By Nathan Marshall
What elicits in you as you hear the statement, “I was a stranger and you invited me in”? I asked the same question to a church community on Zoom last Sunday night.
Their replies were honest and reflective; concerns about risk and the unknown nature of ‘the stranger’. In an age of individualism and current unprecedented ‘isolation’, Christine Pohl (author of Making Room) reminds us that it is very difficult to recover the practice of Christian hospitality without recovering the companion of Christian community as well. She echoes the words of Paul to the Thessalonians when she says, “Hospitality is not so much a task as a way of living our lives and sharing ourselves” (1 Thess 2:8). When I was asked recently, “How could you learn about this ‘Kingdom living’?”, my response was, “Well, you’d have to move in with us!” Following Jesus is not a program but a person, and how else can we truly share the Good News unless it’s ‘embodied’?
One of our pioneering communities is recovering something of this art. A mustard seed community in many ways, the few that have gathered to be the Church in Mt Druitt are trying to practise what it means to ‘not only share the Good News but their very lives’. Aly and Jacob opened their home for a ‘stranger’ called Karen from Mexico who needed a place to stay for a week. As a foreign traveller, they expected her to head to Bondi for her year-long stay, but after offering her the opportunity to trade Bondi for the Druitt, she stayed!
Karen was a nominal Catholic (compulsory in Mexico!) but through the hospitality of the micro-church in Mt Druitt, Karen began to eat and share and pray and experience the journey of discipleship. In a brave moment, Aly asked Karen, “Has anything happened to you that has made you realise the reality of God?” Karen’s response was, “Being here with you guys! It’s a miracle that I get to stay here, and I feel much closer to God!” I was privy to seeing Karen grow and participate in these beautiful times of a shared meal around the table and the reading of Scripture. It doesn’t really get much simpler than that! It’s the living, embodied encounter; not unlike the two men on the road to Emmaus who had their eyes opened and their hearts set ablaze when Christ, who was ‘the stranger in their midst’, broke bread and shared it with them.
Through the complexity of the coronavirus crisis, Karen made the difficult decision to return home to be with her family, but Gustavo, who is part of the church, challenged her to consider being baptised as a sign that she was saying yes to Jesus and His Kingdom. In a difficult but exciting dilemma, we converged at Gustavo’s unit the day before Karen’s departure and following social-distancing procedure, we ‘snuck’ into the underground pool and witnessed the power and beauty of Karen’s new birth! These are the moments we live for as people of The Way! I am humbled and delighted that a stranger was welcomed in, and the fruit is new life. It took a whole community to be a part of the journey, and it took the joy of the good news and the very embodiment of grace for Karen to be born again.
Karen traded Bondi for Mt Druitt and has now been connected to believers back in Mexico. How might we be people and churches who recover the embodiment of generosity, hospitality and the sharing of our very lives in simple and humble ways?
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