to illustrate that I was around nice people all summer, their significance is rooted in the reality that these incidences were not isolated. Rather, they were part of a pattern in the way people treated me.
And it is a pattern that I can look back and see brightly because it stands in stark contrast to the way I often treat people in my life.
While in school, I sin by slipping into the mode of treating people with hostility as I see them as “stealers of my time.”
I have books to read, papers to write, a youth group to volunteer with, meetings to attend, and scheduled time to hang out with my best friends. If you’re not in one of those groups I prefer a few weeks notice so that I can see if spending time with you will be manageable. And stopping into my life unannounced just causes me undue stress as I’m trying to get my to-do list done that never seems to end.
Perhaps you can relate.
Now, please take a moment and reflect on how embarrassingly counter to the Gospel of Jesus Christ the thought process in the above paragraph is. This disposition is one that could easily characterize the Priest or Levite who walks past the beaten-down man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. And it certainly stands counter to the ministry of Christ and his selfless love for us on the cross that we’re called to imitate in our relationships with others.
Sin causes us to be hostile – to be resistant, unfriendly, and closed off.
God calls us to be hospitable – to be inviting, welcoming, and open to sharing the love and good news of God in Christ with all whom we encounter.
Thankfully, this summer I was surrounded by people who enjoyed offering me hospitality daily. And this school year I’m trying to offer the same to others around me.
Especially to the new kids in town who may not speak my language.
Rachel K. says
Loved this post, Jonathan. I can so relate to how you feel coming back to America and being overwhelmed with all this “stuff” we fill our time with that keeps us so busy. In China, all that mattered was relationships & that is how we spent our time. Here it is exactly as you said – we’re so busy we want several weeks notice to spend time with anyone that we don’t see at work or in small groups. We are hosting 2 Chinese girls this semester and I am disgusted by how selfish I am with my time & how I can feel so inconvenienced by them. I’ve been praying today (as I am driving them all over Bham) that I will have peace knowing that God brought them into our lives & home – and also joy in serving Christ by loving & serving them as they are new to our city.
Rachel, I’ve actually been thinking about you and Keith lately after seeing that y’all were hosting people on twitter. It has truly challenged me to open my life to others just knowing what y’all are doing. And I know that while it is sometimes hard, you are bearing witness to God;s love in the lives of those students and to all of your friends who are wondering why in the world you would inconvenience your young-married life by allowing others to live with you. I’ll try and call yall on Skype soon to hear about it!