Monday, September 28, 2009

Encountering Christ in the Stranger

So I have been on paternity leave the past two weeks to be with my wife and our second son, Kai, at home. It was a wonderful chance to be with family and to see how our first son, Micah, continues to adjust to this change in his life. However, something also happened while I was on paternity leave that I wanted to share with you all.

Last Wednesday, Stacy and I went to Target to fill a prescription for eye drops to clear out Kai's tear ducts and as we were leaving we saw something that I had yet to see in Winona in my 3 months here. There was someone on the corner holding a sign. We couldn't read it until we passed by and it read: "Traveling Need Food & Money." Well we don't have cash and we had a full car with two car seats and so we headed home. However, I have been really thinking about what it means to live into the life of a disciple and so as we drove home, I told Stacy that I was going to go back with my car and take the young man out for something to eat if he wanted.

Well I drove back to Target and the young man was still there, I motioned him over and asked if he wanted to go get something to eat and he excitedly said "yeah." So we were off. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Dan. I asked him what he wanted to eat and he said he didn't care he liked all fast food, to which I said that it was my treat and he could have anything and so we headed downtown for some asian cuisine. We started to talk and I found out he was traveling from Massachusetts to California and he mentioned he was traveling with 5 others. So I asked where they were and he said over in the Wal-Mart parking lot flying signs and so I said lets go get them. So we headed off and I said why don't you all come over to our place for supper and so the journey began.

The whole group was traveling from a "Rainbow" gathering in Massachusetts and were heading to California. All of them were from the ages of 19-23 and were stuffed into two vehicles. We ended up having a great time together as we headed to the grocery store to pick out some food for supper (we had grilled pork chops, mashed potatoes, and fresh fruit---strawberries, grapes, and pineapple) and then came back and got everything ready. I got to hear some interesting stories of their travels and how they approached the weird looks they get from time-to-time since they don't fit the societal norm. As we gathered around the table I shared with them that in a sermon on Labor Day weekend I had given each household in the congregation a loaf of bread and challenged them to use it to practice hospitality and enter into the life of another person and that this was one of the ways that our family was responding to that challenge. So we had taken the loaf of bread out of the freezer and unthawed it and to begin the meal we broke the bread and passed it around the table and I shared with them how as a Christian I understand that Christ invites us into the life of discipleship and part of that journey is gathering around Christ's table and I recounted to them the events of the Last Supper and then we invited them to dig in. We had a great time hearing some of their stories, hearing about their families, and just being in fellowship and communion with one another. Micah enjoyed "his visitors" (as he called them) and they were wonderful to him. As we finished the meal we hung out some more and I invited them to spend the night to which they said they were going to stay at Latch Island and so I said they were welcome to stay the next night if they were still around and that we could watch a movie. Plans were made.

Well the next day I ran over to the church and shared with David about the group I was entertaining at our house and wondering if the church would be willing to help me out by giving some money for bibles and some money for gas and food as they continue the journey. The church gave some money and I headed off to get some cards and bibles to give to our new friends. I spent the afternoon running to Rochester to find a Bible translation that used more everyday language of today (which I ended up getting the Poverty and Justice Bible which looked intriguing and connected with some of the things they cared about that I had picked up via our conversations) and then came back. I wrote each of our friends a letter sharing how I was thankful for the chance to meet them and how I wished them the best in their travels and why I was sharing with them this bible for them to take and then included some money for each to have. That evening we sat around the table to have some left-overs (we had made enough for 2 meals the night before) and continued our conversations and then at the end of the meal I shared with them how the Christ had reached out to me through the church when I was a teenager in need and why I was grateful for the opportunity to meet them and how what we were doing was in response to the love God had shown us through others. Hugs went around, etc. and then we went up and watched the movie "Saved" and had a great conversation afterwords. Cletus and Whitney spent the night at our place and the other four headed back to latch island.

Friday, they came to pick up Micah with me from school (something he had wanted them to do), but they arrived late. Micah didn't seem to mind and we talked some more and they let me know that they still planned to be in town on Sunday and so we talked about going to church together and so plans were made. They came to church and the church was very welcoming and extended hospitality out to them (which warmed my heart). We made plans for them to stop by our house on their way out and they did and we said goodbye, wished them well, and invited them back at anytime that they may be coming through again.

So why do I share this story? I share this story because Dan, Sean, Samantha, Seth, Cletus, and Whitney helped Stacy and I to begin to practice our hospitality. They helped us learn a little of what it means to be Christ in the world around us. They helped us to step into our life of discipleship. Did I convert a soul? No, and that was not my goal in practicing hospitality. We saw someone in need and wanted to show them that we cared and more importantly that God cared. We wanted to show them that Christ cared for them and loved them no matter how different their life was from what society expected. They helped us to take that first scary step of inviting a stranger into your home and Stacy and I were blessed by their presence and we hope to continue this practice with those who live in our community.

Seth, who is a Christian, took me aside that first night and said, "I just want you to know that I am so thankful for what you are doing. I have been telling them that their our Christians out there like you and this has helped them see it." I said thank you, but also responded by saying that Stacy and I are just trying our best to show other the love that God had first shown us.

They weren't perfect. They live life differently then many of us would. They smoke pot. They have been arrested.

BUT......They are God's Children too and nothing they have done negates the fact that they deserve to be treated just the same as we would treat our parents, siblings, or own children.

They helped me to understand that deeper. They put flesh and real stories to those intellectual realities I head in my mind and heart.

They became our friends. Stacy and I will continue to hold in our prayers each of them and trust that God will continue to work through others that they might meet.

From Left to Right: Cletus, Seth, Dan, Me, Samantha, Sean, Whitney


  1. Awesome. You're certainly living out St. Benedict's Rule ... "Let all guests that come to the monastery be received as Christ. For, one day , he will say: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me."

  2. Awesome. I believe in hospitality (and practice it sometimes) but have yet to give up a weekend to entertain and converse with strangers. Bold and challenging.