During our ten week long research-based sabbatical we – Phil and Rachel Bowyer – as the co-founders and co-leaders of Soul Action in South Africa, have experienced the most amazing examples of hospitality in action. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘hospitality’ as ‘…the friendly and generous reception of guests, visitors or strangers.’ That has certainly been our experience in Europe, the US, the Middle East and Australasia.We were ‘strangers’ to so many of the schools we have visited – but through a shared passion to provide quality education – we have become so much more like friends in the pursuit of a common goal. The leaders and staff at the preschools and schools have welcomed us into their spaces, allowed us to observe their lessons, speak to students, explore the environment, and have set aside time to dialogue, whilst providing hot drinks and delicious local delicacies.
In visiting schools, I (Rachel) would often ask principals / directors the question: ‘if you could recommend one book, what would it be?’ Well – never expecting the response that I would get – we have been so overwhelmed by people’s generosity, as they not only recommend one, sometimes two books, but reach across to their shelf, pull out a copy, and hand it to Phil and I to take away with us. We have been so blessed, that we’ve return home with one suitcase full of books, which means lots of reading material that is going to support us as we continue this journey towards establishing a school here in Durban.
So many people have bought us drinks and cooked, paid for or shared meals with us – all over the world – from cappuccinos in Brisbane and London, to home-cooked curries in New York and Chinese in Blenheim, breakfast barbies and sunset picnics in the Gold Coast, pancakes in Princeton and Nottingham, burgers and fish pie in Cotgrave, fish and chips in Bradford and Sydney, chicken and dips in London, and multiple meals in Washington and Stoke.
People have generously given us lifts from and to airports, bus, coach and train stations.Then there are the people who have shared their homes – from our families in the UK, to friends in Australia and New Zealand, who welcomed us into their families and shared their lives with us for a few days. Friends in London even moved out of their flat for a week, so we could spend time with Zac. Then there is the total strangers who choose to open their homes, believing that whatever they have is actually God’s – they just get to steward it and share.
Through all of this I have been challenged to consider how hospitable I am. Do I really practice hospitality with visitors and strangers? Do people really feel welcomed – halfway through the trip Phil started to use the word ‘received’ as welcomed didn’t do justice to what we were experiencing. Are people heard, understood and seen when they visit us? I feel compelled – in a positive way – to tweak my thoughts, and behaviour, to be more in line with what I have experienced throughout the world, and with how God would want me to be.In Luke 6 Jesus instructs his disciples to find men and women of peace whenever they travel, and to, ‘Stay at the same house, eating and drinking whatever you are offered.’What does practicing hospitality for guests, visitors and strangers practically mean for you?