What I learnt about hospitality from my travels
Sonja Chua // June 25, 2019, 3:34 pm
When I was in Jordan for the weekend, I learnt about hospitality.
Did you know that Bedouin tribes in the desert freely offer travellers a three-day stay? I, too, had a taste of Arabic hospitality when I was offered free tea by a storekeeper who shared where I could get a cheap and good dinner.
We see this kind of hospitality in the Bible, when Abraham hosted three strangers in Genesis 18 and in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-36). The Samaritans were not on good terms with the Israelites at the time, yet the Good Samaritan helped the wounded Israelite and paid for his stay in an inn as he recovered.
“Who is my neighbour?” was the question that prompted Jesus to tell this parable. And it was also the same question God put in my mind when I moved to Israel.
As a temporary resident in Israel, I had both positive and negative experiences with the locals. My Israeli boss provided me with bedding and cutlery so I would not need to buy much when I arrived. He also invited me to his home on Independence Day and one Saturday (Shabbat) for a meal.
But I also had experiences like trying to find a church to settle in and attending one where no one actually noticed I was a visitor. I felt empty after church service because I longed for community.
I sometimes have my blinders on in church, when I only look for my friends and not visitors.
That got me thinking about how we treat visitors in church and in Singapore.
I realised I sometimes have my blinders on in church, when I only look for my friends and not visitors. Though I’ve become a bit more aware of this, now that I’ve started attending our smaller service, I’m still not the best when it comes to welcoming people.
But having been on the receiving end of not being welcomed in church, I now realise the importance of welcoming new visitors to church.
The same thing applies to foreigners as well: Are we patient and understanding when we meet them on the street? When they ask us simple questions like how to navigate our public transport system or for directions to a certain place, what would our response be?
Among foreign friends, do we speak in local lingo, forgetting they are present in our conversations? Do we expect them to know a certain language or phrase simply because they live in Singapore as well?
I’ve learnt a lot about love and hospitality from my travels, lessons which start with recognising that all of us are simply travellers in this world.
We each have different seasons in life, and while it’s possible to be stationed in Singapore for most of them, we need to bear in mind that this life on earth is not permanent. Israel was supposed to only sojourn in the land of Egypt (Genesis 47:4), but ended up staying there for more than 400 years. In the end, God brought them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
Once we realise that we’re all travellers, we’ll see that we’re no different from the sojourners in our land. Returning to the Good Samaritan story, Jesus asked the lawyer who he thought had been a neighbour in the parable. The lawyer answered rightly: “The one who had mercy on him” (Luke 10:37).
Every human is an image-bearer of God, and we are to show mercy to the greatest and the least. Whether it’s our boss or the cleaner in our office, we must afford them the same love and dignity.
Finally, we must show our care practically.
When I was looking for lunch in Jordan on my last day, I walked into a café and asked if they had an English menu. Though this café did not have one, the owner asked what it was that I wanted. When I explained that I wanted lunch, he said he only had drinks – but he left his shop to bring me to another one nearby, which sold cheap and good food. I did not know this café owner nor had I paid him to find food for me.
I was moved by this act of kindness.
In our busy city, do we sometimes refuse to help someone simply because we are “too busy”?
If a person who is lost asks us for directions, do we simply just give them directions and leave them to find the place? Or can we walk with them, even if it makes us late for our next appointment? Showing love to our neighbour is the second-most important commandment from Christ. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
In my wanderlust, I went abroad to see the world. In doing so, I discovered the true meaning of loving thy neighbour as I wasn’t a local anymore – someone familiar with her surroundings. I had become a sojourner in a foreign land who learnt what it meant to be a traveller and how to treat fellow travellers in this journey of life.
THINK + TALK
- What is your usual routine in a church service?
- When was the last time you were hospitable to a visitor?
- Who is someone you can show God’s love to this week?