Thursday, 18 January 2018


I quite like the idea of a motto verse, a Bible verse to hold on to and live by, perhaps for a year or longer. I like the idea, but never make much of an effort at the end of December to think (or indeed pray) about one. I don't know why (duh... God?) but lately I've been drawn to Romans 12:13:

Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

It's that last bit that has gripped me. In other translations, it's rendered, "pursuing hospitality", "given to hospitality" or "Be hospitable." But the Aramaic Bible in Plain English leaped out at me: "befriend strangers". The term "hospitality" had been reduced in my understanding to having a few folk from church round for dinner every so often, and little more than that. I had to look it up, and discovered that it meant so much more than that to the Apostle Paul, who wrote the letter of Romans. The Greek, φῐλοξενῐ́ᾱ (philoxeníā), literally means 'love of strangers', and encompassed hospitable acts such as taking in strangers who were hanging about in the town square waiting for lodgings for the night. As Christians, we are to be given to this kind of behaviour, indeed pursuing it.

What does this mean for me and my family? We live in a small house, with no more room to take in anyone. When we have people round for dinner, our table extends, but to fit eight or nine in, one of us is perched on the sofa, well below the level of the other diners sat on chairs! It's a squash and a squeeze to say the least. Last summer, we squashed all 4 girls into one bedroom for 2 weeks while we hosted 2 American teenagers as part of a mission team, but it wasn't a sustainable living arrangement, not least because we only have one loo in the whole house. But what about the homeless guy living in our street right now as I type? Shouldn't I be inviting him in to live in my home? It would be pretty radical. Maybe long term that is where this is heading, but for now, God is bestowing me with the grace to start small. For years our family has befriended those from other countries whose paths have somehow crossed our path. We are now blessed with international friends all over the world, and could possibly circumnavigate the globe with offers of hospitality extended in reciprocity towards us. For now, we will carry on with this. We'll carry on seeking out the stranger, being the friendly face, inviting them round for dinner or simply a cup of tea if I have no energy for dinner. The Lord knows the limitations of my energy, and He's not trying to catch me out. That said, there will be times when I borrow from the Energy Bank, not knowing how I'm going to recover my losses, and trust that He'll make a deposit (guaranteeing my inheritance?) and balance the books. It will be a sacrifice and will cost, both in terms of our energy levels, but also emotionally. We have said a lot of goodbyes already, and are in the process of another one, as our first Turkish friends depart Coventry for good. How can we regret, however, knowing that we have contributed to someone's time in Coventry being more pleasant than it otherwise would have been?

I want to go deeper and wider: deeper as we look at being more intentional in our hospitality, which involves having the ingredients and knowledge to rustle up a simple meal at short notice, keeping the house in some sort of order (downstairs at least... upstairs is a disaster... And downstairs we still have bare plaster on the walls and it's definitely got that 'lived in by a feisty family of six' vibe... But it's hopefully not the kind of place you leave feeling like you need to wash your hands...), and it's not minding that it's not perfect; and wider as I seek to be consistently friendly and welcoming to whomever God places in my path, whether that's a fellow mum at school, or someone I exchange pleasantries with as we stand waiting for the green man. And exchange pleasantries I will. It might be embarrassing to my older kids, but as Jesus was asked, "Who is my neighbour?", so I want to think, "Who is the stranger?" Well, it's anyone I don't know that well yet. I want, through God's grace, to turn strangers into neighbours. This takes time, so it's being intentional about not being too busy.

And this brings me back to our Turkish friends. They were our actual neighbours, living just round the corner. I regret the months that we merely smiled at them before properly getting to know them. I think we were too British in our reserve.  Philoxenia, it seems to me, means fighting against the reserve, the embarrassment, the shyness. What does it matter if we fall flat on our faces, really? If God is with us, then who can be against us? If God is with us, then who can hide behind their shyness being 'just the way I am'? Start small, and be amazed. You'll be blessed more than the awkwardness costs you. But don't be surprised at the cost either.

In the current xenophobic climate in the UK, just think what a revolution of Christians practising philoxenia could do, especially when the philos, the love, stems from the love of Christ.

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