Doing life together: Hospitality in SE Asia

Doing life together: Hospitality in SE Asia

This blog continues the discussion of hospitality.  It may look very different according to where we live and work, and the blogs show that variety.  But it is important everywhere: through  hospitality we join with God in offering the hospitality of the gospel.

When you live among Muslims and read Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 -14 you ask for the gifts of prophecy, healing, words of wisdom, speaking in tongues.   You want the people around about to see the power of Jesus, to hear and understand the good news, be convicted of sin, repent and turn to Him.

But … God gives the gift of hospitality!!!!!  I have somewhat slowly and reluctantly come to accept that this is on the list of gifts and is a gift to ask for too.

Last night a friend dropped over with seven of her family members/friends.  Laughingly I told them that someone in Australia had asked me about hospitality, and I said the important thing is to sweep the floor quickly before the guests come in.  That’s true, but there’s more to hospitality.

If hospitality is more than sweeping floors, what is it exactly?

A friend asked me in April if I could offer hospitality to Lilian for a while, as where she was boarding wasn’t working well.  I prayed about it for a few days. Covid19? She would be exposed to all my contacts and I would be exposed to hers.  Fasting month?  What and when would we eat?  Work from home?  If my home office couldn’t be in the spare bedroom, where would I work from?  And where would she work from?  I have known Lilian for a few years, we get on well, and she is reading the Bible weekly with my friend.  So the answer was yes.

The office moved to the lounge room, we sat outside when we had guests, and we cooked and ate dinner every day together.  We took it in turn to pray a simple grace over the evening meal.  We shared deeply about the families we come from, past hurts, our prayers and hopes.  I was a bit disappointed that my attempts to read psalms with Lilian or share Bible stories seemed to fall flat.  However my friend reminded me that doing life with Lilian is what hospitality is about.  And we certainly did life together.   We brought home our frustrations from our jobs, the challenges of our students.  Lilian saw me concerned about my teaching, dealing with needy people coming to the gate.  I asked her to pray for my interaction with some very dysfunctional neighbours.

National workers encouraged me to spend time with Anita who had recently believed.    For some years Anita spent one night a week at my house.  We would cook together, read the Word and chat and pray, play Scrabble, go shopping, help each other with our work and study.   Just do life together.  We went out of town one weekend.  Now I love a good hike, but after an hour or two she asked, “If I can flag a car down, can we get a ride back please?”  She married last year and lives far away, I miss her and she often rings and says she misses me.

I have a lot of people in and out of the house.   Hospitality is not so much what I give them to eat and drink,  about putting chilli sauce on the table if the food I cooked isn’t going to be tasty enough, about how comfortable they feel to go behind the curtain to the bathroom,  to wash up a glass in the kitchen when we have run out of glasses,  to look for something in the fridge.   It is not about having enough towels and plates, and mats to sleep on.

It is about sharing what I have.  It is about not looking at the clock and thinking about the work on my desk.

Have you ever put a table mat or empty plate on the table for Jesus? – to remind yourself that not only is He at the table with you, in fact He is the host.  I learn how to be hospitable from Him.  The feeding of the thousands, the Sermon on the Mount, the wedding at Cana.  Jesus listens and hears what is needed and then provides – wine, food, parables, teaching.   And I am sometimes undeservedly given the opportunity to channel His gift of hospitality.

Anthony was sitting on my front porch one day when I came home.  He had noticed me going out and about the neighbourhood.  He asked me if he could use the porch as a space to make sandals.  So, three sacks of materials and tools later the porch was his workshop.    I provided a steady supply of strong sweet coffee and cakes, a fan and a lamp: and he diligently made sandals at all hours.  It worked well when I was away, and he could look after the house.  It didn’t work so well when he was cutting and gluing all night to complete an order and I was trying to sleep on the other side of the wall!   Eventually he moved the sacks to the house of an elderly aunt and has gone from odd job to odd job, all the more tenuous during Covid.  He is one who often turns up hungry at the door.  Then hospitality is feeding him and giving him some provisions and money to take home in return for some gardening.  Fortunately he is happy with sweet tea and a fried egg sandwich.

All of this good food comes out of a not quite two-by-two metre kitchen!    Yes, I often surprise myself what a tasty range of healthy eats is created in this small space.  My favourite thing in the kitchen is a good wide shelf above the fridge and sink.  As there is no space for a cupboard, the shelf is my pantry.  I can keep an eye on everything so there’s no chance for weevils to sneak in.  The shelf and fridge have been much more crowded during Covid with the need to have a few months’ supply of food for myself, just in case the government suddenly asks us to all stay home again.  That happened briefly in March.  Also a small cache of white rice, sugar, tinned fish for friends who are not able to make ends meet.  When my friend Bert’s mum was a day away from having baby number six I put together a box of food for her family out of what I had on the shelf supplemented with vegetables from the garden.  I go shopping a couple of times a week to keep the shelf full.

Bert’s mum is a friend who turns up more often when she needs to be listened to.  To remind me to receive from Jesus and then pass on to others, I often name my rented homes ‘praise’ or ‘peace’.   Hospitality is about praying to be able to really hear what my visitors are saying.  It is about having a place in my heart and my head, as much as having a place in my home for people to come and just be.  After hosting people, there is an ongoing relationship.  Hospitality is connected to prayer.  Whether I pray often or seldom with guests, they become part of my life and my prayer list.

It is about sharing from what He has given to me.


Photo credits: thanks to  Kseniia Ilinykh, Ashwini Chaudhary and Sarah Boudreau on Unsplash.

(c) When Women Speak… November 2020

Inneke G. Riddell has lived in different cities in a Muslim country in S.E.Asia, working as a university lecturer since 1994.  In each place friendships with neighbours and efforts to learn some of the different local languages have helped open up opportunities to share life and faith.

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