Two days ago we returned from our wonderful vacation in Italy and the Grecian island of Crete. In Italy Clint and I spent a full day touring the Vatican, the Forum, Palatine Hill, the Pantheon, and the Colosseum, and our cell phone health apps registered nine miles of walking one day! On Crete we pursued an itinerary of visiting by boat the island’s most beautiful beaches and swimming in the clearest, bluest water I have ever seen. In both countries we were treated so hospitably by everyone we encountered: hotel, restaurant, and tour staff—all of whom spoke English and made us feel so welcome. Although we always try to learn some basic words like please, thank you, and good morning/evening in the languages of the countries we visit, I always feel a bit of embarrassment that we must rely upon others to speak our language when we go to their countries. I think about all the foreigners who come here and must navigate our country without the same kind of language hospitality. Indeed, it is such a privilege to be a native speaker of the international language, English! It’s a privilege Clint and I try never to expect or take for granted. In short, we are humbled by the hospitality consistently shown to us in our travels—and even for the three years when we resided in Germany.
While on vacation, we marveled at how generous everyone was to us, everywhere we went. Each night restaurant owners treated us to free desserts and raki, the ubiquitous Greek liquor, and even free wine in some places. Many took time to chat with us and wanted to know us better. I mused to Clint and my sister, with whom we traveled, that hospitality is such a high value in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, no doubt influenced by the holy scriptures of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In desert cultures especially, there have always been codes of hospitality: A resident was expected to offer it to a stranger who wandered in their midst. In fact, a stranger was seen to be one sent to a resident by God, and a resident’s failure to provide food and amenities for the stranger was seen as a hostile act. I think about Psalm 23 and the image of God’s abundant provision for (an albeit imperfect) David in the midst of enemies, the image of how God generously pours oil on David’s head in the hot dusty climate. God always shows humankind such abundant hospitality and grace, and we are called into God’s image—something the folks who hosted us in Italy and Greece must have deeply known, because they blessed us with godly generosity. The deep challenge for us is to do the same for the immigrant and the stranger, the visitor in our midst—to bless them with hospitality, endeavoring to speak their language, seeing to their needs, and connecting them to the culture. May we be aware of our great privilege both abroad and at home and extend godly hospitality to the ones who come here.
Grace and Peace,