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Embracing hospitality: A Christian response to fear of the other

Jewish men walk next to Muslim women in Jerusalem's Old City, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, October 11, 2022. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

I was stunned when I discovered as a young Christian that the NT Greek word for hospitality, Philoxenia, actually means “love of strangers.” As an Arab, I was glad to know that hospitality was not a mere oriental custom, but rather a Christian virtue. It was very encouraging to read a Biblical common calling for “practicing hospitality” or in a simpler translation “welcome strangers into your home.” (Romans 12: 13).

What a special calling to practice philoxenia which we know in modern languages as xenophilia. For two thousand years, the Holy Spirit has urged all of us: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13: 2).

On the other side, frankly speaking, locals are intimidated when huge numbers of foreign people infiltrate their countries, getting the government's support and maybe some of the available jobs, yet still live in their close communities. For these reasons, many people fall deep in a whirlpool called xenophobia, i.e. fear of strangers, which is but a human natural response, yet brings serious consequences.

It is encouraging and enlightening to be reminded that our Lord Jesus lived in a land captured and ruled by pagan foreigners (Romans), run locally by immigrating proselytes (Herodian dynasty), led spiritually by the corrupt elite (priesthood). Nevertheless, Jesus was always open to initiating instructive and friendly conversation even with the most neglected layers of society, as well as with all the others. He was known as a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19). On several occasions Jesus visited various homes, to the extent that in Jericho, people murmured that “He has turned in to lodge with a sinful man”. This is of course because the son of man came not to satisfy the elite, but to seek and to save that which is lost (Luke 19: 7- 10).

Jesus indeed entered several homes, i.e. Pharisees, rulers of synagogues, and was ready to go to the Roman centurion's home (Luke 7: 1- 6, 36; 8: 41). In His footsteps, the disciples also entered foreigners’ (mainly pagan) homes, e.g. Peter went with six brethren to Cornelius` home, Paul visited a pagan sick man and welcomed anyone to visit his own home (Acts 9: 17; 28: 8, 30).

Throughout history, believers were considered spiritually as strangers and sojourners (1 Peter 2: 11), being temporary residents of earth. In this perspective, we should be considerate and sympathetic with people who for different reasons, became immigrants or strangers in other countries. Even in these troubled days, we are still ambassadors for Christ, called to imitate Jesus and do the work He entrusted to us in our family, Church and society.

Let me share with you some suggestions to accept and approach foreigners honorably:

1) Pray that God may open opportunities for you to interact with others and be ready to hear His voice in this matter on a daily basis. If you know already some foreigners, pray for them by Name. Pray for God`s work in their hearts and in the circumstances of their life (1 Tim. 2: 1-2). Take a personal interest and ask them generally about their work, family, and life. Listen to the concerns that they share and pray for those concerns even with them (if they agree).

2) Maybe you can start with something small, e.g. there is a special attraction in greeting people in their own way and language as saying to a Muslim “Salamu A`laikum” or “Shalom” to a Jew. You can also put a signboard in your car such as “God loves you” in other languages. This can easily start a conversation.

Sometimes, because of a language barrier, someone might need special help looking for a Kosher/ Halal product. The help will mean a lot and may open doors for acquaintance. Because you`re not keeping the regulations of their religious laws, they may hesitate to come to your home, yet still welcome you to visit theirs.

In addition, your colleagues or neighbors may dress, talk or worship differently than you. This variance may also be a short way to start an inquiring conversation.

3) Try to understand the foreigners around you, learn and read about them, their society and belief. Also remember that what you learn or read is a guiding line, not infallible. Even if they don`t know their sacred books well, always speak respectfully of them, without indicating that you agree with what they say. Give due respect of their belief or unbelief (atheists). Never attack religious figures or sacred books. This will prepare the ground in interactions toward reaching them for Christ in a better way. A good example is Paul`s approach to the Athenians (Acts 17: 23- 31).

4) Treat people with dignity and remember that foreigners, like you and me, are created in God’s image. Be ready respectfully to help them when needed, if you are burdened to win people for Christ, you need to be there for them in a practical way (1 Cor. 9; 19- 22). Try to put aside any prejudice and show a genuine love and concern for them. 

5) Remember that foreigners are not generic people, but diverse individuals who practice various ideas or conventions, and there are many ways to share or explain the good news for them. If your neighbor is a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew or atheist, look for an opportunity and a way to approach them. If someone asks questions, listen carefully in order to learn about their life or belief, not for refuting arguments or invalidating their worldview. When you listen, usually the other will listen also when you give a clear, accurate and short message of the gospel. Don’t worry about winning an argument, instead pray that God will win your friend’s heart.

Bottom line is to be open and ready prayerfully to follow Christ`s model in loving, respecting and reaching all the people around us. Take a breath and try kindly to read the following verse, as if you`re reading it for the first time: ”Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3: 20). If you find it an appropriate challenge, let`s go for it.

Dr. Makram Meshreky is a Christian Arab lay minister and prolific author. He specializes in Bible background, comparative religion and Jewish & Muslim literature.

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