February 21, 2007

A Lesson in Humility

2007 1506 page22 capHILE MY HUSBAND PURSUED doctoral studies in an Eastern city in the United States, our family of six lived in a small apartment in a run-down section of town. One Friday we had been too busy to prepare a special Sabbath dinner, or even to clean our apartment very well.
Naturally, then, the next morning a young woman appeared at church for the first time. As the worship service began, a deaconess came to our pew and whispered, “Would you please invite this young woman home for dinner today? I can’t, because I don’t have anything prepared.”
My immediate instinct was to decline. I would be embarrassed to invite anyone to our apartment that day. But I realized I couldn’t decline—our family was not only a minister’s family, but a missionary family home on study leave. We could sense that church members imbued us with a certain aura that included high expectations.
Thus, with an inner gulp, I said, “Yes, I will.” And I did. But I felt near panic as I pondered what I could pull together quickly as a reasonable meal for seven.
A Good Time Had by All

Questions for Reflection

1. When has someone's act of spontaneous hospitality encouraged you? Recall it briefly.

2. What mechanism is in place so that all the visitors to your church experience your congregation's hospitality? Is that enough?

3. What gifts or talents are especially useful when it comes to extending hospitality? List at least five.  

What individuals--even in your own congregation--might be strengthened spiritually by an invitation to your home for a meal? What barriers prevent you from extending such an invitation? What can you do to overcome those barriers?

As it turned out, Lynn proved very adaptable and fit right in. We all enjoyed getting acquainted with her. I don’t recall what we ate, but none of us went hungry. We drove her to her apartment later. She explained she was a graduate student, new to  the area. In subsequent weeks we continued to enjoy her friendship.

Late that night we were surprised by a telephone call from a dear friend of ours at the General Conference—one to whom we felt personally indebted because of his fatherly kindnesses as our paths crossed in the mission field and later on furlough. He was one of those administrators who put people before policies. If there was anyone we would hate to disappoint, it was he.
After the usual pleasantries he said, “I’m calling just to thank you for inviting my friend Lynn home for dinner today.” He went on to tell us that this young woman, the daughter of Adventist leaders elsewhere, was very dear to him. He kept in touch with her, and they had talked by phone that evening. He told us she had suffered a divorce and had come to this place, far from home, to do graduate study and begin a new life. The divorce had shaken her faith, too. She seriously considered abandoning it altogether. Through this experience the church had seemed cold and heartless. That Sabbath morning she had decided to give church one more try. If no one befriended her at church that day, she would never attend again.
To think how close I had come to refusing hospitality to someone in such need, even though the Bible mandates it, served as a very sobering lesson.
Madeline Johnston spent 20 years on the staff of the Department of World Mission at the Seventh-day Theological Seminary at Andrews University. She and her husband are now retired and living in Texas.