Hospitality on Steroids: Three Weeks That Changed Our Lives

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

What comes to mind when you think of “hospitality?” Does a romantic B & B tucked away in a secluded forest or located on a hill overlooking a gently flowing river come to mind? How about a luxury hotel where your every comfort is provided from satin sheets to monogrammed robes? Maybe you think of an attentive host and waiter that make you feel at home when you eat at the local Cracker Barrel. Perhaps you think of last Saturday’s pool party at the Johnson’s filled with good food, cool drinks, and fun activities.

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It may be true that most of us like the idea of hospitality more than actually doing hospitality. 

When thinking of hospitality, do Abraham and Sarah ever come to mind?

One day, while relaxing outside his home on a hot day, God comes to Abraham in the form of three strangers. Abraham insists that they stay for a while, refresh and rest. He and Sarah then prepare bread, meat, and other provisions so that the needs of their body and soul could be met (the body and soul are intertwined). In the midst of their hospitality, a significant conversation takes place including the news that Sarah is to birth a child in her old age. 

The hospitality of Abraham and Sarah is portrayed in the icon above. They welcome and attend to these three unknown messengers of the Lord. They work hard in providing what is needed. The strangers find refreshment and rest. In that setting, God “shows up” in an unsettling yet amazing way.  

Three Weeks Of Intense Hospitality 

As you may have noticed, this is the first UnCommon Journey post you’ve received in almost four weeks. It was not my intention to cease writing over this period. It just happened. It happened mainly due to a ramped-up demand on my time by folks in our home. It’s not that the people were demanding, always wanting something from me. It was the situations that brought them into our home that needed so much attention that I had no time to blog. The need to engage with folks immediately prevented me from interacting with you. Please forgive me. 

Forgive me for not communicating with you as I so desire and enjoy doing. I have so much to learn about navigating through demanding times while keeping other necessities afloat. Let me share with you what’s been happening here. 

It all started when Tyler, through Airbnb, asked about the possibility of his family staying with us for the funeral of his brother-in-law. Through a few messages it sounded like a fit so he booked with us. They were to arrive the very next evening (Monday). We keep our rooms prepared for guests at all times. Good thing! 

When they arrived, the story began to unfold. Jim, a 38 year-old man, had died suddenly, leaving this family in grieving shock. Arriving at our house was his wife and 10-year old son and two step-children, father and step-mother, sister and Tyler, and later three sisters to the wife. The family was raised in Ooltewah but were now in New York and Florida. Jim was to be buried “back home, here in Ooltewah.” It was fascinating watching this family pull together, support one another, and honor Jim in everything. 

On Tuesday they pulled together pictures, memories, family/friends for the wake on Wednesday.  

On Thursday the funeral and graveside were held. Afterwards, family and friends (about 50) gathered back at our house for catered meal, catching up, and reflections.They interacted with people they hadn’t seen for 10-15 years. We prepared Homestead House for them and cleaned up after them. Young cousins swam. Games were played in the front yard. There was lots of talk, laughter, eating and drinking. 

Friday was time with family and clean up until everyone left Saturday morning. 

I had significant conversations with various family members but especially the dad who was grieving deeply over the loss of his only son.

It was our privilege to minister to each person –  body and soul. We didn’t use trite words of comfort; only genuine works of grace that we hoped would help comfort their hearts. 

Every evening and morning we prepared breakfast for 10 people and cleaned up afterwards. Hours every day were devoted to grocery shopping and preparation for the next day’s breakfast. There was constant movement, conversation, and attentiveness all day long. I took it as a personal challenge to commune with God in this busy environment. The Jesus Prayer became my heart’s “go to” during these hectic times. Rhonda and I did this work on our own and found great joy and satisfaction as we engaged in a labor of love for this grieving family. 

The whole experience deepened our understanding of hospitality. It helped change our hearts to greater sympathy and mercy to others. 

(Names have been changed in this story for reasons of privacy.)

After these dear folks headed home, we welcomed a hurting family that same afternoon. Father, mother, and daughter had just gone through major health scares making this get-away a necessity. Again, we served and conversed in ways we hoped would encourage, strengthen and sooth their bodies and souls. The two children (grandchildren) practically lived in the pool.

While this was going on, another couple stayed Saturday night. Then a mother-daughter combo came Sunday through Tuesday, over Memorial Day. It seemed a never-ending ministry of preparing, cleaning, and then preparing again. 

We had one day to “relax” until friends, Greg and Becky (HH partners) from So Cal, stayed with us to survey the area for potential retirement locations. It was a joy to have them in our home for five days during which we had our first Homestead House fundraiser.

Friday night 16 people gathered for food, drink, and a presentation of the impact of Homestead House Ministries on the lives of individuals and ministry leaders. It was loads of fun and of financial benefit to our ministry even with countless hours of preparation, planning, and implementation. The Lord was so good. 

Greg and Becky headed out Tuesday morning.

That evening we welcomed another group of So Cal friends (and HH partners). We prepared and fed dinner to 11 family members. Our friends and their two young daughters stayed with us a couple more days while the father headed up a conference at Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, GA. 

While all this was happening, we were dealing with a significant family issue. Also, Rhonda was still working daily at Bryan College, preparing and cleaning once she got home. (I think she’s an angel!)  I was attending to the needs of our guests – preparing, serving, and cleaning up breakfasts, grocery shopping, spending time with guests, and working around the house to make our guests feel comfortable. All this for about 21 days straight. 

Honestly, this is the first time in almost four weeks that I’ve had a lengthy opportunity to sit at my computer and write. 

What we’re learning about hospitality

When we devoted our lives to the ministry of hospitality, we had idealistic notions of what that looked like. None of that has faded. However, we are more realistic about what genuine hospitality entails. 

  1. True hospitality is a lot of concerted effort. Sometimes it’s just plain work – good work – but work nonetheless. But, as my father would say, “I get tired in the work, but not of the work.” We want our guests to keep romanticizing hospitality. We’ll try our best to do the grunt work with grace and love so it doesn’t come off as “sacrificial.”  
  2. Genuine hospitality provides the opportunity to meaningfully give life to others and receive it in return. It is so encouraging to encourage others. Genuine love is usually reciprocated. We don’t love in order to receive. Yet, this often happens. 
  3. Welcoming the stranger, a good description of hospitality, gives room for God to show up in unexpected ways. Conversations often turn to heart concerns. Life situations are disclosed. Loving hospitality is a safe place for people to unburden themselves. We listen. Sometimes that is all that’s needed for God to minister to hearts and encourage another step forward. 
  4. Hospitality demonstrates that care for body and soul often makes words unnecessary. For us introverts, too much chatter can be counterproductive to our desire to minister. We just want to do for others and not have to talk so much. We can pray as we “work behind the scenes.” It’s not that we don’t like people. We simply want to meet their needs in ways authentic to us and to others. Being hospitable is the perfect way to do this.
  5. Compassionate hospitality means that it is crucial to know the love of God. Only in communion with God can real love be experienced. God is love. We rarely are. To connect with people in love we need to stay connected to God’s love.

I hope you’ll consider how you might open your home and heart to the fascinating and challenging ministry of hospitality. Host your friends or neighbors for dinner. Accept a traveling missionary into your home. Host a theme party for your small group or Sunday School class. 

Do this out of your love from God and for God. Commune with God as you prepare. Then, share the goodness, love, and mercy of God with the “strangers” who enter your life. 

You will be blessed when you do. 

If you have questions about a ministry of hospitality or comments, please share below. 

Dr. K