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Hospitality: Making the Gospel Visible

By Steve Gregg

Growing up in rural Indiana, the idea that one day I would actually be able to go to another country seemed about as lofty a thing as I could imagine.   Right after college, however, I was able to make this long-anticipated trip to Europe and fulfill my lifelong dream of traveling overseas. The only problem was I had never traveled by myself before, in this country or any other country. To say I was clueless would be a gross understatement. And since this was in the dark days before the internet, my preparation consisted solely of purchasing a one-way ticket and buying a Eurail pass good for one month of travel.

I triumphantly arrived in London with a six-month work visa, but job hunting quickly proved to be in vain, so I decided instead to hit the road for a month-long sightseeing extravaganza. I made it to Amsterdam and promptly hit the wall. I was disoriented, tired, and way, way out of my element as I got off the bus on the edge of the red-light district. After a few hours of questioning why I had come at all, I came across a flier for a Christian youth hostel in the city.  I made my way to the address and sure enough, in the midst of sex shops, stale alcohol smells, and seedy coffee houses, I found an old school that had been converted into a youth hostel. It was staffed by college-aged Christians from around the world, and it was there I experienced the simple, yet raw power and grace of Christian hospitality in an amazing and restorative way.

The hospitality wasn’t fancy or slick in any way. Still, the staff at the hostel did a remarkable thing: they sat down at the breakfast table with me, talked to me, asked questions about me, and seemed genuinely interested in what I was going through. I had been alone for several days and totally out of my element, so these simple acts of kindness were water to my soul.  When they found out I was a Christian, they invited me to their nightly prayer time which was followed up with a movie night with the staff. More water on emotional dry ground. Over the next few days as I made a game plan for the rest of my trip, they invited me into their lives to just simply spend time with them. It was lifegiving on so many levels. It took a trip that was headed for disaster and put it on a totally different trajectory, and it was that experience at the Shelter that gave me the desire to go back to Europe, to be light and salt there in some way. This led my wife, Kim and I five years later to go to Budapest as English teachers with a Christian organization. The fruit from those two years in Hungary continue to be a source of deep joy and blessing for me and I owe it in part to the gracious hospitality of those brothers and sisters.    

When we look at the New Testament, it's clear that this sort of hospitality was a practice that was an integral part of the early church. The willingness of the early Christians to open their lives to each other and to folks outside of their social circles was instrumental in people getting a window into the gospel at a personal level. Their willingness to sacrifice in small yet practical ways was a key means to make the gift of God’s grace plausible to a cynical culture. It still is. In our day and age there are people around us who are just as starved for genuine friendship, a listening ear, and simple acts of hospitality.  

I am so grateful that many of you already have a heart for this and are faithful to show it whenever possible.  It is unfortunate that dealing with COVID has made the practice of hospitality so difficult for everyone.  But as we move into a new school year, let’s remind ourselves of the beauty and power of simple acts of reaching out, inviting people into our daily lives, and allowing them to see God’s grace at work. As we navigate the coming months, be encouraged that it’s often not the grand gestures that make a lasting impact on people, but simple acts of faithfulness and Christ-like affection that encourage someone in their faith and leave a lasting impact. I’m pretty sure none of the folks working at the hostel would even remember the few days I was there. But here I am 35 years later, still able to recall the sense of relief and the strength their hospitality gave me at a particularly low moment in my life.

Creekside, we are surrounded by people in Gainesville who are in very similar places in their lives, and with relatively little effort we could make a tremendous impact on them for their good and for the glory of God. By God’s grace, let’s pray for the wisdom to see those folks and the strength to follow through with practicing hospitality without grumbling, as we just heard from 1 Peter. We truly have no idea what fruit will come, but it will be good, and it will glorify the Father.