Ashley Coleman, Adult Education Coordinator for the Nashville International Center for Empowerment, discusses the importance of supporting immigrants learning and becoming knowledgeable of their communities.
Reflecting on hospitality, relationship, and community.
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."
"What happens when we offer hospitality? We invite someone into a space that offers safety and shelter and put our own needs aside, as everything is focused on the comfort and refreshment of the guest...At its simplest, hospitality is the gift of space, both physical and spiritual...[It] is not to be taken lightly."
~ Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening
We frequently conceive of hospitality as favors or work that we do for strangers in their time of need. In reality, hospitality is a grace that we provide because we understand that, as human beings, we are all at times in need. We give because we also have been and will be given to. Hospitality is a “Yes” to the recognition that, in this moment, one or more in our community may need welcome, support, and comfort in a particular way, and I have the honor of being gifted to assist. And at some point, in some way, that person in need will be me.
Maybe we were the parent struggling with groceries and two toddlers, and a stranger in the supermarket offered to help with the groceries so that we could wrangle the children. Possibly we were walking from the bus stop to our home in the wind or rain, and were offered a ride in the warmth and dry of a car from a compassionate spirit. Perhaps were standing in the line at the post office and someone ahead of us caught our weary, exhausted expression and posture, offered a genuine smile and query of, "How are you today?"
Or, as we experience in the TIRRC video, hospitality can be the opportunity to participate in the literal making of room and space, and providing resources and support for those in our communities who are seeking to discover their way in a new place.
Hospitalities can be small or large, and their gift is not what we do for others, but that we accept the invitation to step outside of ourselves and stand with another person in how they are experiencing or impacted by the world. We cannot be hospitable solely from our viewpoint, but must continually seek to grow in knowledge and understanding beyond ourselves. Otherwise, we miss that our community happens with all of us together—our stories, our experiences, our lives, and our mutual caring.
God, thank you for helping me to hear your call to show up and stand with others. For helping me to see your life, beauty, and strength in others. For enabling me see to myself in others, and others in me. Bless us to love, encourage, and embrace one another as you do each of us. Amen.
Taking action in light of TIRRC's Ashley Coleman discussion on the importance and supporting immigrants and refugees in learning and becoming knowledgeable of their communities.
1) Be proactive, intentional, and consistent. Hospitality in any faith is about opening and holding the possibility for a greater relationship with others in God--it is a beginning or an entry way. However, we tend to view it as showing up in times of need or crisis, and then vanishing when the need or crisis appears to have abated. There may well be times when we are not led to sustain relationship beyond a particular interaction, but God's intention is that we seek and connect with one another--to love our neighbors as ourselves means relationships.
2) Offer what support you are able to local communities, organizations, and groups which support those who, for whatever their reasons may be, have sojourned to live in your community. It may be becoming an active member, or volunteering or fundraising for the group, or you may be the person who inspires beautiful acts of solidarity in times of need.
3) If you are not already familiar (or just to refresh yourself), do a web search on your city or community's demographics. Are there smaller communities of people within the greater community who might benefit from greater support? if you would like to volunteer, search and connect with any spaces of faith or organizations in your area already engaged. Joining with and learning from and with people already in relationship what's already going on can reduce the awkwardness of just approaching a stranger. These are also great spaces to ask, "What's needed?" It is likely that we will hear our call out of identified needs, rather than having to come up with something that we hope helps.
4) Be a neighbor! Even if our immediate purpose is to provide assistance, we are helping other human beings who have gifts and blessings of their own. This is called an asset-based perspective and process--viewing one another in the giftedness God has provided us allows us to exist and engage together in the full complexities of our identities, rather than one person being viewed as needy/problematic, and the other the giver/problem-solver. Spaces that provide meals for the hungry or clothing for those in need of clothing, for example, would do well to open and offer for those receiving services to volunteer and help with planning. Not surprisingly, we are the best experts on what we need, and so are best able to speak to that.
5) Seek to sustain relationship! While we are in need of help and when help no is longer, we remain always human beings in need of relationships. We need love and connection in addition to resources. Be prayerful and be determined that we can do only what we are able to do, and be present in relationship. When we are consistently in relationship and present with one another, we communicate that we love and support one another, and that we will not permit harm or attack against any of us. Sustained relationships can actually lessen and even prevent further harm down the road, as well as help us to more immediately understand and address needs.
6) Ask and seek to live into the answers of the "justice questions": What are the factual and historical issues creating and feeding into the issue at hand, and what needs to occur to bring about God's just community? What may I or we be doing that is unknowingly enabling or sustaining the issue, and what may we need to do to change this? How are we living into the reality that genuine community must continually shift to include the fullness and gifts of new persons who seek to participate and be included? Dorian Burton and Brian C.B. Barnes have penned a beautiful and powerful article on understanding the differences and impacts between charity and justice for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and the importance of focusing beyond acts of charity and ensuring that we are seeking God's just community with one another.