Written by Heather Spanogle //
Hospitality has found me in the most unusual places: where I don’t deserve it, where I don’t expect it, where I find myself wondering if, in a similar situation, I would’ve extended the same grace.
My husband and I are currently living in Indonesia, working with international college students from around the world. Living internationally, there is no greater gift than being offered hospitality by the people in your host country: having someone take you along to the market and show you where to buy your vegetables and which chicken seller is the one with the fair prices, having someone give you a map of your new country and teach you some phrases to say in your new country’s language, having someone explain what you’ve just observed or experienced, having someone tell you when you’re doing it all wrong (like when you offered food with your left hand, even though your right was occupied with a child, you actually did something embarrassing).
Experiencing and extending hospitality can be inconvenient, messy, and exhausting, but it can also be beautiful and rewarding and rich–and it looks a lot different now that I have two young children than it did when I was single. When I’m getting up through the night with a baby, and when that baby fusses through most of the evening hours, my first response isn’t to invite someone into that craziness. My first response is to get some sleep, to hunker down and survive. And sometimes, that’s what I do.
But I think that the better response, and the one that I am continually being challenged to live by, is to instead invite people into the chaos of that five o’clock witching hour.
The students we work with have said that my husband, their professor, makes them sad by giving them homework and grades–but I get to make them happy by baking them cookies and inviting them over to our home for meals.
This hospitality isn’t one-way, though. When we invite them into our home and our lives, they hold our baby so I can sit and savor my carrot cake; they love on our two-year-old daughter. They let her boss them around and tell them where to sit: she makes them “snacks” with her play food, and they give her pieces of chapatti to eat. They involve her in rolling out the chapatti, hold her hand as she stirs the food in the bowl, lift her up so she can see the chopping and cooking process, and afterward, they have as much fun playing in her toy kitchen as she does, I suspect.
As the smells of onions sauteeing, beans simmering on the stove, adobo chicken boiling, and chili peppers being chopped invade the kitchen, I am blessed by the beauty and the flavors of the food being prepared by hands from so many different countries and backgrounds. They are laughing and joking together in their common language, English: brought together in community over a semester of hard work and struggle, now completed. I am glad that God, in his wisdom, has made our lives connect, and that this connection gets to happen in our home, around our kitchen table. I am thankful they are willing to share their food with me, and that I get to share carrot cake with them.
For me, hospitality takes mental preparation. I have to think ahead to what I need to buy at the grocery store, because usually, hospitality means food. I have to prepare myself to give up alone time, because I am naturally an introvert. I have to be willing to do some cleanup afterwards and let things go if the house actually looks like an 11-month-old and a 2-year-old live here.
And while people are actually in my home, it may take effort. Many who visit don’t have the same culture and background as I do, so it takes conversation to find out what we have in common and to learn from each other. There might be misunderstandings, a little bit of awkwardness, and for those with a language barrier, perhaps some silence from time to time.
With all this work, why make the effort?
Because then the food is ready. We get our plates, sing our blessing, and we are all sitting around the table, smiling and eating and laughing.
My theology of hospitality is not as developed as it should be, but I practice it because I’m called to love my neighbor as myself, because I’ve been given the ministry of reconciliation by a God who reconciled himself to me in Jesus Christ, and that reconciliation takes time and effort and an open door. I do it because I’ve been welcomed myself.
There is always more I could do. There are always more who need to be welcomed. But I will start where I am, with the people in front of me: balancing my baby in one arm, holding my two-year-old’s hand with the other, thankful I have this privilege.
Heather Spanogle lives in Jakarta, Indonesia, with her husband and two young children. They work with international college students at the International Teacher’s College. Prior to moving to Indonesia, Heather worked with refugees and immigrants at World Relief DuPage, teaching ESL to pre-literate adult students and training volunteers to teach ESL.