Looking back over years, I wish I had had the foresight to have a guest book in our home. In three weeks time, we will celebrate our eighth anniversary of living in South Africa. The significance of this time may be observed easily from one photo in 2006 when our children arrived here….
Today, they stand tall and happy. Micah, Jake and Caleb are all thriving in their adopted homeland and we are grateful for that. In eight years time, we have all experienced significant growth physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. And we’re still growing!
As I shared, though, one of my regrets since arriving in South Africa almost eight years ago is not having a book of remembrance of all of our guests. We recently opened our home to friends who partnered in our ministry when we were just beginning to fundraise for our monthly support way back in 2004. They have been with us for years and years. The love and appreciation we have for our ministry partners goes beyond words. Paul describes his gratitude of his Philippian friendships when he writes, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership from the first day until now” (NIV, Philippians 1: 3-5).
Recently, our friends stayed with us for almost two weeks. Micah, Jake and Caleb offered up their beds and their rooms so that our guests could have a place to rest, sleep, and enjoy a bit of privacy. For those two weeks, the nine of us shared many meals, delighted in victories, empathized with strains and struggles, listened and prayed, and enjoyed the wonder of the African bush together. It was our honor and privilege to host this precious family.
This time caused me to reflect upon other guests who have graced our home over the years. African pastors from Nigeria, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Malawi and more have blessed us by sharing meals, bestowing their wisdom, reflecting upon their hardships, and been generous with their encouragement and their prayers. Our family and friends have traveled great distances and at great personal cost to stay with us as well. Such visits have embedded our hearts with memories like treasured jewels. Many short-term missionaries have stayed with us too. Their enthusiasm, wonder, and seeking hearts have affirmed our commitment to long-term missions. And last of all, we have had the honor of hosting the lost, the hurting, the ill, and the discouraged in our home. They have come for different reasons. Some needed rest. Some needed a place of security and protection. Some needed affirmation and redirection. All needed love. And hope.
Before our friends departed for their home, they asked if they had been a burden to us. The last thing our friends wanted to do was to cause us harm. John and I were quick to reply that our friends had been anything but a burden. They had been and continue to be a blessing. Our friends wondered aloud how we host so many people and often times, so regularly.
As I read these words this morning, I have a better reply than I may have provided to them earlier…
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Philippians 2: 1-3 NIV
Our guests may come to our home for a variety of reasons. However they may come, they all brought the same love, the same spirit, the same encouragement, the same comfort, the same tenderness and compassion, the same joy, and the same purpose because they entered our home united in Christ.
In all honesty, I can only think of two occasions when hosting some one was a challenge over the past eight years. Without going into details, in both cases, there was a degree of misunderstanding. We failed to be like-minded. We hosted as best we could, but we struggled to find unity. It happened. Thankfully such times have been rare.
Gratefully, when I remember the hundreds of people who have graced our home over the years, my heart overflows with the joys we discovered together in Christ.
Friends, in Christ we have been offered so much!
In Christ, we have encouragement.
In Christ, we have unity of spirit.
In Christ, we have comfort and compassion.
In Christ, we have complete joy.
In Christ, we have like-mindedness.
In Christ, we have the same spirit and purpose.
Our guests have brought these amazing gifts of the Spirit to us; encouragement, unity, comfort, compassion, complete joy, like-mindedness, and purpose. We are the benefactors of their presence.
So, Friends, you may not have the occasion to host people as often as we do. Regardless, we all interact with our fellow followers in Christ in many places and in many ways. So often we focus on what may make us different and sometimes these thoughts can be divisive and destructive. Instead, we need to remember what we share!
We all share in the grace and mercy of Christ.
We all share in the unity and purpose of Christ.
We all share in His love, His encouragement and His compassion.
We have been offered these amazing gifts in Christ and more! How will we implement them in our lives today and throughout 2014? Reflect and pray upon that, if you will.
And for us? Maybe it’s time to start a guest book for the next eight years of service in Southern Africa to be reminded of what we share together in Christ when we have visitors.