The Importance of Hospitality

The plane was flying away without me.

There I stood, literally on the runway, the ATR-72 and its furiously spinning propellers becoming fainter as it rose higher into the cloudy sky.

I clenched my stomach as it twisted into several more knots. My backpack suddenly felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. Sweat pouring off my brow and trickling uncomfortably down my nose and onto my already sticky shirt as mosquitos buzzed deafeningly past my bite-covered ears, I urgently needed to pee.

I was trapped in the African jungle. I knew no-one. Worse, with the area almost exclusively cash-only, I had no access to money. I didn’t speak French well enough to communicate at a level to even function on my own. And my phone didn’t have any service at all in this part of the world.

Despair gripped me like a vice, draining the energy out of me as if I were donating blood. I was well and truly screwed.

Dramatic as the above may sound, that’s exactly what befell me recently in the African nation of Gabon. Missing your flight, with no access to money, not being able to speak the language, and not knowing anyone in an unfamiliar country – it’s an experience I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Yet it’s also one I’m very glad I went through. Because it showed me the wonders of Christian love – and was a powerful reminder of what being a Christian is all about.

Time and time again in the New Testament, we hear stories about incredible hospitality. In Matthew chapter 2, Jesus and his disciples are having dinner at the home of the book’s author. They are joined by several tax collectors and other sinners and people looked down upon by society – something which the Pharisees and teachers of the law criticise Jesus for. Jesus’ response? “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

There are several more examples. In fact, one of the key messages of 3 John is John thanking a believer named Gaius for showing him hospitality – and reiterating the importance not just for Christians to show hospitality to non-believers to show them the wonders of forgiveness and eternal life through Christ, but to show hospitality to other Christians to strengthen them and help them on their own personal journeys.

The point being, we should all strive to show hospitality to those in need. Not just because it’s something Christ calls us to do, but because we never know when we’ll need it ourselves.

His name was Bright (though people called him “Brett”). I hadn’t the foggiest notion who he was. All I knew was that, as the airport staff told me in broken English, he could help me. And help me he did.

The equatorial sun was beginning its swift descent when he appeared, driving a black Mercedes SUV that was rusting along the bits that were supposed to be chrome and, inexplicably, a small pool of water inside the compartment at the bottom of the front passenger side door. The vehicle rising above the horizon to pull into the small airport’s gravel parking lot, his appearance didn’t quite feel real. Perhaps the stress and what felt like a fever brought on by the sweating and mosquito bites meant I was hallucinating the whole thing.

But I was not.

Originally from Nigeria, Bright – dressed in a shockingly fluorescent red shirt with a crisp white tie that seriously looked like he’d ironed it just before arriving and a Bluetooth attached to his left ear – said in perfect English he could help me with a place to stay. We’d come back to the airport tomorrow, he said, so I could catch the next flight back to the capital of Libreville.

Lucky as I seemed to be, I’m not so sure it was luck at all. One of the first questions out of Bright’s mouth: “are you a Christian?”

My answer: “Yes.”

Further emphasising it might not have been mere luck: once I made it to Libreville, I needed a new flight back home, as missing my original flight out of the area about 50 kilometres from the Congolese border where I met Bright meant I’d also missed my connection. That turned out not to be a problem: after explaining the situation at the airline’s office, the airline employee – a very large man with an even larger smile named Sintayehu – was able to get me a new flight, and let me spend the night at his house nearby.

He, too, first asked if I was a Christian.