As early as age eleven, I remember the kitchen’s sweet smells as I pulled sheets of oatmeal cookies from the oven. The aroma lured my brothers in to devour cookies. (My hands secretly stowed a few behind canned tomatoes—to ensure I would get one or two before they vanished.) By age thirteen, I was making meals and perfecting piecrust.
As an adult, I am known for welcoming people into my home—for quiet dinners, holiday gatherings and Small Group meetings. I revel in seeing a dozen quiche lined up on the counter, cookies and confections arranged on platters, raspberry sherbet softening in punch. Settled in my comfort zone, hospitality pumps through my veins.
My fingers fluted the edges of the pie dough. The comfort-zoner in me repeatedly hung back, my arms rarely stretching beyond the confines of comfort. Like when I turned down the opportunity to attend college out-of-state, visit friends in Europe or share my writing with the world.
I never guessed I would someday go to a Third World country on a mission trip. In Campur, Guatemala, I would learn new lessons in hospitality—through outstretched arms.
Exhausted, I settled into my bunk on the first night, prepared for a solid night’s sleep after two long days of travel. The barking of wild dogs echoed in the night. I imagined them hungry and aggressive, with snarling teeth. I retrieved my dangling foot into the sleeping bag as fear chased me into a fetal position. I shivered scared in the seventy-degree night. At 3 a.m., I jerked awake to strained voices of roosters interrupting night like an annoyed mother trying to rouse her resistant children for school.
Though I lay outside my comfort zone, soon, my territory would enlarge. My disquiet would dissipate. As God worked in a bigger way through me, He created more room for me to grow, be blessed, and see the blessings of others.
In reaching for more, I experienced a new sweet spot in hospitality.
Love for Strangers
As we disembarked the bus in Campur, Santiago stood eager to help unload our luggage. Santiago, a short man with a broad smile and crooked teeth, who appeared middle-aged, clung to our group during the week. He reminded me of an excited child reunited with long-lost family. Even though he could only speak Kekchi, Santiago communicated his love for having pictures taken with us. He’d point to our cameras and eagerly take his place beside us.
This had not always been home. Several years earlier, this mountain man wandered down from the Guatemalan mountains, barely clothed, hungry and sick. No one knew who he was, where he’d lived or why he left. Knowing nothing about him, not even his age or birthdate, the resident missionaries took Santiago in and provided a job as groundskeeper of the compound. Santiago now knows his birthday to be a day in March, a day appointed and celebrated by Frontlines Missions and Ministries team. Santiago found a home and a hope from the love of strangers.
I observed the way Guatemalans show love to one another. Their hearts seemed connected by a kindred love, the kind that blossoms from the giving and receiving.
Women—in groups of two, three or four—walked for miles to market on rutted dirt roads. Their casual exchanges held a perceived comfort, the kind that says, “Here I am. I care about what you say.” Their young children whirled and hurdled about on the journey. Girls carried toddler siblings on their hips, one way of helping their mothers.
In this age of digital distractions, the idea of living unplugged and yet connected seems impossible, but these people live unplugged of world distractions, as they love one another.
Evidence of goodwill amazed us each day. Near the week’s end, a man raced up the steps of the medical clinic after trekking for miles. Bent over and out of breath, he was not the one in need of the medical care. Tied to his back sat a seriously ill man in a plastic lawn chair. What a display of love!
A mother carried her sick child to me. Body language, facial expressions and select words guided my assessment of my patient. I rubbed my belly, and then touched my head as I struggled to pronounce, “Q’oxom?” in my attempt to determine the presence of physical pain. I butchered the word, k’atän, in hopes of learning about any recent fevers. It took little time to uncover the problem—a badly infected rash on the child’s abdomen and chest. As I treated her daughter, I felt this mutual give and take: she gave me her trust as I honored her for allowing me to care for her daughter.
As the week progressed, language barriers became less of a challenge in my work as a nurse. Whenever I wondered if my translated messages remained the same as they went through variations of English, Spanish and Kekchi, I remembered my actions were what spoke clearest to the people.
Through my actions, I tried to tell her and every other patient, “I have come all this way to tell you I love you and God loves you. We are here to help you.”
God Speaks Every Language
Rain showered down on a Wednesday morning. Grief poured down on the people. The Kekchi’s dear friend and pastor had died of cancer. They walked for miles to attend his funeral. Streams of people spilled from the over-filled church into the road’s water-filled potholes. A spring of songs, bursting with compassion, soaked the village with love. They wailed deep. One did not need to know Kekchi to understand their language or their sorrow.
From across the road in the medical clinic, I paused to steep in the moment, to share their pain, honor a stranger and love a people. Yes, God speaks English, Spanish, Kekchi and every other language.
In the New Testament, the word hospitality comes from the Greek, love and stranger. Hebrews 13:1-2 (NLT) tells us, “Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”
I went to love strangers, only to find myself loved as a stranger. And the beauty of it? By loving like that, we stop being strangers. By living with outstretched arms, we find sweet spots—new places in a space of grace. That’s the beauty of hospitality.