In my junior year of college, I signed up for a summer outreach to Eastern Europe, what we referred to at the time as a mission “Behind the Iron Curtain.” Our team smuggled Bibles hidden in the interior walls of a mini-van and prayed earnestly for God’s grace through border crossings into places like Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland. Looking back, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
We wore skirts and gave testimonials through interpreters, bathed in large bowls on the floors of kitchens and ate crusty rolls and jam for breakfast. Swarmed by church crowds speaking in foreign dialects every place we ministered, it all seemed so adventurous.
As a campus rep for Eastern Airlines, I flew separately from my team of peers because free air travel, of course. At the time, I thought my free flight status was an allowance for not having to raise as much money required for the outreach.
But after a successful mission trip, free standby flights weren’t available.
That little allowance turned into a lesson in survival. Adventure was a word quickly relegated to storybooks when I was stuck in London with less than fifty dollars in my wallet. Every flight leaving London back to the US was overbooked four months out.
And a nice young man in the same predicament took it upon himself to show me how to use the underground and find a room at a youth hostel. We were nearly the same age but he was obviously more experienced in world travel. He even took me on the scenic route, past a tea party on the lawn of Buckingham Palace during my brief unexpected stint in the city, enjoying a bit of sightseeing.
I don’t remember his name or what he looked like. Only that I thought God sent an angel to help me through an unwanted predicament.
Once I secured a room, I never left to eat or shower on that hot, August evening. Lying on top of the bed with the window open, I listened to the bustle of city dwellers below while sweating through clothes and praying for a breeze to blow; all of nineteen and completely overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of, well, everything.
Two weeks ago, I moved to London with my husband and son after eight months of waiting for visas. After a packing whirlwind and leaving my daughter behind to finish her freshman year of college, we flew through the night using frequent flier mileage and woke up in England.
Wedging our legs and nine bags into a Youth with a Mission (YWAM) vehicle boasting a passenger door that wouldn’t open, we were escorted to the house we’d only seen previously in photos.
A vase of daffodils greet us in the center of a borrowed table alongside a homemade chocolate cake decorated with white icing flowers. Kitchen cabinets are stocked with food labeled in unfamiliar brand names, carefully selected by a group of women from the church where we are serving.
I don’t yet know all the people by name that have helped us transition to a new culture.
All I know is practical hospitality is the selfless act of inviting someone into your world without strings attached. It is a generous welcome unlike expectation or the assumption of reciprocity but an authentic love that bears the weight of compassion and is driven to do good from empathy.
It is what pulls me out into the streets among crowds of people now when fear tells me to view the world from the safe place at my window. Sometimes not knowing what you are doing is the opportunity God has been waiting to give someone else.
How can you welcome someone into your world this week?