It was a beautiful Sabbath morning in a rural country church in Victoria, Australia. I was at the door handing out church bulletins when I spotted a ute (utility vehicle) with three passengers inside. I’d never seen them before. It was their first time visiting us, and it was exciting to have visitors from the community.
Our family had just moved into this district, ministering to two country churches. On this particular Sabbath, my husband was away preaching at his other church, while I was on duty welcoming people at this church.
These visitors got out of their car—a father and his two children, a 14-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy. Then they made their way to the front door of the church.
I greeted them with my usual enthusiastic Latino smile and handshake. We chatted for a little while in the foyer. As I tried to make them feel comfortable in our little church, I was praying and hoping that what we had prepared for the day would be a blessing to them.
I led them to their designated Sabbath School rooms. One of the Sabbath School teachers on duty forgot her program at home, so she had to improvise with what she had in the room. The adult lesson went too long and off topic. Not a good first impression for our visitors. To make things worse, the preacher scheduled for that day was unable to come due to a car failure on his way to church.
Can anything else go wrong? I wondered. Is there anything I can do to rescue their first visit to our church?
None of the elders or deacons were prepared to take the pulpit. The only thing left to do was to play a prerecorded sermon from a video. As I witnessed their reaction to the whole scenario, I prayed that somehow we could mellow down that first impression with some positive experiences. Then I thought of a plan—or should I say the Holy Spirit impressed me with a plan? Invite them for lunch! If you ever need to rescue a day for your firsttime visitors, food is the solution.
I had a simple meal prepared—nachos. It’s a meal that’s easy to make, super yummy and cheap, and it goes a long way when we cater to a lot of people. My husband arrived just in time to share the meal with our visitors. We chatted and shared the whole afternoon. His kids and ours got along very well. Yet after we said goodbye that evening, I thought we would never see them again at church after such an eventful Sabbath morning experience.
But God is good, and He gave us many more opportunities with this beautiful family. Not only did they start attending church regularly and ask to be involved in church life, but they also expressed a desire to have Bible studies with the intention of becoming part of the Adventist church family. The man’s wife, who was a Christian from another denomination, was transformed in her beliefs by the study of God’s Word.
Two years later we received a call to move to another conference. The church organized a farewell dinner party for us. At this time we made an incredible discovery. This gentleman shared a powerful story. He asked, “Do you remember the first time we visited this church?”
“How can I forget?” I laughed.
He went on to reveal that that Sabbath was to be the day he would bring his kids to the church that they would never set foot in again. You see, this man was raised in a very rigid and strict Seventh-day Adventist home. At the age of 16, he left church and God for good, or so he thought. Thirty-five years later, after his son asked him to show him the church that they would never attend, they came to our little church.
Unbeknown to us, this eventful Sabbath, when everything went wrong, would become the deciding factor for their coming back to church. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, those nachos in our home made a difference in their lives. The whole family was baptized, and since then, they have been active members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Kindness through hospitality has proven to be one of the most effective methods of evangelism. We find this practice throughout the Bible:
• Mary and Martha preparing a meal for Jesus: Luke 10:38-42.
• Abraham serving three heavenly beings: Genesis 18:1-10.
• Lot hosting the heavenly strangers: Genesis 19:1-29.
• Manoah receiving the angel of the Lord: Judges 13:15.
• The widow of Zarephath caring for Elijah despite her poverty: 1 Kings 17:7-16.
• A Shunammite woman providing for Elisha: 2 Kings 4:8-10.
• Jesus eating at Zacchaeus’ house: Luke 19:1-10.
• Jesus dining with two disciples in Emmaus: Luke 24:13-35.
• Jesus feeding His disciples by the seaside: John 21:1-14.
• Paul welcomed at the home of Lydia: Acts 16:11-15.
Most of us, when we think of hospitality, instantly think of the external things we can observe: how clean the house is, how delicious and mouthwatering the food is, how elegantly the table is decorated with fancy china and candles, and how politely our children behave while we have company. But the Bible has a different view of this important tool of evangelism.
It doesn’t mean that we don’t pay attention to the external needs—a clean house, food, and presentation. These are a part of hospitality, but not the vital one. In the Bible, hospitality is a means to an end. In other words, the food and the house are only factors to fulfill our ultimate aim—to introduce people to the Savior.
Opening the doors of our home in hospitality is a means of inviting people into our lives, our experience, our faith, and eventually our church. Simply sharing a humble meal with others around our table will give us the opportunity to share with them the Bread of Life.
All the details of hospitality that we get so caught up with are but the background of a greater story that takes place the moment we invite others into our homes. Let us notice the counsel of the apostle Paul: “He must be hospitable, one who loves what is good” (Titus 1:8, NIV) and “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2, NIV).