By: Bren Dubay
If there is any concept worth restoring to its original depth and evocative potential, it is the concept of hospitality. — Henri Nouwen
I live where hospitality is more than a concept. It is our heartbeat. From the beginning, no matter the ups and downs, Koinonia has been a place of welcome. No matter background or level of education, no matter whether you possess a penny or a trillion pennies, no matter your faith or lack of faith, no matter, you are welcome.
But hospitality is not only about giving; it’s also about receiving. If Koinonia only gives, it may be a successful member of the hospitality industry, but it’s not living the depth of hospitality. We don’t see people as clients or customers, but as neighbors in the Gospel sense of that word. Neighbors help each other. We all have something to give. We all have something to receive.
Meals are important here at Koinonia Farm. So often, when I look around the dining hall, I am aware that I may be seeing something others may not be able to see. There, sitting side by side, are people who have found there way to Koinonia for many different reasons. Some are people of means in the material sense of the word and some are not. It does not matter.
Amy, Carl and their daughter Monica (not their real names), a middle school student, came to the farm in need of help. Some would say that the parents had made poor choices. Whatever mistakes may have been made, Monica was a good student and school personnel wanted better for her and suggested they come to Koinonia. Grateful for the welcome they received, Amy and Carl enthusiastically pitched in to help around the farm wherever needed.
Many nights at dinner, 12 year-old Monica, without being asked or coaxed, would happily help with the dishes. There came a time when the whole family said, “Let us do the dishes. Y’all turn in early and get some rest.” They showed us hospitality — we were the recipients. It was that giving and receiving the neighbors can share.
Before they left, Amy and Carl told us that being at Koinonia showed them there is a different way to live and that they wanted to do right by their daughter and each other. We pray for them every day.
Donna and Tom (not their real names) came from a very different background. She had been a journalist and he had worked for a trucking company. We do not know the exact details of what happened, but both had lost their jobs and ultimately their home. They asked if they could stay for a bit longer than the normal two week stay for guests. Their pride was shattered and their marriage strained near the breaking point.
Seeing the need, Tom offered to take on the landscaping and mowing around the farm. There was so much rain this past summer that we were convinced if you stood still and looked at the grass, you could see it growing. Donna was an exceptional cook and helped in the kitchen and bakery. They took time to look for employment and they took time to work on their marriage. They stayed here as neighbors, not as clients.
By August, Donna had found a teaching position. Soon after, a local trucking company offered Tom a job.
Having these guests and getting to know them has reminded me the importance of receiving hospitality as well as giving hospitality. But is this giving and receiving what Nouwen means when he refers to restoring hospitality’s “original depth and evocative potential?”
Seems to me welcoming and accepting welcome from the stranger, neighbor, friend or foe and the willingness to offer and accept the same from those with whom we live begins to take hospitality to its original depth and evocative potential. In today’s world, sitting across the table from someone very different from ourselves, looking them in the eye and hearing what they have to say is evocative. The world is divided. Does it have to be so? Is the simple act of giving and receiving hospitality beyond immediate family and friends, in part, an answer? That seems a provocative thought.