“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” (Hebrews 13:2, NLT)
May 21, 2020 was an unusually significant day on the calendar this year, for at least two reasons.
On a personal level, May 21 was the 100th anniversary of my mother’s birthday. Emma Geraldine Osborne Williams, better known to her friends and neighbors as “Gerry,” was born on May 21, 1920 in Sedley, Virginia, and died on October 7, 2014 in Canton, Ohio. Her 94 years on planet earth were very full, to say the least.
Following their wedding in 1943, she and my father, John Williams, served the Lord faithfully throughout their 71-year partnership in marriage and ministry, which included missionary service in China, pastoral leadership in the United States, and compassionate care for a multitude of students and faculty on the Christian college campus. But her core calling was never in doubt for those who knew her best. As a mother of 7, grandmother of 25, great-grandmother of 29 and foster mother for more than 60 other children, it would be a gross understatement to say that Mom was blessed with the gift of hospitality. The woman was a living, breathing welcome wagon. Her life’s mission was to create a warm, safe and inviting space where family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and complete strangers would feel at home, and in the midst of such a nurturing environment, offer a compelling invitation to make themselves at home with their heavenly Father as well (cf. Jn 14:23). I don’t think it is an exaggeration to suggest that my mother may have proclaimed the gospel more powerfully to more people through her ministry of hospitality than most preachers ever do through a lifetime of sermons from the pulpit.
As I mentioned earlier, however, there are at least two reasons that May 21 was especially significant this year. For those like my mother who have devoted their lives to loving and serving our Lord Jesus Christ, May 21 was also Ascension Day. On this 40th day of the Easter season, we were reminded that it was 40 days after his resurrection that Jesus gathered with his disciples one last time before returning to the right hand of the Father (cf. Ac 1:1-11).
Each of the synoptic gospels provide a unique perspective on this event, of course, but they all agree on one thing: Jesus’ final words to his disciples immediately before his ascension incorporated a clear command to “go” and bear faithful witness to the message of the gospel to all people at all times and in all places (cf. Mt 28:16-20; Mk 16:14-20; Lk 24:36-53). In other words, like my mother, every faithful friend of Jesus is called to cultivate warm, safe and hospitable spaces where our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and complete strangers, both near and far, are invited to make themselves at home, not just with us, but with the Holy Family of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In our efforts to follow in the footsteps of Christ and our early Christian forebearers, we would do well to remember that our Father’s house is not only intended to be a “house of prayer” (cf. Lk 19:36), but a “house of hospitality” as well (cf. Mt 9:10-11; Lk 19:5; Ac 28:7; Rm 12:13; Rm 16:23; 1 Tim 5:10; 1 Pet 4:9; 3 Jn 1:8; Rev 3:20).
This is the primary motivation behind our theme for this year’s Ministry Conference: “Entertaining Angels: Walking in the Way of Hospitality” (cf. Heb 13:2). With the help of our guest speaker, Dan Kimball, and through warm and prayerful conversations with one another, we will seek to discern the good, pleasing and perfect will of God for EFC-MAYM in the coming days, especially as it relates to our collective ministry of hospitality. More details will be coming soon, but please make plans now to join us during the last weekend of July for this 149th annual gathering of Evangelical Friends Church-Mid America Yearly Meeting.
As my mom would say, “We are saving a place for you at our table!”