Essential to our identity as followers of Jesus are the practices of hospitality and loving strangers.
These practices are rooted in God’s extravagant and gracious love (John 3:16, Romans 15:7, 1 John 3:1).
In the Old Testament, numerous times God instructs his people to love, care and be hospitable to the strangers living among them (Exodus 22:21, 23:9; Leviticus 19:10, 19:33-34; and Deuteronomy 24:21, 27:19).
They understood firsthand the painful experience of being strangers, immigrants and refugees in a foreign land.
We also find the remarkable episode in which Abraham and Sarah offer hospitality to strangers, messengers from God, who came to reveal that Sarah would conceive in her old age (Genesis 18:1-8).
Jesus received hospitality on different occasions (John 2:1-11, Luke 10:38-42, Luke 19:1-10) and instructs the 12 disciples to depend on hospitality for their missionary endeavors (Matthew 10:11).
Hospitality was a peculiar hallmark of early Christian communities and Christian leaders (1 Timothy 3:2, 5:9; Titus 1:8).
Because of its significance and relevance, Paul encourages Christians in the city of Rome to engage in the practice of hospitality with those from within and without the community of faith (Romans 12:13, 15:7, 16:2, 16:23).
Peter enjoins followers of Jesus to “cheerfully share [their] home with those who need a meal or a place to stay” (1 Peter 4:9).
Moreover, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us “to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it” (Hebrews 13:2).
The Greek word translated “hospitality” (“philoxenia”) literally means, “loving the stranger.”
In the gospels, Jesus identifies himself with the stranger and challenges his followers to love and welcome the stranger as they would love and welcome him.
When they respond to the needs of the strangers and welcome the least of these, Jesus assures them, they are responding and welcoming Jesus himself (Matthew 25:35, Luke 9:48).
Four practices can help you to practice hospitality in your community:
1. Be intentional about creating spaces to meet with strangers.
Pray for God to open your eyes to opportunities and for inspiration for creative ideas to create venues in which you can meet and get to know immigrants.
For instance, Comunidad Nueva Esperanza (New Hope Community) in Ravenswood partners with several sister churches to bring lunches to Hispanic seasonal migrant workers along the Ohio River.
At the end of the harvest season, we invite all the migrant workers to “La Fiesta de la Cosecha,” a big celebration in which we share meals, games and God’s love.
We’ve made friends who join us for church when they come back to Ravenswood.
2. Listen to their voices and learn their stories.
As you meet and come to know immigrants, ask and learn their names. For example, you might consider seeking to learn the names of two or three waiters at your favorite Mexican, Chinese or ethnic food restaurant.
If you dine in that restaurant regularly, the odds are they already know your name.
As you learn their names, ask them about their lives, their hopes, their challenges.
Ask them about their families back home. Your interest will make them feel welcomed, accepted and cared for.
Hispanic immigrants, in particular, will be very eager to share their life stories, if you only ask.
3. Practice praying for their needs.
As you get to know immigrants in a personal way, you will likely know about their needs. That gives you an opportunity to pray for them and for God to intervene in their lives.
One immigrant may have an aging, ill mother or father. Another may have an alcoholic brother or sister.
Someone else may have a relative involved in a serious accident. Yet another may have a loved one who recently passed away, and she may need God’s peace and comfort.
4. Demonstrate compassion and love in tangible ways.
We all know the saying, “Actions speaks louder than words.” Hospitality requires us to share and be generous with our time, gifts and resources. We must seek ways to meet concrete needs.
For instance, I know two nurses whose love for Christ and desire to serve immigrants propelled them to carry out a free basic health clinic for more than 20 Hispanic immigrants working in Mexican restaurants.
How you practice hospitality will depend on your context. Pray for opportunities and ask God to give you creative ideas.
In today’s world, as we seek to share God’s love with people from different nationalities, cultures, languages, customs and physical appearances, the practice of hospitality is crucial.
God sends his church to be the tangible, unmistakable evidence of his love for a hurting world.
As the church embraces and practices the gift of hospitality, she turns the world upside down, becoming an outpost of hope bridging the future reality of the coming kingdom of God here and now.
We must continually ask ourselves, “Where are there opportunities to practice hospitality?”
Juan AragÃ³n is the Hispanic ministries’ strategist for the West Virginia Baptist Convention of the American Baptist Churches, USA. A longer version of this article first appeared in the June-July 2015 edition of The West Virginia Baptist Newsletter and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @jaragongarcia.