“Where are my students?” the lady calling my friend asked with a bit of desperation in her voice. “I saw them walking down the street with their suitcases and you haven’t sent any to me yet.”
I was leading a group of 24 Eastern Mennonite University students on a cross-cultural program to Mexico. We were going to spend the weekend with some dear friends of ours belonging to a Mennonite church in Mexico City. This was the third such group of mine to appear on the streets of this working-class neighborhood on the north side of this sprawling, largest city in the world.
My friend seemed undaunted when I told him we were bringing 24 students to spend two nights with them. Their houses or apartments were small by our standards and most of them were full of family members. My friend, who had helped to arrange housing for us on our previous visits, found seven families to host our students. Most took two, but several took four and my friend took eight.
As we were assigning students to the number of beds available, we came up two beds short. When I told him 24, he thought that included my wife and me. But I had meant to say 24 students plus the two of us. He was in the middle of convincing a family to take two extra students, to which they quite willingly agreed, when the phone rang. It was the family around the corner who wondered where their students were. Two extra beds needed, two extra beds found. My friend had forgotten about them, even though they were one of the first families in the neighborhood to offer their home. They REALLY wanted to host our students.
“I was in heaven,” wrote a student about her host family. “Both the mother’s and the daughter’s selflessness overwhelmed me.” Their children gave up their beds so that our students would have a place to sleep. Similar sentiments were expressed over and over again by my students. “I felt like they genuinely wanted to get to know me, they asked many questions about my life in the States,” wrote another student. “I felt authentic Christian love and hospitality.”
This kind of hospitality is very evident in the Mexican culture. When the Mexicans are followers of Jesus, this hospitality takes on an even deeper meaning. They long for fellowship across the border, they long for relationships with the young people in our churches. Whenever we bring a group, they go way out of their way to host us, to go way beyond the call of duty to make us comfortable. In spite of the fact that some of our students were crowded, slept on a mattress on the floor, or experienced cold showers, the majority of them sensed their family’s warmth and hospitality. The experience left a deep impression on them.
I recall the past number of years that our congregation of over three hundred members in the USA was asked to host a group of students from China for a week. The coordinator of finding housing for these students had to beg people to host them. After several years of pleading, she finally decided not to be the coordinator. It was just too much of a hassle to find people willing to host these students.
What a tragedy. These Chinese students were not Christian. This would be an incredible way to practice Christians hospitality, to live the Gospel while having them in our homes.
We are called to offer hospitality to the stranger because of what God has done for us. In turn, the hospitality we offer is from God. “When faced by a stranger, those who extend the embrace of hospitality have a keen awareness of God’s hospitality toward them,” writes David Buschart (Buschart 2006). “Furthermore, this hospitality includes not only a sense of who they are (namely strangers) and what God has done (embraced them), but also an awareness that what they have to offer in hospitality is ultimately from God.” Hospitality reaffirms our relationship to others and to God.
The Mexicans offered us this kind of hospitality. Should we, especially Christians, not offer the same to strangers who visit us? “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers,” states Hebrews 13:2, “for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”