The best hospitality I ever received was not comfortable. In fact it was extremely uncomfortable.
It was during short-term outreach with YWAM in Tokyo, where I spent over a month sleeping on the floor of a small Japanese bedroom. I had the middle sleeping bag of five that were lined up like a tin of sardines, taking every square inch of floor space.
This bedroom also functioned as the place where our group often ate meals or squeezed in during our free time. Those of us for whom it was also a bedroom took to stuffing our pillows into our suitcases during the day so that others didn’t come in and rest suspiciously smelling feet on them…
But this was the room of a 12-year old girl who had given it up completely to live, sleep and eat downstairs in a modest sized living room alongside her parents, who had also given up their room to the couple that led our team. In addition, three more sleeping-bagged girls occupied their spare box room.
So all in all, this missionary couple and their adopted daughter had an extra 10 people take over the entire top floor of their very compact house.
Unsurprisingly, at times they lost patience with us. They had to deal with an extra nine women and one man using their bathroom every morning and evening (plus occasionally letting the seven guys that slept in a draughty church round the corner have a shower too), and sometimes we would cook for the whole group of 17 on the one burner in the kitchen– a space which was too small to fit any sort of table.
Our group’s ten different nationalities of cultural norms to accommodate, plus too much long hair stuck in the plughole and crumbs lingering in the toaster oven understandably resulted in a few confrontations. Several years later, I’m still amazed at their sacrifice.
As one of the very first missionaries, Paul supported himself in his ministry (Acts 20:34) but also relied on the hospitality of strangers. In Acts 28 we read about several instances of hospitality shown to him:
Acts 28:2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.
Acts 28:7 There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days.
Acts 28:14 There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. (Read the whole chapter here.)
It is often surprising to find out who are the most hospitable people. Some of those that welcomed Paul and those with him did not know him, were not yet saved and were even suspicious of him (28:4).
At the end of this chapter, when Paul returns to Rome he eventually gets to live alone. It can’t have been easy relying on God to provide hospitality through strangers during his travels.
I didn’t find my tiny experience of mission in Tokyo easy. I had thought I was someone that didn’t need much time alone, but living in such constant close proximity to people meant that the shower became almost a sacred space – I thanked God profusely for hot water (it was winter, there was no central heating and only paper thin walls) and for the small amount of privacy it allowed. I felt so much more gratefulness for everyday things.
However, although cramped and awkward, it was certainly much more uncomfortable for our hosts than it was for us.
They didn’t appear to be the best set up to give support – they were long-term missionaries who had been in Japan for years, self-supporting as well as reliant on others themselves. Looking back, I feel slightly embarrassed to think of us as a bunch of rowdy upstarts hoping we could make a difference in a month or so, whilst they’d been patiently working there for years.
But despite our mess, noise and arrogance, they generously offered what resources they had with open hands.