In the late 1970s, I taught at the Gbargna School of Theology in Liberia. Though Liberia is a nation that has existed in poverty for decades, my year there taught me much about hospitality and welcome.
When my students took me to preach at “bush churches,” people received us Americans as if we were royalty. Each family expected us to dine with them—and sumptuously, at that. I have never eaten so much food in my life. The remarkable part was that people offered us so much, yet possessed so little.
Paul writes in part about how to practice the Christian life. He writes:
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers” (Romans 12: 9-13).
There are many ways to offer one’s life to Christ. In fact, we all have specific talents we can use to build God’s realm. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, employs pastors, teachers and prophets to make his point. Yet, there are other aspects of stewardship: administration, letter writing, and deep listening to other's problems. Even—and most especially—the talent of hospitality becomes a way we can build up the church.
Not everyone has the aptitude to be a teacher or the ability to cook a great banquet meal or has a musical flair. However, taken together, all of our unique talents strengthen the church. I cannot image many people who could not be more hospitable or welcoming, can you?
I like the Swahili proverb that suggests: “Treat your guest as a guest for two days; on the third day, give him a hoe.” To me, this means treat visitors like royalty, and then let them become part of the family.
Bishop Schnase’s ideas can be outlined in a few words. If we attend to them we will thrive as a church—and note well which one is first:
- Radical Hospitality;
- Passionate Worship;
- Intentional Faith Development;
- Risk-taking Mission and Service; and
- Extravagant Generosity . . . and give them some roundness.