devozine

Spiritual Practice

A Life of Welcome

“We usually think of welcoming as greeting someone we know with hospitality. In these significant years of our lives, it means a lot more; it means opening our hearts to all people and accepting them as equal children of God.” —Kaitlyn Filar, 16

 

The World Jesus Envisioned

When Jesus chose his first disciples and friends, he called simple fishermen. He hung out with foreigners, prostitutes, beggars, lepers, people who were lame and blind — all sorts of sick people and sinners and outcasts. Jesus also broke the cultural rules of his day by eating and talking with women, considering them friends and equals.

stranger on basketball courts2 TSP 178279125Jesus could relate to outsiders because he was a homeless person himself. He started life in an animal feeding trough and wound up on a cross. He was born a refugee and executed a criminal — hardly what you’d expect for the son of God. But that was the point. God came to earth as a vulnerable, poor child to show us how profoundly God loves all the wounded, frightened people of the world. In God’s home, everyone has a place at the table.

Yet, Jesus took his teaching about hospitality a step further. Hospitality encompasses more than taking our own place at the welcome table. Hospitality calls us to bring others there too.

The Courage to Make a Difference

Welcoming isn’t always easy. You take a risk when you welcome someone considered unpopular or “different.” But if a spirit of welcome pervades your life, you can make a difference in the world.

In 1988, I was welcomed to South Africa, at a time when that nation suffered under the stranglehold of racial separation and hatred known as apartheid. Whites controlled the country, while blacks lived in utter poverty. Those who joined the anti-apartheid struggle for freedom were arrested and imprisoned; some were killed. I had gone to South Africa as a journalist in an effort to help tell the rest of the world the truth about what was going on there.

Jam-Jam, a young man active in the freedom struggle, welcomed me — a total stranger — at great risk to himself. He had just been released after 10 months in prison, where he had been kept in a cold cell, fed only cornmeal infested with worms, and tortured. He showed me around the black township where he and other blacks were forced to live.

Before long, an armored personnel carrier appeared; and eight members of the South African army jumped out and surrounded us, pointing rifles. We were interrogated by an officer of the security police, who angrily threatened to put Jam-Jam back into prison because Jam-Jam knew that it was illegal for a white person to be in a black area, yet he was showing me around.

In response to the threats, Jam-Jam reached calmly into his back pocket and took out his small New Testament. Putting it right up to the face of the angry officer, he said simply, “Sir, I am a Christian.” The officer, confronted with the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, had nothing to say. He let us go.

Today South Africa has been transformed, in large part because of the courage of faithful Christians like Jam-Jam, who held on to a vision of a South Africa where blacks and whites could live peacefully, welcoming one another as equals, as people created and loved by the same God.

Take the Challenge

Every person has to decide where to stand in this world. If you claim to follow Jesus, then you need to go where he said you can find him — among the people in need (see Matthew 25:34–40). How you respond today to the lonely or outcast student in your midst helps to shape the patterns and practices that will serve you when you get out into the world beyond high school. When you make welcoming others a part of daily life, you join a long faith tradition marked by bold risks and enormous joy.*

DIG DEEPER

Try some of these practical ways to welcome others in the name of Christ — and to make a difference in the world!

  • Close your emails with a word, a quote, or a blessing that expresses your love and acceptance of others.
  • Invite a classmate who is outside your circle of friends to sit at your lunch table.
  • Welcome mat sneakers Ftr TSP 153175668Meditate on stories from scripture (Genesis 18:1–16, Matthew 25:31–40, or Luke 15:11–32), and see if you recognize in these characters anyone from your own life who may need your hospitality.
  • Encourage your youth group to practice hospitality by greeting people at the door, pairing up with new kids to “show them the ropes,” showing respect and acceptance to everyone in the group, and busting up those cliques!
  • Talk with your family about hosting a foreign exchange student.
  • Explore the possibility of helping your church or community to sponsor a refugee family or to assist with their resettlement.
  • Find a way to welcome God into each day so that your life reflects God’s spirit of love and acceptance for all people.

* This article was adapted from Way to Live: Christian Practices for Teens. Copyright © 2002 by Dorothy C. Bass and Don C. Richter. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Upper Room Books. For more info, visit www.upperroom.org/bookstore.

— from devozine (March/April 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Upper Room Ministries. All rights reserved.

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