by Michael E. Brooks
“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2 NKJV).
Someone at Khulna Bible College called me to come down to the front garden to see something interesting. When I arrived, I found most of the campus personnel gathered by the security wall on which a langur monkey sat while eating blossoms from our hibiscus bushes.
These monkeys are not commonly found in our area of Bangladesh, because there is just not much habitat for them. They will occasionally get on a banana truck to eat the fruit, then be stuck there when the vehicle starts moving, getting off wherever it first stops. Sometimes that is near us, and we enjoy the rare sighting of such wildlife.
Like those monkeys, people often find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, with needs which they may not always be able to meet. In such circumstances they are dependent upon the local population to help them.
As Christians we are encouraged (rather, commanded) to be of assistance in such situations. We are to reach out to them, as Abraham did (Genesis 18:1ff), helping with food, shelter, security, or other such essentials.
The Biblical virtue of hospitality is rooted in the culture of the ancient near east, specifically in the nomadic lifestyle of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.).
Extended family groups formed moving villages, following the seasonal rain and vegetation over a wide area so their livestock could have pasture. They commonly found themselves to be a minority among aliens.
Sometimes this led to abuse and mistreatment (Genesis 26). Some nations and cities took advantage of strangers, robbing or sexually abusing them (Genesis 19; Judges 19).
God’s people are commanded to act differently towards strangers, welcoming and helping them whenever the opportunity is afforded.
Abraham and Lot are notable Old Testament examples of this attitude. When travelers appeared they immediately set about to help, even before a need or desire was expressed by the visitors. They are commended for this approach and held up for us to follow.
In my more than twenty years of traveling to foreign countries to evangelize, I have constantly found myself to be the “stranger” in the situation. In South Asia I am distinctive, standing out as different from their norm.
I am always aware of the vulnerability to which this exposes me, and of my complete dependence upon being accepted and treated decently by the local people. I remain thankful for the level of basic human decency which prevails in so much of the world, and for the practice of hospitality wherever it occurs.
These thoughts remind me of the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) and also of the “Principle of the Extra Mile” (Matthew 5:39-42). “Do to others as you would have them do to you” is given even greater emphasis by Jesus’ admonition to his disciples to exceed in our actions what others, who are outside God’s law, do naturally.
If the unbelievers in South Asia treat me kindly and decently, should I not be even more accepting of those strangers who come into my area of influence? Should I not be more generous, more caring, more hospitable – going the extra mile, giving the second piece of clothing, trying even harder to make them safer and more comfortable?
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). This plain statement orients us. Christianity is about helping people. Further, it is about helping bad people. Let us accept that challenge.