In a large apartment complex, there’s always at least one moving truck around, signaling the arrival of a new neighbor. I walked across the parking lot to greet our new neighbors, but I stopped short when I saw their “welcome” mat. Instead of the typical “welcome” words greeting me, I read the command to “leave.” Taking my cue, I high-tailed it out of there as inconspicuously as possible. (Later, I snuck back to take this picture.)
I’d never seen anything like that before. We’ve only been in Seattle for a year, so I wondered if I’d misunderstood Seattle hospitality (or lack thereof). In Vermont, a place known for its “keep to yourself” attitude, they at least took pains to make their homes appear welcoming. In New England, a red door traditionally signals “welcome” to all who see it. (I first thought that Vermonters had horrible color matching skills, until someone told me about the tradition.)
After my encounter with the unfriendly welcome mat, I walked around my complex, taking stock of the different mats. Many places didn’t have mats at all, which made me wonder how people kept all the Seattle mud out of their homes. I saw several “Welcome” style mats, ones you might find at the local hardware store.
Most people had some sort of plain mat without any kind of words, but it looked pleasant and homey enough.
I wondered about my own “welcome mat,” not the literal one on my front door, but the figurative one that people see when they meet me and my husband. Do they feel welcomed in my home, or do they get the “leave” message? Am I fulfilling my Christian duty to be hospitable?
While having tea with another neighbor, we discussed the differences between this culture and hers in India. Her main complaint was how people here are secluded and never invite each other over. Everyone stays at home, alone. In India, people always had company over. She never felt alone.
We Christians are called to be hospitable. Paul tells us to “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13), and Peter tells us that when we’re hospitable, we should do it “without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).
In an era where we rely on McDonald’s to provide our dinners, many of us have lost touch of the art and heart of hospitality. I find myself wondering exactly what it is.
In his recent sermon series on the book of Nehemiah, my pastor discussed the topic of hospitality. Pastor Mark Driscoll explained it this way: “God has instituted for us hospitality, where we welcome people into our home and into our life, where we welcome people to sit at our dinner table as Nehemiah did. And we do so, showing them that we love them with God’s love. And we welcome them as friends, as God and Jesus Christ welcome them to new life of friendship. And it’s a showing of the person and the work of Jesus Christ to the world.” (To watch the full sermon, click here. To listen, click here.)
Hospitality is one simple way of ministering to our world. It’s a method of evangelism that builds relationships and meets people’s deepest needs. In her book on evangelism, Christine Wood compares Christian hospitality to the work nurses do in a hospital. In fact, the words share the same root, which means “guest.” Wood says, “As a Christian witness we may find our homes being a hospital to unbelievers with inner hurts, even emergencies. We are the hospital staff for this hurting world” (169).
Hospitality doesn’t have to look like a Martha Stewart party. Some of the most hospitable people I’ve known have used their very humble dwellings to make their guests feel comfortable. In college, I had many experiences akin to clowns piling out of a clowncar, when a group of us would assemble in someone’s dorm room or apartment for an impromptu get-together. It didn’t matter if the home wasn’t palatial, or the entrees came from a pizza delivery boy. What mattered was the spirit behind the event and the host’s offer to make ourselves at home.
Who have you welcomed into your home lately?
Driscoll, Mark. “Humility and Hospitality (Nehemiah 5:14-19).” Mars Hill Church, Seattle, WA. 22 Apr. 2007. 07 Oct. 2007 <http://www.marshillchurch.org/sermonseries/nehemiah/week_08.aspx>.
Wood, Chistine. Character Witness. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.