“If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.” 1 John 4:12b, NKJV
WE WERE NEW to the neighborhood, and as we got to know the neighbor across the street, he shared that he had grown up in an Adventist home. He had hated it! His father was strict and unloving and often beat our neighbor and his siblings as they grew up.
The beatings included lectures; he told his children that they had to be good or God would not save them. There was no example of a loving and merciful God—just rules and sternness.
Jerry and I were so sad that our loving God had been so misrepresented by an unconverted father who had never experienced the love of Jesus.
Our neighbor was married and had two small children. Jerry and I started praying for him to come to know God as a God of love. We also prayed that our neighbor would bring his family to church.
We decided to invite our neighbor and his family over for a late Fridayafternoon dinner. I prepared the only meal that I’m really good at making—haystacks. The true North American Adventist meal! It was fall, so I also bought apples and fresh apple cider. The cider was available only in the fall.
That afternoon I was busy in the kitchen when Jerry said, “Janet, sundown will happen about the time we finish eating. We’ll need to have the beginning of Sabbath worship while our neighbors are here. What should we do?” I said, “Jerry, I have cleaned the house, bought the food, and now I’m preparing it. I think it would be nice if you plan the sundown worship.”
Jerry took our 4-year-old son, Zachary, into the bedroom and told him, “We need to have the beginning of Sabbath worship while the neighbors are here.” He then explained to Zachary the importance of helping this family learn about our loving God. Then Jerry prayed with him.
I later learned that Jerry prayed that God would help our neighbor see that he should begin taking his children to church and that he would realize how important it was to teach his children about Jesus.
Our neighbor came with his little boy. His wife was not feeling well, and she stayed home with their baby. I served my gourmet haystacks and freshly made apple cider. Jerry was enjoying the haystacks with lots of chili beans. Plus, he really loved the apple cider and drank glass after glass of it. Maybe a little too much!
When the meal was over, Sabbath was beginning. Jerry called us all to the living room to have sundown worship. He asked our neighbor if that was OK, and he politely obliged.
Jerry read a Bible story and then asked Zachary to pray. We all knelt down. Zachary’s prayer was the exact words his daddy had prayed with him earlier. “Dear Jesus, You know our neighbor did not have a good religious experience growing up. He needs to know that You are a loving and caring God. He needs to take his children to church so they will be ready to meet Jesus when He comes. Please help him to take his children to church. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
We slid up on our chairs. No one said a word. I was very embarrassed and afraid we had ruined any kind of relationship with him. I looked at Jerry, hoping he would say something to help the situation. His face looked drained, whiter than white. He then excused himself to go to the bathroom. I sat there mortified, not knowing what to say. More silence. It seemed that Jerry was gone a long time.
Finally, our neighbor said, “I think we better go home and see how my wife is doing.” He thanked me for the meal and said to tell Jerry goodbye.
Later, I found out that as Zachary started praying, Jerry was suddenly hit with severe stomach cramping and was desperate for Zachary to finish praying so he could get to the bathroom. Perhaps a mixture of too many beans and too much fresh apple cider can be dangerous!
Jerry felt as if he had really messed up with our neighbor because of Zachary repeating his prayer. To our surprise, however, the very next Sabbath our neighbor brought his family to church, and he continued to do so!
We never know how God will use our children for His kingdom work. The important thing is that we do reach out in love. It is not about having the perfect food or house or words but about loving others. I know I need to earnestly pray for God to teach me how to love my neighbors to Jesus. And even when we make mistakes, God still works!
I pray that the articles about hospitality in this issue will give you some ideas for reaching out!