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When you invite perfect strangers into your home and provide meals and a warm, family environment, they tend to be appreciative. Some are downright perplexed. As one Dutchman said to me, “This is very strange for us. We don’t do this in Holland!” I laughed and said, “But it’s not strange for us. We do it all the time, and we are so glad you are here. Welcome home.” We find that as people are warmed by our hospitality and grateful to save money on food and lodging, they are often willing to hear our story. They want to know what motivates us to open our home. They listen as we share about our faith in Jesus Christ and how He has changed our lives by His sacrificial death on the cross. We often have wonderful conversations about our mutual faith journeys as we linger over coffee and dessert.
We like to think of ourselves as reverse missionaries: they come to us. But not only do they come here, they come here on vacation. People on vacation have a unique freedom and openness not usually associated with everyday life. Without their work duties, they tend not to be as busy or preoccupied. More relaxed and unhurried, they have time to talk and consider what life is all about. It’s in that downtime—the time spent lingering over a meal or sharing stories in front of the fire or pointing out cities on the world map on the wall—that we often have the best conversations with our guests.
Our hospitality ministry allows us to catapult to a level of intimacy that might take years to achieve in a traditional missionary setting. If we were to go overseas as missionaries (something we have contemplated and may still do one day), it would take time to establish friendships and win people’s trust, until we eventually invited them into our home for a meal and significant conversation. Not at our “youth hostel.” While every situation is different, it usually takes about twenty-four hours for the walls to come down. There’s something about eating cereal together in our pajamas that bonds us together. Usually our guests go sightseeing during the day. And sometimes we join them if our schedule permits, but mostly we try to have a family supper ready when they get home. We hear all their stories, see their souvenirs, laugh and get to know one another over a meal around our dining room table. Once we even sat around the kitchen while one of our guests soaked his swollen toe in a big Tupperware bowl of warm water and Epsom salts!
One of our most surprising gatherings centered around the inauguration of President Obama. We actually tried to rent out our house for the occasion (as many were doing in the Washington, DC, area) and decided to shoot the moon and ask for three thousand dollars for the week. As it turned out, we got a request from a gentleman who said he was surprised we were asking such a low price. A low price? I asked him what price he was referring to. He said, “Three dollars.” I laughed and said, “That’s not what we’re charging . . . but what were you hoping to pay?” He said, “Well, I hadn’t really thought about it, but three dollars sounded good to me!”
A pastor of an inner-city church in Indianapolis, he and his wife stayed with us (we didn’t move out after all), and then we had five more strangers from North Carolina come at the same time. In all, in our house we had eleven people for the 2009 inauguration. Not only did we have an amazing time getting to know one another, we also shared a historic moment in history and all became fast friends. The pastor and his wife spent half a day with us playing piano, singing hymns, sharing stories, and finally praying with our family before they drove back to Indianapolis. As they left, we thanked God for the three-dollar mistake!
Another time, we welcomed a Chinese family that had no religious background. They ended up leaving their twin boys with us without hesitation while they attended a Bible study with a young Chinese woman, who happened to be living with us. We gave them an English copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible, and the father announced that from now on, he would use that every day to help his children learn English.
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