I’ll never forget the day that my brother announced to me that we might have a homeless person sleeping in our apartment that night. Earlier on his way home from work, he had seen a homeless woman sitting on the side of the road asking for money. He had stopped and asked if she was okay and then hurried home to prepare a meal for the woman. We quickly packed up some stir fry I had made and homemade cookies and then grabbed a Bible as we headed out the door. That was a night I’ll never forget. As evening Edmonton traffic flowed steadily past us, there on the side of the road, we crouched down by the woman, sharing our food, giving her a Bible, and then praying for her. She clutched the Bible to her chest, telling us in her broken voice that she had lost hers and was so happy to have this one. Later, my brother found a shelter for her to stay in for the night, but when we went back to get her, sadly she had disappeared.
Two concepts made tangible through action, that I hold near and dear, are hospitality and generosity. My parents both come from a Newfoundland culture where the welcome mat lay outside the front door, and the porch lights twinkled in the evening darkness, inviting any who needed or wanted to drop by and come on in. This was Newfoundland and dare I say, Canadian culture at its finest. However, somehow along the way, we have lost that hospitality, warmth, generosity to produce an individualistic, private, and thus isolated culture. “My life is my own and if I don’t want to let you in, then so be it.” We separate the private from the public sphere. We deem only those who we like as having a place in our homes, our hearts, our lives–those who aren’t an inconvenience, bothersome, can readily take care of themselves, and leave when we want them to. However, even then, we can struggle to let even those people in.
I have vowed for a long time that if I have my own place, I will maintain an open door policy. This means that I carefully place the welcome mat in front of my door, turn on the lights, and swing the door wide open, just in case someone wants to stop by. My couch is available, and whatever I have in my fridge could be made into someone’s supper or snack. I don’t believe in living a secluded, private lifestyle but rather relate more readily to a culture where community is of greatest importance. In fact, this, I believe, is the biblical culture. I have studied some of both ancient and current Middle Eastern hospitality, and very few cultures can brag of such outstanding generosity and care of their guests. This hospitality is revealed throughout Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments. Just off the top of my head, I think of Abraham entertaining a form of the Divine and His angelic messengers; Lot ushering in the angelic messengers to his home; the Shunammite woman building a room for Elijah the prophet; Boaz supplying Ruth with enough grain for her and Naomi to survive comfortably; Lazarus, Mary, and Martha preparing food for Jesus and the disciples; Lydia providing a place for the early believers; and the Philippians repeatedly caring for Paul’s needs.
My family’s closest neighbours and friends were our neighbours who lived across the street from us, there in Manitoba. They were a wonderful Christian family who exemplified what it means to live out their faith through hospitality and generosity. We always were welcome over to their house, and Mom often sent us over to get a cup of flour or an egg for baking. When we first moved in, they had us over for supper nearly every night of that first week. We, along with many others, enjoyed their warm hospitality. Despite it being many years ago, I’ve always remembered them and their generosity. I have also taken note of my own parents’ generosity and friendliness. I hope to continue the family tradition, these old-time Canadian values, and my own living faith. Thus I’m already searching online for just the right welcome mat, looking for the brightest and cheeriest one I can find.