This morning wraps up Hospitality Week. And with Day 5, comes an introduction to my sister Susanna. Susanna is my middle sister, and is in a word, open. Susanna loves being with and around others, and greatly appreciates a well-used home. I admire much about Susanna, but most of all, I appreciate her spirit of welcome. It is this spirit of willingness to welcome that provided a unique opportunity for Susanna’s family a few years ago, as they found themselves drawn into friendship with a homeless man, Hector. Her story is both beautiful and convicting.
My husband and I have enjoyed extending hospitality over the course of our ten years together. I would say that not only do we love opening up our house, but we thrive on the communal aspect entertaining affords. We’ve entertained in tiny, one bedroom apartments, middle sized apartments, and now, our first house. Usually, it has been middle class folk, just like us, entering our premises. Well educated, well fed, well dressed just like us. God has shown us that sometimes, He will surprise us by offering us an opportunity to share our home in a way that stretches our expectations. We often hear the Christian life has to be messy in order to be real but even I was not ready for the messy we walked into four years ago.
In 2007, my husband and I decided we wanted an adventure. Packing up our scant belongings, we moved from Atlanta, along with our (then) one year old son, to Brooklyn, New York. Though we quickly settled in a safe, family-friendly neighborhood there, we saw a lot of homeless men and women. A few of these individuals became staples of our existence in Park Slope. There was an elegant elderly woman in her 80s who had lost hear mind but not her beauty. I’d regularly pass her as she pushed a cart with boxes and other random items in it, going nowhere in particular. The sidewalk of 5th avenue was her home. There was an emaciated man outside the corner grocer on 7th avenue, cup in hand, begging for change. Like clockwork, he was always there.
And there was Hector, a man we met outside Key Foods, the grocery store around the corner from our apartment.
Hector would sit on a white, plastic chair asking for money as people passed by. He had a gregarious nature and readily flashed a warm, nearly toothless smile. “Hey sweetheart!” he’d say as I approached, often offering me a warm hug. His breath wreaked of alcohol and one of his pockets was always occupied by a small flask of cheap whiskey. He’d drink all day and then spend the evening hours in a stupor. He loved our kids and they loved him. I hesitated to give him money since I didn’t want to support his drinking habit but would offer to get him food instead. Sometimes we would buy him some fried chicken from a place near the grocery store and sit with him as he ate it.
On one such evening, as we were talking with Hector while he enjoyed his chicken, I sensed God pressing me to go a step further in our friendship with him. Instead of only hanging with him on his territory, why not ask him to ours? So, I asked him over for dinner. He eagerly accepted the invitation. The next evening, my husband, three young children and I accompanied Hector to our apartment. We got many curious looks but that only made me all the more sure what we were doing was important.
I can still see Hector sitting at our table, tears streaming down his face as he told us he wanted to die. He had diabetes and serious liver damage. He body was no longer able to empty itself on its own so he had a catheter. He was alone. He had lost touch with his only child, a daughter, many years before and had no idea where she was. We asked him if he had a bible. He said he did but he couldn’t read so it wasn’t much use to him. We read him some verses, including one of my favorites, Mathew 11:28-30.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We explained the gospel to him. We told him Jesus came to give hope and a reason to live. He listened intently and we prayed with him.
Hector was in and out of our lives until we moved back to Atlanta two years ago, often stopping by our apartment unannounced. I wanted to act with him as I would with any other friend of acquaintance, to welcome him into our life (within wise boundaries as a mom with young children), and treat him like he was a person worth knowing. Worth loving.
Now I rejoice when I hear of Christians who welcome homeless people into their homes or churches. I recently read about one such church in Australia. Located near a large homeless population, they have made it the mission of their people to show hospitality to the homeless. Many have become Christians as a result. Truly, Jesus came to save the low of society just like Hector, the ones who know they do not have it altogether. Who know they need someone bigger than themselves and their circumstances!
When we are surrendered to his plans, God does and will bring situations our way to deepen our understanding and commitment to hospitality. Even if the person we have into our house is nothing like us, we will be blessed beyond all worldly understanding when we open the door and say, Welcome.
I hope you have enjoyed Hospitality Week. It has been such an encouragement to hear your thoughts, and to share varying angles of hospitality with you. I know that I have been challenged through exploring this topic myself this week!
Happy Friday, all! As always, thank you for reading and for being here.