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Hospitality and the Courage to Enter In

June 17, 2024

Bethany Colas

In the spring of 2016, I picked up a book I’d been putting off for more than a year. A few months prior, my husband and I, with our three young kids, had made a midwinter move from Connecticut to upstate New York. Moving midwinter is a lonely endeavor. Most people hunker down in their homes for the season, and families with school-aged kids have transitioned from new-school-year energy to the comfortable lull of familiar routines. There isn’t much momentum to carry newcomers into community, and the feeling of being strangers and sojourners in that new place was acute. 

It seemed counterintuitive to choose that moment, while feeling the loss of home, to pick up Christine Pohl’s Making Room—a compelling petition for Christians to practice hospitality with the same radical generosity as the early church. I’d been putting off reading the book because I sensed it would uncomfortably challenge how I understood hospitality and saw the people around me. 

And I was right—Pohl describes the foundation of hospitality as recognizing the inherent dignity and worth of everyone we meet, welcoming the stranger and giving special care to those on the margins. I couldn’t walk my kids to school or check out at the grocery store without seeing the humanity of the people I encountered, each one holding untold stories of joy and sorrow and bearing the image of our infinitely beautiful God. 

Perhaps as a stranger desiring welcome and already in the midst of change, I felt more open to having my understanding of hospitality revised. Or maybe it was that I’d already begun the process of revision through our friendship with an Iraqi refugee family during our time in Connecticut. 

Six months before we moved to New York, we joined the Cultural Companionship program at the local refugee relocation center. We were soon paired with Fatima and her family who had recently arrived from Iraq. I went to our first meeting assuming I’d be the one extending hospitality, aiding Fatima and her family in navigating this new country and helping them feel settled in their new home. I thought I knew how to invite people into what Pohl describes as “a life-giving and life-sustaining network of relations,” but it turns out, when faced with the obstacle of cultural differences and language barriers, I didn’t know how to offer a welcome that “involves attentive listening and a mutual sharing of lives and life stories.” [1] And yet, over time, Fatima managed to do just that without having a shared language. She gently and unknowingly tutored me in the art of welcome, and I found myself re-formed by her hospitality. 

I’ll never forget the difference between the first meal we shared in our home and the subsequent meals we shared in theirs. I set the table with cloth napkins and the nice dishes, thought carefully about the menu, and made sure the bathroom was clean. I thought that if everything looked warm and inviting, they would naturally feel welcome—but there was a stiffness and awkwardness about the whole evening. 

The first time they had us over, they tried to observe our Western ways—sitting around the table set with plates, napkins, and cutlery, but it was equally as stiff and awkward. From then on, Fatima abandoned the table, and I watched her humanity unfurl as she spread a cloth on the floor, laying it with platters of chicken and rice, plates of cucumbers, and cans of soda as she’d always done. She was open and at ease, and I felt like I was seeing her as she sees herself—a woman harnessing those expressions of humanity that she had artfully mastered, providing a place where people could gather and learn to see each other in the breaking of bread, dignity begetting dignity. 

Pohl says hospitality, especially to strangers, “requires an openness of heart, a willingness to make one’s life visible to others, and a generosity of time and resources.” [2] These were the very qualities Fatima embodied in her expansive practice of hospitality, her courage encouraging me to relax as well. I gradually felt comfortable enough to invite her into our everyday life, having her join me in our kitchen to make a big pot of chicken soup, communicating through gestures and a good deal of laughter, or flipping through family photo albums, chuckling at how young we used to look. 

Months later, as we prepared to move, she invited us to their new apartment for a farewell dinner. The significance of the occasion was revealed in the sharing of a meal usually reserved for those events that mark the pivotal moments of life—graduations, weddings, funerals, births—a meal made for gathering those we love and taking time to share in grief or celebration or a mix of both. 

After a day’s-worth of preparation, Fatima brought out a silver platter, near to overflowing, with layers of flatbread, turmeric-spiced rice, chicken cooked in yogurt sauce, and topped with almonds and pine nuts. With clean hands, we tore thick slices of flatbread and partook of the communal platter. 

After dinner, Fatima taught me how to make Turkish coffee. We ground the cardamom into the already ground beans, scooped the mixture into the long-handled cezve, poured the water over it, and laughed when I added too much sugar, hoping the men wouldn’t notice. Then we perched the pot over the flame on the gas range and waited for the mixture to bubble and foam, the rich, earthy scent of coffee thickening in the air. She showed me how to pour it into the gold-rimmed demitasse cups and we took it out to our husbands. It was, indeed, too sweet, but we drank it all anyway. 

When we said our final goodbyes at the end of the night, Fatima handed me the worn coffee pot and two cups and saucers wrapped carefully in a plastic grocery bag. The generosity of the gift was not lost on me; she had given it out of the few things she’d carried with her into this country, a tangible tie to the home she’d left behind now binding us together. Then she hugged me, emphatically, as if trying to say in that one gesture all we were never able to say with words, infusing comfort and courage in her embrace as we both faced change—I see you. I’m thankful for you. I’ll miss you. We’ll be OK.  

I’d like to say I took all I’d learned from Fatima and opened wide the doors of our new home, welcoming strangers with the same warmth and generosity I’d received. But I did what most people do in winter—try to keep the warmth in by keeping the doors closed. I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but I was afraid of what such a gesture would cost me, especially when we didn’t yet have our own network of life-giving relationships. I worried that I couldn’t rise to the occasion without the resources of an established community to make up for my insufficiencies. But God, in His kindness, provided another new friend to lead me further into a life of hospitality, specifically, a life of hospitality rooted in Christ. 

My neighbor Jill lived two doors down and regularly opened her home to the handful of women in our neighborhood. She offered whatever it was she had on hand; freshly-baked bread, a bottle of grocery store wine, space for us to share in each other’s lives. Jill widened my understanding of what it means to welcome others into our lives as well as our homes and helped me see that to offer life-giving hospitality we must first enter the hospitality Christ offers us: “Make yourselves at home in [M]y love […] that [My] joy might be your joy” [3], His joy being the deep satisfaction of abiding in Him.  

Like Fatima, Jill taught me that while it takes courage to extend hospitality, it also takes courage to enter into it. The ability to receive requires vulnerability and a posture of openness and humility, but the reward of such an exchange is the mutual strengthening of each other’s dignity, becoming fellow partakers of God’s kingdom, reclining together at the table of the One who bears the sweetest fruit that nourishes completely.

[1] Pohl, Christine D. Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999.

[2] Ibid.

[3] John 15:9, 11 (MSG)

The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and is used with her kind permission for Cultivating.


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  1. Oooh, I really love this, Bethany! Hospitality is something I want to cultivate so much, but it’s hard to do where we currently live. Thank you for encouraging me to pursue it, no matter how hard or scary it may be.

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