One of my first encounters with Muslims was when I visited a mosque in New York City with a missions group during the month of Ramadan. We entered the mosque with the purpose of taking a tour and learning more about Islam. However, we were soon invited to join the members of the mosque in breaking fast. The imam took us to a gathering place for prayer and a meal. The women were in one room, and the men in another. After the prayer, we sat down and talked with the ladies. They treated us like family. I was overwhelmed by the amount of hospitality that was shown to us–complete strangers. This shattered all my false assumptions of Muslims that I had gathered from the media, which often times portrays them in an unpleasant light. I have since realized that Muslims are some of the most hospitable and welcoming people. I have also been convicted by how often we as Christians neglect to show hospitality to Muslims. Through the refugee crisis, the American church has a unique opportunity—unlike any other generation before—to engage and learn from their Muslim neighbors, specifically their practice of hospitality.
One of the major problems the American church faces when welcoming refugees is fear of the unknown. Many evangelical Christians have had little to no interaction with Muslims, and their view of Muslims is often created by the media. Unfortunately, many times the media emphasizes the work of radical Muslims and the dangers of allowing refugees into the country. With this image of Muslims being depicted, people often subconsciously develop a fear of welcoming Muslims into their homes. However, experiencing the hospitality from Muslims can break this assumption. The hospitality displayed by many Muslims makes a guest feel like royalty. It is centered around generosity and a people-oriented mindset. Many Muslims are willing to give whatever they have to make a guest feel welcomed and comfortable, even if they do not have much. Muslims tend to be people-oriented as well, which means that they are not overly consumed with time. This makes a guest feel relaxed and not like a burden. Both of these aspects of hospitality make a guest feel welcomed and appreciated.
As Christians, we should be willing to extend a similar hospitality to refugees and use it as an opportunity to display God’s love. The aspects of hospitality seen above can be beneficial to the church, but the church’s hospitality should be distinct from the rest of the world. It should be fueled by the love of Christ and follow His example.
In Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear, Matthew Kaemingk describes that the love of God displayed on the cross is the perfect example of hospitality. He says, “On the cross we witness the opening of God’s very self to the pain and violence of the world.” Hospitality is more than simply inviting others into our homes but inviting people into our lives. Opening up our lives to others, especially strangers, can be hard, messy, and challenging. As Christians, we should delight more in the truth that God extended hospitality to us when we were enemies of Him than care for our earthly desires and comforts. Our relationship with God frees us from the bondage of holding onto the safety and comfort of this world and allows us to open up ourselves to others. This action displays the joy, hope, and love that we have in Christ in a tangible way. In return, it allows others to invite us into their lives to share their burdens, to comfort them, and to rejoice with them.
Before I came to Boyce College, I attended a Christian school in Mobile, AL. During this time, I experienced how hospitality can be the starting point to win people to Christ. I helped with an international student organization, which was located near a secular university. The leaders of the organization often shared how their main ministry was hospitality by simply opening their home to international students. I witnessed how they loved others through inviting them into their lives and making them feel like family, and how this led to sharing the Gospel. On holidays, their home was always filled with internationals from all over the world, and each person there felt loved and accepted. This created an environment of trust where the truth of Christ was shared in love. Those listening were more open because they knew the leaders’ intentions were out of genuine concern for them.
Since I have moved to Louisville, I have continued to experience hospitality from Muslims and see how influential it is in sharing the gospel with them. I tutor children from a refugee family, and every time I go visit them, I am warmly greeted and shown deep appreciation. The mom always cooks a nice meal and serves tea at the end of my visit. Even though I am there to tutor their children, the time never seems rushed or focused on the single goal of tutoring. They are relational and focused on making sure I am comfortable. I have been able to develop a close friendship with the family and getting to visit with them is often one of my highlights of the week.
As Christians, we are able to create communities founded on the love of Christ, and this looks radically different than anything the world has to offer. We can offer pure and unconditional love to others because we have experienced the love of Christ. Hospitality invites others into a community where they can experience the love and truth found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ.