On Transitions (Part III) -or- Some Thoughts on Hospitality

The last two Thursdays I have focused on how to think about life when you’re in the midst of transition and some things you can do to weather transition well. I’d like to direct this final post in the series at those of you who are not in transition, but find yourselves in a place (like, say, the University setting!) where there are new folks around on a pretty regular basis, particularly during this time of the year.


Hospitality can happen at Wendy’s!

For seven years, we attended a church in Cambridge, MA that was situated between Harvard and MIT.  Every September, the pews were full of new faces. Every summer, we attended many a good-bye party for those moving on to their post graduate school adventures. There was much joy in welcoming those new folks and much heartache at the farewells. And you know what’s happened to us in Pittsburgh? We’ve joined a church in the heart of the University center of town, practically on University of Pittsburgh’s campus, finding ourselves experiencing exactly the same thing here as we did in Cambridge!

As members of both congregations, the opportunities to practice hospitality (as Paul encourages in Romans 12:13) are endless.  Let’s take a quick look at that passage in Romans 12, where Paul is beginning to wrap up his letter and seems to want to get in a bunch of thoughts before closing.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.  Romans 12:9-13

The first several verses seem to be such weighty reminders, then he closes the paragraph with practice hospitality.  I think it is important to note that this is not a list of spiritual gifts. Paul instructs all the Roman Christians to practice hospitality.  I firmly believe he would say the same to us today, if addressing a letter to Emerging Scholars.

But c’mon, life is really busy, isn’t it?  Most of us barely have enough time for our current friends, let alone time to reach out to anyone else!

The Scriptures say: practice hospitality.

Since that is so, how can we integrate hospitality into our lives, so it becomes part of who we are?  I’d like to suggest keeping these three things in mind:

  1. Hospitality is not complicated.
  2. Hospitality requires some intentionality.
  3. Hospitality is worth it.

Or hospitality can happen at home!

First, hospitality is not complicated.  It is not.  Trying to be Martha Stewart when you are not Martha Stewart?  That’s complicated. Being you and sharing who you are and what you have with others?  That’s not. Hospitality is an expression of the second greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.  When you meet someone new to your lab, church, or neighborhood, think to yourself, How would I want to be welcomed and treated?  And go and do likewise!  For example, in our home, I’m the one who will make brownies and take the kids across the street to meet a new neighbor.  I grew up doing things like this and while it still makes me nervous every time, I know it’s right and how I would want to be greeted when moving into a new area.  My husband, on the other hand, is able to converse on a variety of topics and remembers a lot about people, he loves to extend hospitality through good conversation and connecting people to other people, places, or things that would benefit them as they adjust to a new place.  Knowing yourself, what are some simple and natural ways you can extend hospitality to someone in transition?

Hospitality is not complicated, but hospitality requires some intentionality.  To care well for others, we need to think about them and how we can love them as ourselves.  Are there events coming up on campus or in the area to which you could invite them?  Could you have them into your home for dinner?  Can you clear your schedule after church every Sunday, to make sure you can have lunch with a new person, couple, or family you meet that day? Hospitality is not about having a particular type of home or meal, it has much more to do with having an open heart.  How can you more intentionally open your heart and make space in your life to extend hospitality to someone in the midst of transition?

Finally, hospitality is worth it!  When you practice hospitality several things happen: God is glorified, you are changed, others are blessed.  Seeing as Paul encouraged the Romans to practice hospitality and it is a way we can love our neighbor as ourselves, God is glorified when we respond to His word and practically love others by opening our hearts and lives to them.  We also begin to change as we let a little of ourselves die, so we can be life-giving for another; it is that much easier the next time!  As I mentioned, it always makes me nervous to knock on a stranger’s door, but I have many of these experiences in my memory and none has ever been bad.  We’re stretched as we reach out in response to God’s goodness to us. Stretching is good, friends!  And hospitality is a blessing.  You will not become fast friends with everyone to whom you extend hospitality, but that bit of kindness can make such a huge difference for someone navigating new waters.  On the other hand, you may be at the start of a deep and lasting relationship when engaging in that initial awkward and uncomfortable conversation with a new person after church or class!  How have you seen hospitality honor God, change you, and/or bless another in your life?

Hospitality is not complicated, requires some forethought, and is worth every bit of effort. Will you consider the questions above and ask God to open your eyes to opportunities that come your way, even today, to practice hospitality?  I’d love to hear stories of how you extend hospitality in your context or how God used another’s hospitality to really make a difference for you in a new situation; please share in the comments.

God bless you and others through you in this new academic year!


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While Heather would not likely use the word scholar to describe herself, she has always been surrounded by them. Raised by an academic father and then marrying an academic, she has been connected to several university communities throughout her lifetime. During her undergraduate days at Carnegie Mellon University, she was involved with InterVarsity, serving in many capacities, including one year as chapter President. After completing a degree in Spanish, she taught high school for a couple of years and spent a short time as a Volunteer Staff with InterVarsity at MIT. Currently she resides in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband, Colin, and their three children, Elizabeth (8), Brian (4), and Katherine (6 mo.). Most of her time is spent caring for the family and homeschooling, but in her free time she writes at Life in the Valley and dreams of one day being a speaker/Bible teacher for women.

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  • drcameronlee@gmail.com'
    Cameron Lee commented on September 6, 2012 Reply

    Thank you, Heather. I’ve been thinking a bit about hospitality myself recently. I’d like to add one more thing to your list, if I might, related to your first point: Hospitality is a way of expressing godly compassion to those in need. In Matthew 25, Jesus describes himself as King, judging the nations. Among the ways he commends the “sheep” on his right is: “I was a stranger and you took me in.” And, of course, those on the left are condemned for failing to do this for “one of the least of these.” The upshot is that those who joyously receive their kingdom inheritance in the last days are the ones who gladly extended hospitality to the needy, without thinking they were doing something out of “religious” obligation, because they saw others as God does.

    • heatherashe@gmail.com'
      Heather commented on September 6, 2012 Reply

      Thanks for adding to the list, Cameron! Great point: Hospitality is a way of expressing godly compassion to those in need. The passage you cite is perfect and a great motivation for us as Christians. We know how God has found us needy and helpless, and extends love and mercy to us; hospitality allows us to do the same for others. A friend of mine wrote on a different blog today ( http://momheart.org/entertaining-angels ) about these verses: Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels with out knowing it. (Hebrews 13:1-2) I guess the Bible has a lot to say about hospitality! 🙂

  • Tim commented on September 6, 2012 Reply

    Thanks Heather… very encouraging post.
    I remember one occasion… I invited about 30 friends over to my place for a Saturday brunch, including two older Christian friends who were helping me to facilitate. It ended up that only the two older friends and one student friend came. At the time I tended to think the brunch was a failure, but looking back I am glad, because the the four of us had some nice fellowship, and the one student who came was lonely and ended up being encouraged by the fellowship.

    • heatherashe@gmail.com'
      Heather commented on September 6, 2012 Reply

      Tim, thanks for sharing! I definitely would have shared your feeling of “failure.” I love that time has changed your perspective. How did that experience effect your willingness to try something again? Press on, practicing hospitality! 🙂

  • sarahivcf@verizon.net'
    Sarah commented on September 6, 2012 Reply

    As I skimmed through this I realized I take the time to do hospitality but then don’t have time to blog :>)

    Some initial thoughts as I head to NSO [New Student Outreach] are:

    Hospitality to Internationals:

    Some behavior may be perceived different in different cultures
    Some hospitality puts an unintended burden of “obligation” on the receiver – so graciously accept return gifts
    Anything involving food; avoid pork unless everyone is Chinese (even then some Chinese are Muslim); always have vegetarian options; don’t overload on sweets (unless they’re French and then give up because we can’t make it as good as them)
    I know that IVCF is not supposed to have alcohol served but be even more careful for any non-European international groups

    Gotta run,


    • heatherashe@gmail.com'
      Heather commented on September 6, 2012 Reply

      Good advice/reminders, Sarah. Thanks for chiming in! I pray that NSO on your campus is fruitful and fun. 🙂

  • Tom Grosh IV commented on September 7, 2012 Reply

    Thank-you for your post Heather! It has continued to stir conversation and lead to the sharing of stories/resources in a number of places. Below is an email I received from Roger, a colleague of Sarah’s in InterVarsity’s International Student Ministry (ISM)/Graduate & Faculty Ministry at U. of Pennsylvania. In the email he shares some additional insights regarding hospitality among international students. In Christ, Tom

    9/7/2012, 7:37 PM

    Hi Tom,

    Our ISM website has a lot of good info. Below is something I cut and pasted which would be of use. I think these are very good tips. They are from http://www.intervarsity.org/ism/article/38#practical:




    Hospitality Hints

    You may wonder what to do when international students come to your home. Here are some helpful preparations you can make:

    1. Learn something about their country, culture and customs before their visit. Seek to know them. You may get more information from your local library or from an encyclopedia.

    2. Make sure that time, place, dress, transportation and duration of activity are clearly understood. Provide transportation where needed. Give all details in writing if possible (e.g. on a postcard). Then call a few hours before the appointment to confirm plans.

    3. Different cultures have different views of time. Do not be surprised if they come late. Still respect their time and need to get home to study. You may wish to invite them to see your home as a quiet place they can retreat to be alone or to study.

    4. Welcome them with warmth and friendship. Learn to pronounce their real name. Practice pronouncing their name with them until you can say it reasonably well. Refreshments – juice, tea, coffee or soft drinks – are always appropriate and appreciated.

    5. Speak distinctly but not loudly. It is more helpful to pause between sentences than to speak each word slowly. Try to avoid use of slang. Ask them to repeat anything you do not understand. Encourage your friends to ask you to do the same.

    6. Have a simple dinner but have plenty of food. Respect dietary restrictions.

    7. Help the student(s) feel at home. Be natural and informal. Find mutual interests or hobbies. Treat them as part of the family. Explain new things to them. Show them around your home but don’t brag. Share photographs.

    8. Show real interest in the international students. Get them to talk about themselves. Ask about family, education, religious background, home life, culture, customs, food likes and dislikes, aspirations, activities and plans. Learn greetings in their language. Give them time to answer, and encourage them to ask questions about you as well.

    9. Be interested in the problems of international students. Most are much more willing to talk about politics or religion than are Americans, but remember: discuss, but don’t argue. And don’t pry if they seem hesitant.

    10. You may not always understand or agree with your international student, but you should be willing to accept him or her and their perspectives, while avoiding, as much as possible, making value judgments of “right and wrong” or “better and worse” between aspects of their culture and yours. Recognize these as simply “different”.

    11. Make plans for your next get-together before taking your friend(s) home. The worst thing you can do is to see the student one time and never have contact again. They wonder what went wrong and why you didn’t like them. Try at least twice.

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