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 “I have never turned away a stranger but have opened my doors to everyone.” (Job 31:32)

A sometimes-overlooked story occurred on 9/11/2001, one that should never be forgotten. It happened as a result of the terrorist attacks in America but occurred instead in a small Canadian town of Gander on the island of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic Ocean.  The village nearly doubled its population when it took in 6,700 people from nearly 100 countries as 38 planes were grounded following word of the attacks in New York and Washington. The local airport knew it would be impacted, as it is the closest point between Europe and the United States.  For five days the townspeople provided meals, offered entertainment and even invited people into their homes to take showers or make telephone calls. Their simple hospitality to the unexpected house guests (who came to be known as ‘The Plane People’) drew worldwide accolades and even inspired a Broadway musical, Come from Away. The passengers who were housed in schools, churches and community centers tried to compensate their hosts for their many kindnesses. But they were told, “Oh no, you would do the same.” Maybe so . . . maybe not. Here, in this unlikely place, there was witness to the best of humanity on a day when it also evidenced its worst.

In the post-depression family drama, The Waltons, which aired for nine seasons in the 1970’s-80’s, the eleven-member household of three generations offered their home to anyone who needed it. This included runaways, gypsies, orphans, and folks who were stranded . . . they took them all in. While their offer of comfort and protection was admirable, our culture has dramatically changed since that time. Whether it’s the person who rings our doorbell or a foreigner who stands at our nation’s border, we have to be cautious these days as to who we let in. It’s a bit ironic how one of the buzz terms for those seeking safe harbor has come to be referred to as a ‘sanctuary’ while in the Old Testament, the sanctuary was described as “the Most Holy Place” (1 Kings 8:6). Let us consider that the term hospitality might serve as a more appropriate reference for these acts of kindness, since there is evidence of its regarded expectation in many cultures from Biblical times continued through the early days of our society.

Indeed, hospitality is a virtue that is both commanded and praised throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, we read of Abraham’s humble and generous display of hospitality to three strangers. Wealthy and elderly, Abraham could have called on one of his many servants to tend to the three unannounced visitors. Yet the hospitable and righteous Abraham generously gave them the best he had to offer. And, as it turned out, he entertained the Lord and two angels (Genesis 18:1-8). In the New Testament, Jesus and His disciples depended entirely on the hospitality of others as they ministered from town to town. Jesus discussed the hospitable behavior of those who will inherit the kingdom: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in . . . “ (Matthew 25:35). The early Christians were welcomed by persons like Gaius of Corinth who not only offered his home for Paul but apparently “to the whole church” as well (Romans 16:23). He was a great example of hospitality, while probably doing so at great risk to himself.

So how risky is it to be hospitable these days? It is probably not overstated to say that most of us are cautious about entertaining strangers. While we might invite an unfamiliar family from church or a new coworker at our place of employment into our home, we cannot ignore the fact that we are challenged and expected to be hospitable to those with whom we have absolutely no connection. As followers of Christ we emulate His love and compassion when we show hospitality, not only to fellow Christians but even more so to the lonely and less fortunate. The writer of Hebrews reminds us not to forget “to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it” (Hebrews 13:2). Biblical hospitality is something that a Christ-like servant provides cheerfully from the heart. It begins with a good attitude and is given to all without respect of persons. We are challenged these days to be comfortable in doing so. But if we are to follow Christ’s directive – we must find a way.

REFLECTION: What are some ‘cautious’ ways that you might show hospitality to the less fortunate (such as volunteering at a local shelter/food pantry or inviting missionaries sponsored by a local church for dinner)? How might you ask the Lord to use your hospitality in a way that is pleasing to Him?


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