Written by Evangeline Van Den Berg //
One of my earliest memories is of a home where a knock on the door meant the kettle was immediately filled and set on the always-burning old stove. Within moments of stepping into the well-used kitchen of the parsonage, which was our home, visitors would be offered a cup of tea or coffee.
Mostly, people came by looking for their pastor. But because our home was attached to the church, our opened door often revealed the weather-beaten face of a homeless traveler, hopeful of shelter for the night. My profoundly pastoral father never turned anyone away, sometimes to my mother’s dismay. Things usually worked as intended, with the traveler sent on his way the next day with a full stomach and a grateful heart. But I also remember when a man emptied the closet of my father’s Sunday suit and, along with some household items, disappeared before morning.
Much as he was grieved by this misuse of our hospitality, my dad was quite philosophical: “His need was greater than mine.” This did not sit well with my mother, but compassion demanded that the traveler be fed and sheltered for the night. After all, we were obviously Christians. And wasn’t this just what Jesus would do?
I came to understand early in life that hospitality is not always comfortable, but it is always a practical outworking of Scripture. As a child I often heard this verse: “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” In my childlikeness, I almost held my breath if the visitor was unknown to me, sometimes examining their faces closely just in case, this time, there was a real angel in our living room.
Small wonder, then, that for my husband and me, this simple practice–the opening of one’s home to another–has formed a cardinal part of our lives for almost 50 years of marriage and ministry. The first words anyone hears when my husband opens the door are, “You’re welcome!” Our homes are our sacred places, and when we invite someone into those spaces, we are saying, in effect, “You are valuable.”
In a world where we seem to be increasingly isolated from one another and almost certainly too busy to exert ourselves for another, the shared warmth of a home very often signals hope to an otherwise dejected soul. Over the years, we have tried to be this place of comfort to people who, for one reason or another, were lonely: mourners grieving the loss of loved ones, homesick soldiers serving their country in a faraway place, young people taking in a new world with wide-eyed excitement at the adventure of new cultures to be explored.
We learned that, before we ever offer someone something to eat or drink, it is the gift of ourselves and our time that makes a person feel welcome. We learned that one of the greatest gifts we can give is the gift of listening, of letting someone understand that this place is a safe place for the expression of those questions so often too difficult to ask, the fears too intimidating to confront. When we rise above the excuse that is often trotted out, “People will take advantage of us,” we find that the blessings of hospitality far outweigh the costs.
I think it is true to say that we live in an increasingly hostile and downright inhospitable world. But in the New Testament, the Greek word translated “hospitality” literally means “love of strangers.” The Bible not only commends hospitality, it commands it! In the Old Testament, we see it specifically commanded by God: “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). God never requires of us what He hasn’t modeled in Himself. He proclaims Himself to be “the Father of orphans, champion of widows” (Psalm 68:5). As a disciple of Christ, I can be no less. The plight of the millions of refugees in the world today, as well as communities in need on our very doorstep, is one to be taken to heart with the same warmth, commitment, and caring we would exercise in our own homes.
Once again, I look at the words of Jesus Christ: “Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27). Servanthood is both a privilege and calling, and by being truly and generously hospitable, we open ourselves not only to the needs of those around us, but also to the heaped-up blessings offered in the promise of Luke 6:38: “Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”
Evangeline van den Berg is a pastor, musician and artist. Her husband Peter is the Vice President of the evangelistic organization Christ for all Nations. In their almost 50 years of missionary ministry they have traveled widely and lived in many places, blessed by the kindness of strangers. They have 3 children, 6 grandchildren and recently became great grandparents for the first time. Although they both originally come from southern Africa, they became American citizens in 2010 and count themselves blessed to now have a home on the beautiful St Johns River in Florida.