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Practice Hospitality

My mother-in-law, Jean, is an amazing person with many gifts.  One of the first things I noticed about her when I was but a young bride, was her gift of hospitality.  It was nothing for her to invite a large group of people over, make each one feel welcome, cook a big meal, and seemingly do it without stressing herself out.  I don't know if hospitality just came naturally to her or if she learned it.  In this picture you can see Jean throwing a party for a class she taught in Nigeria.  

I believe that for me it has been a learned skill.  My parents were hospitable and it wasn't unusual for us to have guests over (though usually not as many at a time as my mother-in-law would do!).  But when I started living on my own, I had to learn hospitality.  The first time I invited somebody over for a meal, the lid got stuck on the pot of vegetables, I put too much salt or soda or something in the muffins, and I forgot to serve milk and sugar with the hot drinks.  I've gotten much better at it, and I almost find it natural now.  Which is a good thing because the job I currently have involves inviting a lot of people home for meals or providing a meal for them at the Guest House. But I've had to learn how to do it.

I feel that it is a biblical command to be hospitable.  Romans 12:13 says, "Share with Gd's people who are in need.  Practice hospitality." I Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8, and I Timothy 4:10 state that elders and widows should be people who practice hospitality (which I assume to mean that everybody in the church should also be doing so).   And I Peter 4:9 states, "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling."  It's a command, which means I need to do it, but I don't think that everything in the Bible that we're told to do comes naturally to us (such as turning the other cheek, loving others, rejoicing always, and praying without ceasing!).  But if God tells us to do it, He'll equip us to do it, and He will give us joy in the obedience.  I can assure you that often when we've offered hospitality, we are the ones who have been blessed.  I have a picture hanging above my stove to remind me that when I'm weary and providing yet another meal to a weary new arrival, I am the one who will be blessed.  It says, "A generous man will prosper.  He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.  Proverbs 11:25"  

Here are some things I've learned about hospitality over the years that you might find helpful if you're still figuring out the hospitality thing.

I'm an introvert.  I enjoy talking to people, but often find it difficult to keep a conversation moving, especially if the other person is also introverted.  But John is an extrovert, so we make a great team as I never have to worry about what we should talk about.  If you're an introvert and you're not married or your spouse is also an introvert, invite somebody else you know well who is a good conversationalist to help you keep the conversation going.

Your table doesn't have to be perfect.  The only thing about my silverware that matches is that they are all silver (well, they look like silver).  When John and I got married, we combined two sets of silverware.  I don't know where it's all gone, but I've had to buy extra forks and spoons.  So it's quite an eclectic blend of silverware, but I doubt if anybody ever notices.  I don't think our glasses match our plates, but they hold water, so what does it matter.

Keep your table setting simple.  If you like to do fancy things with your table, that's great, please do it!  But tonight, for example, I used place-mats and that was it.  If you don't have time to wash a tablecloth, don't use one.  If you don't have time to wash dishes, get paper plates.  Don't let not being able to be fancy stop you from being hospitable.

Feed your guests whatever you were going to feed your family, only make more of it.  You don't have to put on the Ritz and buy t-bone steak every time you have company.  This is especially important if you're on a low income and counting pennies.

Share the work load. If you are having friends over, make it a potluck.  That way you don't have to do all the work.  Likewise, if people offer, "Can I bring something?", let them! Most of the people we have over are new to the country, so this suggestion doesn't work in those kind of situations. 

Prepare as much as possible ahead of time.  My mother-in-law, Jean, does this so well and I'm guessing it plays a big part in keeping the evening stress-free.  Use your crock-pot or bake something in the oven so that you don't have to put everything together at the last minute.  Think of simple to fix meals like rice and a sauce, spaghetti, or a roast.  Set the table before you go to work (or have the kids do it!).

Be creative with your hospitality.  It doesn't always have to be an evening meal. If you don't feel up to making a meal, just invite people over for dessert and a cup of tea or coffee.  One family I know invites people for breakfast and everybody loves their yummy crepes (which sounds like a lot of work to me!). Lunch meals can just be sandwiches, no cooking involved. Don't hesitate to buy take-out, or here in Niger to buy street food or order from one of the ladies who sells food.

Don't worry about your house!  Don't worry if it's not perfectly decorated or even if it's not perfectly clean.  As they say, just make sure "it's clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy."  Yes, you do have to have enough cleared-off surfaces for your guests to sit, but who cares if the laundry basket is still in the corner of the dining room?  Yes, a quick clean-up of the bathroom would probably be helpful, but you don't have to scrub down the tiles, just wipe out the sink and do a quick clean of the toilet.

Try to think of the needs of your guest.  Have they just come from a long trip and are exhausted?  Are they new to town and don't know anybody?  Are they your close friends?  Are they somebody you just met who is going through a hard time?  Are they your Bible study group?  Who your guests are will determine how you plan your evening.  For example, if they are new arrivals who just ended up a 24-hour long trip, give them permission to feel free to go straight to bed after eating.  If they are your good friends, you'll probably plan a fun evening of playing games after eating.

Similarly, think of their dietary needs.  Are their religious beliefs different from yours and do their beliefs restrict their diets in anyway (for example, no pork or alcohol)? Do they have dietary restrictions, such as lactose intolerance, a gluten free diet, or vegetarian?  As much as possible, try to provide them with food that enables them to enjoy the meal.  

It's up to you what you do with the question, "Is there anything I can do to help you?"  If you are the queen or king of your kitchen and don't like people in your way, you can always say, "Not really, but you can sit here and talk with me."  But probably the best thing to do is to give them a task ...after all, they did offer!

Try to clean up as you prepare the meal (I'm actually terrible at this.  My kitchen looks like something exploded in it by the time I'm done cooking a meal) so that you don't have to spend a lot of time away from your guests doing dishes and clean-up.  If they offer to help, let them.

Please believe you can do this!  I'll be the first to tell you that it's not always easy.  But it is always worth it. 

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