Seventeen new friends came to our church hall last night. They had flown all the way from Germany to visit Texas (and Louisiana too but we claim them now). They are part of a group that is visiting Texas to compare our agricultural system to theirs. They are touring farms and ranches, looking at animals and crops being grown, and driving over the miles of roads that separate these facilities and lands.
Last night we had a welcoming dinner at our church hall to welcome them to our town. Our men grilled chicken and beef and everyone else brought dishes to go with the meat. It always works out well when we have these potluck dinners. There always seems to be just the right number of vegetables and salads and desserts. I have never seen it happen that everyone brings a dessert and no one brings other things needed. It seems that people just sense what is needed to go with the main course. I prepared German Potato Salad, hoping that one of the German people would compliment me on it and tell me that it tasted just like their Oma made but they ate it along with the rest of the food and smiled and talked and seemed happy. My wife made a Texas Sheet Cake and it also was eaten along with happy chatter.
Welcoming strangers and extending hospitality to others has a long history in the Biblical record. Abraham and Sarah did it for three strangers who happened to stop by their tent on their sojourn across the desert. The disciples did it for a stranger that turned out to be the Risen Christ who revealed himself in the breaking of bread as they prepared to eat. Something mystical happens when people eat together. A bond forms that unites their spirits even as they break bread and drink wine and share stories. Strangers become friends right before the eyes of everyone present.
Doris and I last visited Germany in 2009. I was on sabbatical for a month and we stayed around Germany most of that time looking here and there and learning a lot about the country of my wife's ancestors which is also the country of the ancestors of many of my church members. One day we took a train ride from Freiburg where we were staying to a smaller town that is about 10 miles north of there. I had made contact with a pastor of a German Lutheran Church in that city before leaving home and he said we should stop in to see him when we were in the area so we did. I sent him an email and told him the day we would be there and he sent back a note telling us how to recognize him when we got off the train. Sure enough, when we descended the steps of the train, there was Hans standing there wearing a UCC comma pin on his lapel, just as he said he would be doing.
Hans took us to his church in his small vehicle and we met his co-pastor Wolfgang and had coffee and cookies. Then, he drove us to the school where he teaches a class as part of his pastoral duties (remember there is no separation of church and state in Germany so pastors can teach in schools as well as do other things) and we met some of his students who quizzed us about being Americans. Then, we had lunch at a very nice restaurant and they refused to let us pay for our meals. Then, Hans led us up a bell tower for a great view around the area so we could see the vineyard that his in-laws own as well as the rest of the area. Finally, Hans drove us around town to see the area and stopped at his house where his wife had prepared a cake and coffee and we met his three sons and enjoyed their incredible hospitality. Hans had to leave for a church meeting so his wife drove us to the train station so we could catch our train back to Freiburg to where we were staying.
We invited Hans and his family to come see us in Texas someday and they said that would be wonderful but it was doubtful that they could. Plane fares for a family of five is very expensive and traveling as we had was not something they could presently afford. So, we are not able to repay their extravagant hospitality that they had shown to us. But.....we can repay them by showing that same hospitality to others who come in our presence. Some may be visitors such as our German friends whom we cooked for and tried to made them feel welcome in our town. Some may be people we bump into during our daily routine and we take the time to do something for them even though we thought we were too busy to be interrupted. Some may be folks who say they are down on their luck and they need our assistance and we give it even though we wonder if we are being rooked. Hospitality is given where it is needed and at times when it may not be convenient for us to give it. Who knows if our German friend Hans set aside a day to show us his extreme hospitality or if he purposely rearranged his day and put other things on hold just so he could be with us instead? I will never know but he and his family and co-worker made a great impression on me and my wife on that day.
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2)