Meeting in the Middle
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
(Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV)
As Christians we have all been redeemed, and freed from slavery, and certain death because of our sin; our own personal Egypt. Knowing what God has done for us, we are called to love strangers. In our American society, where it’s so easy to become isolated from everyone around us, loving the stranger is tainted with fear, and even seen foolish. Hosting asylum seekers is the very picture of doing what God calls His people to do, to love the sojourner, and treat them like family. In this blog, I sit down with a couple very familiar with hosting, Stephen and Tiffanie, to discuss what this looks like. – Elizabeth Jackson
Meeting in the Middle
An Interview of Stephen and Tiffanie
Why did you guys decide to host? Why do you host?
Stephen: Why do we host… So, at its simplest, the Bible says to welcome the stranger, and so that’s our way of doing that. We really don’t know a way to do that more, or do that more fully, or do that to a greater extent than to say, “be part of our home; be a part of our lives.” That’s as deep as you can get, living in our home, interacting with us, and being a part of our family.
Tiffanie: We host because God asks us to. All through scripture we see the loving the strangers, inviting in the outcast, feeding the sojourner, and clothing the refugee… We are even called strangers ourselves. Everything we have is not ours, but God’s, given to us to use for His glory. We want to live lives of obedience, and for us, that has looked like opening our home to the least of these, and to friends; to our neighbors. I did not grow up in a home where we hosted much at all, so I have only the Lord to point to when I think about the desire in my heart to host.
What has God taught you through hosting?
Tiffanie: God has taught us so so much through hosting. We think of hosting as “helping someone out,” but we too are being helped… helped to see our idols, helped to see our need, and our own lack, helped to better grasp God’s definition of community, and helped to deeper trust His sovereignty and good plan. I have been faced with my selfishness, with battling through cultural differences and with understanding how much our home cultures influence our thoughts, our way of doing things, and even with our interpretations of the Gospel. We have learned that hospitality is more than just opening your door and serving a meal; it’s primarily the state of your heart.
Stephen: Oh… (God has taught me) that I am a wicked sinner! There is a difference between hosting believers, and non-believers. Both come with a lot of challenges. With hosting people that are believers there is an aspect of this deep unity in Christ, (we’re really one) and that makes some things easier, and some things, way, way, harder, for whatever reason. I’m not sure why. I think it could be because we just have weirder expectations with believers. You expect more automatically. I don’t know why, but we do. We hold them to higher standards, (at least I do). We’ve learned that even in interacting with believers, we carry in all of these presuppositions with how they should behave… And we have different standards for sin and how to interact, which is weird. You have to work through those, and get rid of them as much as possible. (We should give the same amount of grace and forgiveness to all people.)
We’ve learned, and are continuing to learn, how crucial, how difficult it is to be at peace with people, and how sweet it is when you are. When there is sin, or unmet expectations, figure out how to deal with that. Sin needs to be confronted, and forgiven, like Jesus, who offers forgiveness of sin, and so we need to do that to. But for that to happen, you have to confront and reconcile, and it’s a hard process that we’ve been learning over the years.
What has God taught you in hosting people from other cultures?
Stephen: Even when this person is a sojourner, and had all of this trauma, and had all of these reasons for me to be sympathetic to, I am still, a wicked sinner. People are going to get on your nerves; things will bother you. But it is so cool to be confronted with your own sin, and own cultural towers that you hold dear, that other people don’t. Then you get to see that’s just me, as an American, doing this or that, like using utensils to eat; I couldn’t fathom not doing that before. If you have an Ethiopian, Sudanese or Iranian person in your home, then they are going to eat with their hands. And if they are going to make meals, then they expect you to eat with your hands. And if you eat with a fork, then you’re going to offend them.
Tiffanie: And so cultural things that we prize as being respectful at the table to be polite are challenged; your culture is challenged. So then, your idolatresses are challenged. That’s when you have to choose is this just a cultural thing, or is this a sinful thing?
Stephen: There are parts of every culture that are good, or neutral, and some that are bad. Americans embrace our good, our neutral, and our bad, while someone from the Sudan, or the Congo or wherever, have their own versions of those things that all get in the mix. We’ve learned a lot about being able to quickly recognize those little cultural clues that other people have going on, and trying to figure out how adapt to those. I think it’s a good thing for everyone to learn, and it’s fun to learn different languages. Our kids loved hosting people from other cultures, learning a new word, learning funny words, just be able to communicate. They love trying different food! It’s exotic, it isn’t like, “go eat your brussels sprouts. It’s, eat your foo foo,” which is this weird dough with yogurt and chili powder, which sounds weird, but I’m gonna try it. So that’s been fun watching our kids embrace these other cultures.
What has been hard about hosting?
Tiffanie: Hosting is wonderful and beautiful and can be such a glorious picture of God and his love for us. But it’s not easy. It always requires sacrifice and compromise… of time, style, comfort etc. It’s difficult because it really does bring out our sin, and reveal the idols in our hearts. When children are involved, you not only battle your own, but also the idols that they hold on to, and you are faced with teaching them about selflessness and compromise in situations you wouldn’t otherwise face. One of the most difficult things is that you just can’t ever predict what the struggles will be. And when you work through them, the next time you host all new struggles are presented. It can be emotionally and even physically draining if you aren’t steadfast in the strength of the Lord.
Stephen: Giving up your space is hard. Logistics get hard, just different ways of doing things. One person who cooks might pull out everything and use every pot, and another might use one, wash it, and use it again, and so on. Getting used to how other people do things is the hardest while being careful not to press your certain way on them. Recognize that if you are hosting someone, in some sense, this is their home. At least for us, that often means we meet in the middle, we are going to blend our ways of doing things. That is harder than saying, “My way or the highway,” but it makes us submit in humility to the situation to be equal participants; coming together. We aren’t saying that you need to come all the way here. That is the hardest thing. You’re meeting, you’re blending, and you’re joining, in some ways, multiple families, and that is tough.
What would you tell someone who is considering hosting?
Stephen: Just do it. Don’t worry about reasons to not do it, think about the reasons to do it. Sometimes we have practical reasons not to do it. But most of the time we are sensationalizing those practical things as a reason to not do it, or making them bigger than they are, to not obey the Spirit, or not to obey God’s word.
As humans we try to find ways to not do hard things. But the hard things are usually the very best things, the profitable things. We can’t go into those hard things without being willing to look at our hopes.
Just do it, but do it knowing that you will be confronted with the reality of your heart, and you need to respond to the Lord when you are reviewing those things.
(Tell people what) you expect, or else you just watch in frustration until you are willing to say something. Anytime there is a problem, address it; you shouldn’t tolerate it until you can’t tolerate it anymore. And you shouldn’t get all hot and bothered and have a terrible confrontation. If you need to have a conversation about what is wrong, the sooner, the better. Most of the time, it is just a simple misunderstanding. People want to do a good job and don’t want to rock the boat; they don’t want to offend you. We spend a lot of time in our relationships avoiding conflict, letting sin grow, letting it fester, because we fear it (confrontation) could go wrong. But we need to do that. As believers, sometimes we let our friends sin, and don’t do anything about it. Sometimes we let people live in sin, big sin, and little sin. Sometimes God gives us the grace to forgive them, or we let ourselves become calloused, and let them continue sinning, because we don’t want to challenge the relationship, because it might go wrong. In hosting, you cannot escape. You have to deal with it. So it teaches you a lot about what we should already be doing in relationships, but we don’t, because we can get away. But when you’re hosting, it isn’t possible.
Tiffanie: Hosting is not easy… but then again… what in life is? Hosting is good. It’s a blessing for those you welcome in, it’s good for us and we gain new insights into what it means to be in the world and not of it, and it’s good for the body (the church) to see and be a part of. It’s difficult and challenging, and you will be faced with your sin and theirs. There will even be difficulty in the words and advice of your community, but it’s refining, and through it you will have much gain. Keep your eyes always on Jesus, love washes over a multitude of sin and faith a mountain of pain. Let the Lord work.