I’m a poor host but I’m learning to be a better guest.
Nothing has struck me as forcefully about the need to rethink how we approach mission than the idea of the missionary as a guest. Perhaps it’s my western hero complex that wants to go to another country to ‘make a difference’ but going to serve should mean going as a guest.
So what is it about being a guest that is noteworthy?
- The guest comes because they are invited, or at least only stays because they are welcomed.
- Relying on an invitation means we might not get one.
- While some cultures honour you, you are expected to follow the host cultures food, manners and ways of doing things.
- The host decides the rules and sets the boundaries.
- Guests have an attitude of gratitude to their hosts. They welcome the host showing them around and don’t start changing things around because they can improve it.
- Sometimes you are invited with an agenda (because you can help the host with something), more often you are invited to build a relationship.
- Becoming a guest changes the power dynamics, it means we give up control. It might not change the power dynamic of money but reminds us to be careful to use it wisely. When we go for a meal it may be appropriate to take a small gift, but it would seem very strange to give a car.
There are some biblical ideas to help us think like this in terms of mission:
The road to Emmaus: it was when the travellers urged Jesus to stay and eat with them that they were able to recognise him. Indeed Jesus often choose to eat with others (and didn’t normally invite himself).OK, hospitality was particularly important in the culture, but willingness to be a guest and his attitude towards people are noteworthy.
When Jesus sends out the seventy two they don’t raise funds for the mission trip, they don’t take clothes and other things to ‘bless’ the villages with, they go with nothing and rely on people’s hospitality. They went out as lambs among wolves, not as people from strong passport countries.
Paul’s ‘missionary journeys’ depended on being hosted. He usually started among his own people in the Synagogue before moving to live in someone’s house (or household).
John’s gospel starts with the promise that those who receive (or welcome) the Word have the right to be children of God. Our adoption into the family of God comes from our welcome not from Jesus’ imposition.
Abraham’s hospitality to the three visitors at Mamre was the setting for Rublev’s famous icon of the Trinity. The link between God, our relationship with him and hospitality has a long history. Our willingness to be welcomed is just as important for gospel witness as our willingness to welcome.
Some may want to counter that the Bible doesn’t tell us to be guests but it doesn’t tell us to ‘go on missions’ either. But going as guests captures something of the way that we need to think of ourselves and about our witness to the gospel in different contexts.
As I waited for my flight home the other day I had several hours to wait at Amsterdam Airport. As I often do after an 11 hour flight I spent time walking around and came across a small group of people sitting huddled on some chairs. It soon became clear that this was a group from an English speaking country who were going on a mission trip to a ‘developing’ country. Now I’ve led mission teams, I get the need for preparation but as I listened I couldn’t help but wonder how different it might be if they thought of themselves as going as guests rather than going to ‘love on’ them, ‘teach these dear ones about Jesus’ and ‘help these people who have nothing’.