It's not the home that matters, but the people.

The Humanity of Hospitality

It's not the house that matters, but the people.

“Karibuni. Karibuni. Come in.” Our group – seven students and one teacher – files through the low doorway. The host, an elderly widow who we call “Mama”, greets us with a smile.

We are here to visit. For several months now a group of us have been getting together with the widows in the surrounding community. Lacking family, many of these men and women live alone. Time and attention are gifts of great worth.

The house is small and plain. Only a kitchen and narrow bedroom branch out from the now full living room. Last month’s newspaper covers walls of mud and stick. Sheets of tin provide both the ceiling and the roof. But though the house is small, there is much room.

There is space for conversation. Close quarters increase intimacy. Food and chai add warmth to our words. The music of the rain on the tin roof beats in rhythm to our fellowship – its song a sweet echo of our shared humanity.

There is space for connection. In the exchanging of our stories, bonds of trust and understanding take hold. The celebration lifts up the dignity of the owners. Differences of race, economic status, and education fade away like the print of the yellowed newspaper on the walls.

There is space for blessing. Although we came with an attitude of a giver, it is us that receive. Mama blesses us. She serves us food out of her poverty. To such unmatchable generosity, all we can do is draw closer. She gives us her story, enriching our stories in the process. Above all, she gives us joy. Her smile is contagious.

***

I now have the opportunity to show a similar hospitality. On many occasion, guests dine at our table. There is abundance. For a recent dinner with two friends, my wife prepared a feast. It was so much so that it could have fed the four of us three times over. The bounty of food celebrated life’s generosity. Sharing food is sharing life.

Over a cup of tea, we fellowship. Sitting on chairs and cushions, we exchange stories. And though I am the giver this time, I am still the one that receives.

For guests grant the gift of deepened relationships. In inviting someone into your home, you invite them into your life. They are allowed a window into who you are. And in that openness, they share more of themselves than they might otherwise. Relationships grow stronger.

Burdens are lifted. Some worries may be light or seemingly insignificant, but sharing them brings relief nonetheless. Sometimes the concerns are of pain and suffering, and telling them produces peace. But most often, it is a freedom from your weaknesses that brings the greatest joy. In the openness of your home, another sees your imperfections and still thinks of you highly.

***

Hospitality is a manifestation of humanity. Life fills it. Love overflows. Joy abounds. May your lives and homes ever echo the Tanzanian proverb, “There is always room for the people you love, even if the house is crowded.”

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It’s not the house that matters, but the people. I made this photo on the train to Mombasa, Kenya.

6 thoughts on “The Humanity of Hospitality”

  1. My Granny gave me the best hospitality advice. I was apologizing about the state of my house – my house has never been a priority for me. She said, “I come to visit you not your house”

    I’ve been much more relaxed about welcoming people since. I like hosting. I like drawing people in and making them feel welcome.

    You’re right, the space isn’t as important as the feeling.

  2. Unlike their houses that are enriched with quality furniture, spacious and conducive environment, Bible study ladies co-ordinated by Barb, visited my squeezed unspacious and poor furnitured room with smiles and loving hearts. To my surprise, they shared the tea without much milk and all that mattered to them was to have warm fellowship with me with comments, ‘what a wonderful house’. This was back in the year 2006.

    This was an encouragement to me and was a hospitality of the heart of a unique kind. This made a strong foundation in me to give hospitality to others regardless of their economic status. Hospitality is a pillar of a sustainable life.

    Good thought Josh

  3. One of my favorites lines from your story: “a freedom from your weaknesses that brings the greatest joy. In the openness of your home, another sees your imperfections and still thinks of you highly.” How many times have I not allowed myself the joy of company, feeling the house was too messy or shabby or not good enough. When Jodi came from an overnight last month, I had similar trepidation. She was so comfortable, that I experienced “freedom from my weaknesses” – it was a delightful visit.

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