>> by Clint Chamberlain

Executive pastor for community outreach, Bethany, Council Road

BETHANY—When hearing the word “hospitality,” many different images can come to mind. One can envision everything from Martha Stewart to the hospitality bar at the local motel with coffee and donuts. People host parties with food and friends where everyone knows each other. Everyone eats, fellowships, prays and then goes on their merry way.

For the past several months, community leaders from the faith, business and public strategies sectors have met, attempting to figure out how to slow down the breakdown of the family in the Oklahoma City area. At one of the recent meetings, David Anderson, founder of Safe Families in the greater Chicago area, came as a guest speaker. He spoke of the term “hospitality” and how it is understood today versus how it would be understood in the early church. The following is taken from an article he wrote titled, Unleashing the Family—God’s Answer for Vulnerable Children.

/// “Hospitality Defined

But what exactly is hospitality? We often think of inviting friends and family to our home for food and socializing as hospitality; however, that may be more accurately defined as entertaining. Entertaining is enjoyable and often strengthens relationships, but it is not to be confused with biblical hospitality. Likewise, we refer to hotel and restaurant establishments as part of the ‘hospitality industry.’ Unfortunately, that is often the extent to which many of us understand and live out hospitality. The practice of hospitality, apart from the hospitality industry, is nearly extinct in our society.

“Somewhere along the way we have changed and watered down the original meaning of this concept. The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia which means ‘love of strangers.’ We often do not put the word love and stranger in the same sentence. Fear of strangers is a much more common thought than love of strangers.

“However, biblical hospitality is powerful and instrumental in reaching our world with the Gospel of Christ. In our post-modern age, hospitality is an essential practice that needs to accompany our verbal proclamation of faith…

“The practice of Christian hospitality was most vibrant during the first five centuries of the church. It provided credibility (word and deed) and distinguished the church from its surrounding environment. The teachings of the New Testament command all of God’s people to be hospitable, as we will soon see, and the early church believed it and lived it out. This involved loving and welcoming strangers into their homes. Hospitality was not seen as a special gift that only a few possessed, but rather as a command for all Christians. …

“The New Testament makes frequent mention of hospitality. The Hebrews writer instructs followers of Christ to ‘not neglect hospitality’ (Heb. 13:2). Peter, with insight into the difficulty of living a life of hospitality, encourages us to ‘offer hospitality ungrudgingly’ (I Pet. 4:9). Hebrews also alludes to the fact that the practice of hospitality can be mysterious and have its rewards. ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality. By doing so, some have entertained angels’ (Heb. 13:2). Paul instructs Christians to ‘pursue hospitality’ (Rom. 12:13), because hospitality does not come naturally and it often goes against our nature. Not only were all Christians encouraged to live lives of hospitality, but leaders were especially instructed to be hospitable. In fact, hospitality is a characteristic that was to be used to identify those who should be considered for leadership. ‘Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach’ (I Tim. 3:2).

Members of Bethany, Council Road were asked to pray about this perspective. They prayed to be hospitable, to look out and have compassion and, specifically, prayed for the program called Safe Families that will be launching in the Oklahoma City area soon. Also they prayed for the resourcing network named You Share. You Share will be an internet tool used to connect resources with care providers. The Safe Families method is to get involved in the lives of families and children before the Department of Human Services has to become involved.

Oklahoma has recently passed some legislation that will allow families to take children into their home and be given some protections and revocable guardianship (meaning the birth parents or legal guardian can revoke the guardianship at any time). This opens the door for the faith community to leverage our families and homes to make an impact in the lives of children.

Here is a quick snapshot of what this could look like. A single mom with without a job, has no family, and she is needing surgery but has no one to watch her child. Safe Families would help connect her with a family to help watch her child while she recovers and gets on her feet. Maybe it is a family that has come on hard times and are now homeless. Safe Families could provide a temporary home for any children while mom and dad get back on their feet. The You Share network will help provide those host families with resources like bedding, clothing, medical care, school supplies, etc.

In Chicago, the Safe Families network is now serving more than 1,000 children per year. The average age for the child who goes into a Safe Family is 5, and the average length of stay is 45 days.

Safe Families will NOT happen if churches and families do not rise up and answer the call. It WILL be hard work.

For additional information about how churches can connect with Safe Families visit www.safefamiliesok.org or contact Bethany, Council Road at 405/789-3175.