Saturday, May 1, 2010

Indiscriminate Hospitality…

My buddy Paul is a Disciples minister in Louisville. We spent a year on staff of the same church, trying to learn together this thing called ‘ordained ministry.’ If you knew Paul like I do, you’d know he’s a bold guy- he’s South Korean and first came to America to attend seminary, he’s since worked at two mostly Anglo churches in Kentucky, he roots for the Dallas Cowboys. And, if you knew Paul like I do, you’d know he owes me one. Big time.

One Sunday, while we worked at Central Christian in Lexington, our boss asked Paul to preach for both morning services. He was excited, since this would be his first time preaching at our church (usually, that was the boss’ job). But there was a snag- Paul’s parents were flying into town that Sunday morning, landing during the second service. And it was their first trip to America, he said, they didn’t speak any English, but he had to preach so please- Shane- will you pick them up?! “Of course, Paul. Just make me a sign with their names on it. In Korean.” Which he did, but didn’t say which way is up for Korean script. I guessed wrong.

Everything worked out fine, by the way, so he doesn’t really ‘owe me one’ (although, I don’t mind making the joke when we chat!). In fact, his parents, who were kind enough not to look horribly scared by the rattling of my old car, even gave me a beautiful tie as a Thank You. But it was a unique experience, as I stood at the airport, holding a sign with names of people I wouldn’t recognize, who spoke another language and would become my ‘responsibility,’ at least until I could hand them off to Paul. I suspect they were nervous too. When you commit to ‘hospitality’, which I believe is the heart of Gospel, you find yourself in unexpected situations!

Interestingly, that wasn’t my first such experience at the Lexington Airport. A few months earlier, Paul and I, and five others from church, gathered there at 11:30 PM. We were meeting a flight from New Jersey, with a couple on it who’d been in London before that, and Jordan before that, and Iraq before that. They were refugees, and when they entered baggage claim, they were tired!

And annoyed. Mohammed, who speaks impeccable English, told me, “They held us in London, and lost bags in New Jersey, and we’ve been traveling for three days, and…” I could hear him finish that sentence in his mind with the universally recognizable- AARGH! Sura, who I came to learn was quite talkative, just smiled silently and nodded along to her husband’s story. What an inhospitable way to enter the country! It wasn’t anyone’s “fault,” but still…

Which is why we were glad that eight people showed up to greet them, say “Hi,” and provide some good hospitality. After all, not only was it a hard travel day(s)- this couple was escaping war, had been living (in hiding, it turns out) in Jordan for a year, praying to leave and restart life somewhere peaceful. And even while they’d made it to a ‘new world,’ there were many stresses and strange unfamiliarities about America that would take help and patience to navigate. Paul and I led a group of church folk to be a community of support for Mohammed and Sura. It was among the best ministry I’ve ever done.

I tell you this because on Sunday, May 23, we’ll be welcoming a speaker from the MN Council of Churches to talk with us after Fellowship Time about refugee ministry. Our Mission Team, a few weeks back, decided this might be a worthwhile outreach project for the church to explore, so I’ve invited her to share about her work with vulnerable refugees, and how church hospitality makes a real difference. It’ll last only 45 minutes tops, but in that time, I hope we’ll learn something unexpected and grace-filled about hospitality. And who knows? Maybe we’ll be challenged to open our arms wider in hospitality to more neighbors in our midst. Paul would be proud.

Grace and Peace,


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