Hospitality as a gateway to mission
by Claudia Rossetto
Hospitality is at the heart of mission. It is extending to others God’s welcome to us. This is the hospitality Jesus calls for and it’s not always easy. Like in Jesus’ time we find it easier to extend hospitality to people we like. Most birthday parties, for example, are filled with people whose presence we desire – an “average hospitality” we may say. But Jesus challenged average hospitality. He said, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. “Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14: 12-13)
Throughout the history of the church Christians have tried to embody Jesus’ radical hospitality in creative and sacrificial ways. Many spaces and services were created to love and to care for those excluded or discarded from society.
There are thousands of modern examples of this Christian hospitality. Lorraine Francis, one of the keynote speakers for Missions Fest 2017, is the director of Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission in India. She shares numerous stories of children, women, and men undergoing severe trauma and finding a daily welcome at the Mukti Mission. For many of them, the hospitality they received marked the difference between life and death.
As Western Christians it can be easy to admire, but distance ourselves from the radical hospitality offered by Christians in developing countries. It seems that severe poverty and trauma are not as visible and frequent in our cities as they are in the majority world. So consciously or unconsciously we let our “Telescopic Philanthropy” (in Charles Dickens’ words) take over and we limit our hospitality to donating money, resources or a few weeks in a short mission trip to these places. All that is good, but is Christ’s call to being hospitable limited by distance?
Over the years the Canadian government too has practiced hospitality by welcoming thousands of refugees to urban settings. Churches and para-church organizations like Kingcrest International Neighbours, Kinbrace Refugee Housing and Support, and many others, were born from the church as a desire to extend hospitality to foreigners. Dena Nicolai, the new Chaplain and Refugee Support Mobilizer for the CRC in Vancouver notes the current Syrian refugee crisis is seen by some churches as a “holy opportunity to work together as churches, to walk alongside the many refugees coming to Canada.” She will be partnering with the Welcome House Centre, a government initiative in East Vancouver. It will offer transitional housing for newly arrived government sponsored refugees. Part of the collaborative initiative of the CRC is to compliment, not duplicate, the government services offered. The church will come alongside and do what the church does well: provide community and pathways for social integration for refugees, while the government will do what they do well: logistics and paperwork. Nicolai is aware of the sensitivities and challenges surrounding this initiative. Her hope is that,”with prayer and discernment we will walk the road faithfully for many years to come.”
Christina Chiu, former director of Kingcrest shared a personal story of hospitality. Chiu made a point to get to know the Kingcrest students beyond the classroom. She used to drive them home after the Friday ESOL Alpha dinner. Through shared car rides, a student “Rosalva” told Chiu about her struggles. Rosalva had decided to remain in Canada as an undocumented worker after her refugee application and further appeals failed. Despite the many challenges in Mexico, Rosalva wanted to go back home, but in her dealings with immigration Rosalva’s passport was taken away. She was disoriented and afraid. Chiu offered to accompany her to the immigration office. They went together and Rosalva was given a few days before her deportation. She needed a temporary accommodation for those days as she had chosen to move out of her downtown home to protect her fellow undocumented workers. Chiu offered Rosalva the opportunity to stay with her while she was housesitting. During that time Rosalva confided in Chiu that she had been a victim of sexual abuse as a child. Chiu offered emotional support and prayed for inner healing. She also gave Rosalva Henry Nouwen’s book, Heart of the Beloved, which Chiu translated into Spanish using a dictionary. The gift was meant to help Rosalva remember that she was a beloved child of God so that the guilt and shame she was feeling would be broken. Rosalva ended up welcoming Christ into her heart and following him. During their time together they baked a birthday cake for Adriana Zepeda, who was a refugee also living in the house, and who later became the Integration Coordinator at Kinbrace Community Society.
Hospitality has ripple effects. What if each of us chose to see our neighbours as a promise and not as threat. What if we take on Jesus’ challenge of radical hospitality? What if some of the guests at our next birthday party were not just the people we like?
Missions Fest Vancouver is an organization dedicated to supporting the local church in their efforts to become more missional.Learn more at: www.missionsfestvancouver.ca
Claudia Rossetto is Church Relations Coordinator for Missions Fest Vancouver