Hospitality is a big part of our work here in Asia. Today I read a post over at www.raisinghomemakers.com on the topic of hospitality, and it prompted some thoughts in me. I thought the author did a wonderful job of sharing not only practical tips when it comes to hospitality, but also reminding us of the heart that is behind hospitality. In welcoming people into our home, we want them to see our heart for Jesus, our love for our family, and our care and concern for them as our guests.
Living here has really taught me a lot about hospitality. We have been the recipients of it many, many, many times. I have had to learn how to graciously accept others' efforts to welcome me, even if it meant the menu wasn't to my liking (I've been served eel, cicadas, and all sorts of seafood) or the setting wasn't comfortable for me personally. I have also sought to make others feel welcome in my home. While it's wonderful to welcome guests into a neat, clean, fragrant, well-kept home, it is also wonderful to learn to welcome the friend that stops by when I'm in the middle of homeschooling and there is STUFF everywhere, or the neighbor upstairs who came by when I was still in my bathrobe in the morning!
My goal in hospitality is ultimately to bring glory to the Lord. I want others to feel His love and His care when they walk through my door. In our context, that means several things. Culturally, we change our shoes when entering someone's home. (Usually. I have been in homes where they have insisted that I didn't need to change my shoes. But unless the floor was concrete, I still changed my shoes. :)) This just has to do with the fact that the outside streets are dirty. So, it's nice to have some slippers available for guests, especially during the wintertime when the floors are cold.
As well, many people who visit are coming from public transportation or bike riding where your hands truly get dirty, so the first thing many people do upon arriving in a home (after changing your shoes) is to wash your hands. I always try to make sure there is a fresh towel and plenty of handsoap available, as well as turn on the bathroom light since our lightswitch is located in a strange place. As well in the bathroom, it's helpful to have the waste basket in an obvious location (many toilets in this country cannot handle paper being flushed down them) and the toilet paper in plain view. (Believe me, I have been in bathrooms where this was not the case! There's nothing worse than having a need for some toilet paper and there is absolutely NONE in sight!!)
Third, in this culture you will be offered something to drink (usually something as simple as hot water) as soon as you arrive in someone's home. I really appreciate this cultural habit and have made a practice of it with my guests as well. Again, many people have come by foot, bike, or bus, and often may be honestly thirsty upon arrival but are too embarassed to say so. So I try to offer a beverage as soon as possible. I keep a drawer stocked with coffee (including the instant Nestle stuff that I don't drink unless it's an emergency, but keep on hand for guests), black, green, and herbal tea. It's fun to have a variety to offer. I also usually keep a few baked goods (cookies or bars) in my freezer; it is easy to pull out a dozen or so, place them on a pretty platter or tray, and within 15 minutes they are ready to eat.
Practicing hospitality does take some extra work and thought on my part, especially in regards to the food and preparation of it. Many "convenience" foods are not available here. For example, if I want to serve Mexican food, I must make the tortillas and salsa from scratch. I need to grate the cheese, make the sour cream by combining vinegar and heavy cream, and chop the bell peppers, onions, and meat. Thankfully, I have a house helper, who can do much of that prep work for me, but I still need to direct and lead her. I also need to think about practical realities like "how will I serve this to x-number of people? Will everything be hot? How long will it take me to get it all on the table?" All of this should be thought through beforehand. I have found that better pre-planning makes me a more gracious hostess, since I'm not thinking about a thousand things the moment all of my guests arrive!
Many people are shy to have others in their home because they're concerned about the neatness/messiness of their homes, feeling embarassed about clutter, dust, or whatever. One resource that helped me get into a good daily routine for cleaning and organizing is www.flylady.com. Actually I haven't looked at her site for a few years but just after I had Clara Anne, I was following her routines more specifically and it helped me get a handle on what needed to be done when in order to keep my home "company-ready." One of her main philosophies was that a little bit of cleaning, every day, was better than one all-out "I'm going to get this bathroom clean if it takes me all day" sort of attitude. Staying caught up on the dishes, a quick swipe of the bathroom every day, sweeping "the middles"; ideas like that really helped me. Maybe it will be helpful to you too!
One final resource I must mention is a book: Practicing Hospitality by Pat Ennis and Lisa Tatlock. I have only just begun reading this book, but the authors really do a great job of examining the biblical mandate for practicing hospitality and giving lots of practical suggestions for how to do it. I recommend it highly!
Since my main ministry is in and through our home, and I have three daughters, the art of hospitality is something that I want to not only do well but teach the girls how to do well. On Tuesday nights when we host other moms for a study, and they bring their kids who invariably destroy the girls' room by taking out every toy and tossing it around the room, it can be a challenge to remember our goals in hospitality! By the time everyone leaves it is often 9:30pm or later, and then to have to spend 45-60 minutes putting the house back together is a task that no one particularly enjoys. But in those moments I try to remind the girls (even as I check my own attitude) that we are trying to show Jesus' love to these moms. A little clean-up time is a small thing compared to the impact that we are hoping will be happening in their hearts. Cleaning up with a cheerful heart, and continuing to invite them back week after week, is a very practical way to show hospitality!
The article I read tonight was entitled "Humble Hospitality." I think that's what it really comes down to. . . being humble and learning to think of others above myself. Being willing to put for the extra effort and energy to show others God's love through my home. Learning to anticipate their needs, showing care and concern by asking them questions, reaching out in Jesus' name, these are some of my goals in practicing hospitality.
How about you? Do you enjoy hospitality? (Or are you learning to enjoy it?) Do you have any practical tips to share?