Hospitality: Our Ministry Identity

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Is hospitality a gift or our duty from God? Should churches welcome outsiders as a ministry pursuit or as a mandate to obey? Is making room for foreigners in our busy lives God’s command or God’s promise? In the Bible, we find that hospitality is infused with all of these dimensions. As portrayed in both the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, hospitality is a spiritual grace that transforms strangers into friends. As Christine Pohl writes in her book Making Room, “Hospitality is… fundamental to Christian identity.” I have spent much time and effort to persuade churches (some holding a geographic, rather than a biblical definition of world missions) that welcoming international students among us is valid “global-local” missions. I remind churches that, while God calls some Christians to traditional foreign missions, he commands all Christians to “practice hospitality” according to Romans 12:13. Not every Christian is gifted or called by God to leave a familiar place and take Christ’s gospel to a foreign place. But God calls all Christians to welcome outsiders into our ordinary daily lives, homes, and churches – into our covenant communities.

The second Great Commandment flows out of God’s mandate to his people Israel in Leviticus 19:34, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” We are often tempted to reduce the full force of God’s requirements to something that is more manageable. No one except Jesus can perfectly fulfill the standard of loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, so we reduce that high demand to something that we are easily able to do. In the same way, when we hear God’s command to “…love your neighbor as yourself,” we may seek to justify ourselves like the law expert in Luke 10:29 by asking Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” We seek to limit our neighborhoods (and therefore limit our welcoming love) to people who are just like us.

I have found that God’s gospel is the most powerful motivation for all Christian service. What God has done for us in Jesus Christ is the only sustainable, renewable energy source for obeying all of the Lord’s commands – including Biblical hospitality. God’s work for us, and not our own, is the fuel for the good works God has prepared for us to do according to Ephesians 2:8-10. The bottom line is that God’s own gracious and sacrificial hospitality to us in Jesus Christ is what compels us, wholeheartedly, to reflect his welcoming love to outsiders, strangers, and foreigners. When we limit our love to people who are like us, we forget that we ourselves were once strangers and foreigners to God’s kingdom. Hospitality is a ministry of graciousness that flows out of our experience of God’s grace, our identity in Christ.

How has the God of all grace worked in history to form for himself a gracious and welcoming people? As novelist John Gardner has written, “There are only two plots to all the stories… a stranger came to town, and someone went on a journey.” As God’s story, the Bible is not about a human quest, but rather about God’s guest. Throughout God’s story, the Lord persistently sent “strangers to town” who came among his people. Ultimately, God sent his own Son, the ultimate outsider, to redeem us as family.

Consider a New Testament example, the coming of the Magi or “wise men from the East.” We read in Matthew 2:1-3, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea… behold! Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?… When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Notice the little interjection “behold.” When the foreigners arrived in the Jewish capital, it was totally unexpected. Similarly, the arrival of 800,000 international students on American campuses is remarkable. Also notice the response to the sudden appearance of foreign astronomers. Herod was “…troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” We can understand that Herod was threatened by the news of a rival newborn king; the Jewish population did not love Herod. But we read “…all Jerusalem was troubled.” The word “troubled means agitated, emotionally shaken, or disrupted. In other words, the arrival of these foreigners shook up the covenant people.


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What was God doing? The Lord sent Persian Magi as disruptions of grace. The arrival of foreigners among us is God’s gospel memo to his people to remind us that God’s promise of salvation is not only for us and for our children, but also for those who are far off, for as many as the Lord calls. Acts 2:38-39 states, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’”

In the centuries prior to the coming of Jesus Christ, God sent his ancient people repeated disruptions of grace through the arrival of various resident-foreigners. One example is Rahab the prostitute. She is a reminder that God’s story is about grace! The Canaanite harlot confessed her faith in the Lord, the God of Israel. Joshua 6:25 tells us that as a result, “Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day…” As God’s story continued to unfold, Rahab became the mother of Boaz. In turn Boaz became kinsman-redeemer for the Old Testament’s most famous resident-foreigner, Ruth from Moab, who had immigrated to Israel with her beloved mother-in-law, Naomi. After their marriage, Boaz and Ruth became the parents of Obed, who became the father of Jesse. And so resident-foreigners are registered in the human genealogy of Jesus.

Have you forgotten your own former immigrant status? In Exodus 23:9, God reminded Israel, “You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Ephesians 2:11-13 reminds you, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh… were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” God reminds the Christian church that we were foreigners to the covenants of the promise. How can we forget? God has brought us near, into his kingdom, through the death of Christ. So we welcome others, as Christ has welcomed us, for the glory of God.

Abraham and Sarah lived as sojourners in the land God promised to them. “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents…,” as Hebrews 11:9 tells us. They did not live like permanent settlers, but as sojourners. In Genesis 18 and 19, there is a contrast between Abraham’s hospitality to strangers and Sodom’s abuse of sojourners. Regardless of civil immigration policy, we are to live as spiritual children of Abraham. We can learn from resident-foreigners how we should live like sojourners by remembering that our passport is from another place. Philippians 3:20 tells us, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Tepid churches can be transformed spiritually by opening their doors to the Lord who comes as a Stranger as in Matthew 25:35. When churches open doors, Christians discover their place in God’s story for the world and that salvation is not just for people like us. As the Samaritans exclaimed in John 4:42, “…we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” Hospitality is the Biblical basis for outreach to internationals among us. It is not simply an “alternative form” of missions; it is God’s command to all Christians. Have you experienced God’s gracious hospitality in Jesus Christ? Then show welcoming hospitality to others!

 

Al LaCour serves as the nationwide director for Reformed University Fellowship – International. Al equips churches and campus ministries to “welcome the nations and equip kingdom ambassadors.” Al is a graduate of Georgia Tech and Westminster Seminary. He served as a church planter and senior pastor of four churches before transitioning to international student ministry.

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Further Reading

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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

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  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
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  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Shanghai

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