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A Practice of Welcome

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

Guest post by Michael Hegeman

Getting to travel to East Africa to meet with Spirit in Action partners gave me the opportunity to experience the power of hospitality.

Everywhere I have traveled around the world, I have met with people who welcome me in ways I can only describe as mystical. The two key components I have discovered revolve around shelter and food.

“You are welcome,” is a phrase I heard repeatedly in our visits with the people of Malawi, Kenya and Uganda.  Yes, we had shelter and food wherever we went, and Spirit in Actions funds help to pay for our basic needs.  So, what is hospitality, if one contributes monetarily for such “welcome”? Hospitality comes in welcoming the stranger, not for personal gain, but for the sheer joy of the gift of presence another brings.

Those who welcome the stranger are blessed in their embracing the guest, the visitor, the dignitary, the representative, the lowly. At the heart of such welcome is a trust in something, Someone, larger than oneself, larger than the community. “I trust you enough to welcome you into my home, my family, my life.” And out of such trust, comes a deeper welcome, one that says, “I can share more of myself, because I see the trust you have in me.”

Welcoming with Song

Hospitality that cannot be “paid for” comes in a song of welcome. When our SIA team arrived in Manyamula, Malawi people erupted into song. The women greeted Tanya in such a way as to wrap her in the arms of song. They knew Tanya, and the rejoiced that she had come to be with them again. Because she had received hospitality before and had offered her trust in return, her welcome was a genuine celebration of homecoming.

Greeting the women of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, where Tanya has visited in 2011, 2014, and 2017.

Hospitality that speaks louder than, “I paid for breakfast,” came to us in people like Lilian Gondwe. With her friends, Lilian sat by a stick fire, cooking fresh eggs, vegetables, and nsima. They were lovingly preparing meals that took effort and care, and love.

Hospitality reaches beyond food and shelter when the people we met welcomed us into their stories. Unabashedly, they spoke of their former poverty and how SIA had helped them to find not only a sustainable living but self-respect. We were invited into not only people’s homes, but their most vulnerable recounting of the poverty of spirit in which they formerly dwelled.

We were welcomed into a community celebration where a young boy received a pig to help him take responsibility for his future. This community’s hospitality and trust allowed them to say, “Alcoholism and AIDS have devastated our lives. This boy’s mother is dead his father will not survive his drinking. The boy’s shame is our shame, unless we welcome him and his future into our own future. We show you our most vulnerable selves, so that you may see our greatest strength.”

Hospitality that cannot be earned says, “We welcome you to our weakness, so that you may join us in our strength.”

A Welcome to Share Joy

Hospitality also is a welcome to share in joy.  We witnessed people’s joy, like that of Sylvester Nkhoma, whose prideful smile, belied a joy that his children can go to school and that his daughters are smart and educated, and that he can share with others the successes he has experienced through the training and support of SIA and local coordinators like Canaan Gondwe.

Sylvester and his wife, in Manyamula, Malawi.

Hospitality means spending long days driving, singing songs together, journeying to difficult places, sitting in the hot sun and the ground drinking warm Coca-Cola.

In the Rift Valley in Kenya we sat with Sister Magrina who showed us the degradation of men, women, and children face, and what one person, supported by an SIA grant, can do to break the cycles of poverty and offer a new way to others. Magrina offered hospitality to the children by teaching them to wash their hands and to be kind to one another. She welcome battered women and listened to their painful stories. Magrina welcomed us into her dreams for a transformed coming.

Sister Magrina and Tanya greeting each other in the countryside of Kenya.

Such hospitality speaks of dedication to the betterment of others, and a dedication to an ongoing relationship with the wazungu (travelling outsiders) who come to learn and to observe what hospitality means.

Trust, Gratitude, Dedication, Love

We learned in our time in East Africa that hospitality springs from gratitude. Grateful people share what they have. They trust that what they share will contribute to everyone having more. Hospitality is expressed in the “pay it forward” model that SIA espouses. As one person succeeds, his or her family succeeds. As one family succeeds their bounty spreads to others. The neighbors’ success means the community’s success. Each one’s hope inspires others. And all this hospitality means that when the difficult times come, the community has resources it is willing to share.

There is a hospitality that is offered free of charge. It is built on trust and fosters trust. It is built on gratitude and generates gratitude. It is born of dedication and strengthens dedication. It is founded in love and inspires love. I am grateful for such show of hospitality that changes lives and sustains transformed and joyful living.

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