The slender, youthful missionary’s wife had prepared beans and vegetables for lunch that day. Deliciously simple, that one lunch and the happily hospitable family who served it have stuck in my memory. I had spent six months as a student missionary in the Marshall Islands, halfway around the world from my home country, and the kindness of these strangers ministered to me. The island of Pohnpei was a weekend stop on an island-hopping tour for me, and not only did someone from the local Adventist school staff pick us up, but they also invited us home for lunch.
Later that summer I was to fly to Hawaii for student-missionary orientation. Reluctant to bother people, I had decided to catch a bus from the airport and somehow find my way to the venue. I must have mentioned this to someone in passing, who told someone else, because the mission president himself was standing there smiling when I walked through the airport gate in Honolulu. He had come just for me. I was one of more than 100 student missionaries, yet he cared enough to show up and meet me. I was amazed.
One evening my husband and I had the privilege of receiving an invitation to supper at the home of a very special Adventist woman—the well-known author of Creative Hospitality and other books, Nancy Van Pelt. We lived in the same town as she did, and while doing evangelistic work I had met a neighbor of hers, and she invited us all to dinner. The details of the menu have long since escaped me, but I do remember that evening well. This lovely lady had obviously prepared by setting a beautiful and bountiful table. The food was tasty and the conversation engaging. As was her custom, she took a picture of us all, making us feel that we were important to her.
Another shining example of heartfelt hospitality is an Old Testament woman who surfaces above others of her time, and evidently her hospitality was consistent. “So it was, as often as he passed by, he would turn in there to eat some food” (2 Kings 4:8). The Shunammite woman and her husband had invited Elisha so many times that they were
able to see what he needed. Their creative juices started flowing: they would build an extra upper room just for Elisha. If you or your spouse travels a lot, you can well imagine how restful such a place would be to Elisha, especially in the days before cars or bicycles.
Today, people still do things like this. A young pastoral couple wanted a place for guests (particularly young church workers) to stay, so they upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment. They took the extra rent out of their offering fund. In her childhood, famous Christian writer and missionary Elizabeth Elliot saw that her family often entertained visiting foreign missionaries. Seeing these spiritual giants and hearing their stories inspired her to go as a missionary herself, first as a single woman, and then with her husband, Jim Elliot, who was later martyred in Ecuador. This habitual hospitality had eternal results.
The simply furnished sanctuary in Shunem, with a bed, table, stool, and lamp, meant a lot to the man of God. “To this retreat Elisha often came, thankful for its quiet peace” (Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 237). Amazingly, this woman’s spirit of hospitality returned to bless her. Elisha promised that she would have a son.
It’s hard to imagine Elisha being anything other than a model guest—tidy and thoughtful. “Elisha was a man of mild and kindly spirit” (White, p. 235). In our home, we have appreciated all our guests, but some stand out. Two young girls, at different times, were impeccably neat and tidy. Others took time to make friends with our children. Some willingly helped more than expected with the housework. We’ve never forgotten them.
Later in the Shunammite woman’s life, hospitality paid off again. When her son died unexpectedly of sunstroke, she knew there was only one person to go to—Elisha. By faith, she mounted a donkey and headed straight for her prophet friend. If God could create her boy, God could raise him, she thought.
Elisha listened carefully when she arrived, for this was the woman who had shown such care for him. Her deep distress tumbled out when she saw him. She couldn’t help
it. She grabbed his feet, and between her choked cries Elisha realized the problem. Shifting into high gear, he told his servant to go to the woman’s house, but the mother
insisted that Elisha come too, so he did.
Alone in that upper room with the dead boy, he prayed fervently, lay down on the boy two times, and—what a miracle—the boy came back to life! Immediately our heroine
fell down at Elisha’s feet in gratefulness. She was overwhelmed. Her small (to her) deed of hospitality had returned to bless her immensely. Kindness comes back. Her
kindness came back a third time when, years later, because of her connection with Elisha, the king restored her land when it had been taken (see 2 Kings 8).
When I traveled in Europe, Asia, and Africa, people graciously gave me a place to sleep and many meals. I soaked up all their kindness. Now on the other end, I eagerly make meals and beds for travelers—especially for young people—at our home. It’s my turn to pass on the kindness, my urn to pay it forward. We will always receive a blessing when we remember to entertain strangers (see Hebrews 13:2), even if we just serve beans. Simple hospitality makes life sweeter for others who need a lift, as well as for those who give it.
1. Keep it simple. You can entertain even on a shoestring. Elisha’s room was far from grand but very appreciated. Have a potluck at your house or a waffle breakfast where guests bring their waffle irons and toppings. Or just offer popcorn and fruit for supper.
2. Fellowship is more important than furniture. Many people don’t care how your house looks; rather, they care that you cared enough to invite them. This is especially true when you invite those who can’t invite you back, as recommended in Luke 14:14. Even if the furniture is outdated, people will enjoy being there if you keep it neat and clean and reach out to them in love. I still remember the names of the couple who invited us to lunch the very first Sabbath we visited the church that we have now attended for 20 years. Their simple hospitality encouraged us to make that our church home.
3. You have options. You may not want to be seen as playing favorites by inviting some and not others since you are the ministerial couple, but you still have options for hospitality. Why not extend an open invitation for anyone to come to your house for a Saturday night supper or weekly Bible study that includes food? Or try inviting smaller groups. The president’s wife at a small Adventist college invited students in small groups every Sabbath until everyone in the college had visited their home each year. If you live far from the church, ask another family to help you by bringing food to the church so you can invite the visitors and singles to eat with you after church. Most of all, ask God to impress you with whom He wants you to invite, whether preplanned or spontaneous.
4. Do something. Do what is manageable for you. While at public university, some other young women and I rented a house just two doors from an Adventist church. Surprisingly, no one from that church invited me to Sabbath lunch during the entire year. I therefore decided that I would cook, and I invited other single friends to eat with me so I would not eat alone on Sabbath. Now I have happy memories of those times. When you see someone who is lonely or in need or whom you feel impressed to befriend, don’t hesitate. Do something! Even small investments yield rich rewards.