Once while teaching in Africa about God’s Kingdom, my friend and translator, Alberto, got a perplexed look on his face. He told me that he had to describe the idea of a country, but he knew that his translation wasn’t enough. Another time I was sharing about the trade off of losing one’s life to gain it and again I received the same look because both that concept and phrase simply did not relate well in that tongue. The ideas were lost in translation. Even after I returned to the United States and began pastoring The Bridge Community Church, my words still get lost in translation. One of the first sermon series I prepared was focused on being an underdog. I thought it would be a great series for our small multilingual restart until I realized that there is no good way to translate the word “underdog” in the Spanish language.
Sometimes words in the Bible get lost in translation as well. I’ve been convicted lately of how I have missed the mark with the word “hospitality.” As followers of Jesus and especially as church leaders, we are repeatedly called to be “hospitable.” I’ve always thought I was doing this when I allowed my in-laws to stay in our guest bedroom, had friends over for dinner, or hosted the Super Bowl party for the church. But I’ve come to understand that the Greek word for hospitality used in the New Testament (philoxenos) really gets lost in the translation. Philo means love and xenos means stranger, foreigner, or immigrant. The word hospitality, then, would be the exact opposite of xenophobia: the fear of strangers. It is definitely a godly thing to welcome friends in to your home and share a meal with your extended family, but Jesus said that even sinners and tax collectors love their friends. True biblical hospitality is about welcoming the stranger and loving the immigrant.
As the holiday season is upon us, would you consider accepting a challenge? In 2008, the delegates to General Conference came together in a show of unity and solidarity and approved a Wesleyan position statement on immigration. Throughout that statement we committed to taking certain specific action steps. We said that as Wesleyans, we will give of ourselves in wholehearted love to others without intolerance, judgment, favoritism or disrespect, and in spite of who they are or what they have done to live among us. Further, that as Wesleyans, we will encourage one another to engage in acts of kindness and compassion (i.e. providing food, shelter, clothing, and other resources) toward immigrants who are in need regardless of their immigration status (documented or undocumented). And that as Wesleyans, we will show God’s grace by accepting those less fortunate than us. We will seek to have a welcoming heart to those that are strangers in our land, showing them acts of kindness and doing our part to understand other people’s cultures to better serve them through God’s love. Now is the time to put these words in action.
Hospitality is about welcoming the stranger in – not about sending the stranger to a soup kitchen or a shelter for temporary assistance. This holiday season would you join many other evangelicals and be a part of the Come to the Table challenge? This means taking the initiative of biblical hospitality and inviting someone over for a meal or out for coffee. You probably know someone who you think has immigrated to the United States from another country – perhaps a neighbor down the street, a family at your church, a coworker, or a family whose children attends the same school as your own. Set a time, prepare some food, and invite them over! It may seem a bit awkward, but I promise it will be rewarding as it’s obeying the very heart of God. If you have concerns, please know that there is nothing illegal about welcoming an immigrant, whether documented or undocumented, into your home and sharing a meal to fellowship with them.
Some churches may want to join this challenge together. Many communities, both large and small, have an immigrant church that worships in their area. As a pastor or lay leader, invite both of your churches from different background to come to the table together and host a shared potluck to experience the unity of the Body of Christ and learn more about each other.
My prayer this holiday season is that Wesleyan churches and families throughout our country will come to the table and create new friendships through welcoming and sharing life with strangers and immigrants. Because words are powerful, but actions will always speak louder than words. May we live out hospitality/philoxenos throughout this season so that the scriptures are not lost in translation with us!