Before I moved to East Africa, I used to think that I understood hospitality. I liked to throw dinner parties; friends from out of town would crash on my couch for a weekend; a group of girls would meet in my apartment every week for dinner and Bible study. “Hospitality” was something for which I could plan, schedule, and budget.
Hospitality among the South Sudanese looks different. Visits are not confined to people you know, they do not have time limits, and they require no prior notice. The minimum expectation is that when someone walks onto your property, you stop whatever you are doing, arrange a seat for the visitor(s) in a shady spot, and provide a drink.
Many days we could literally spend the entire day entertaining guests, and I confess that there are times when I dread seeing the gate open. Yet while these cultural expectations grate against what I am accustomed to, I think they fall much more in line with the Biblical definition of hospitality.
Usually when the Lord is trying to teach me something, he gives me an opportunity to practice it. One night around 11pm I woke up to the sound of voices and our dog Brown growling outside. I opened the door to my mud hut and saw about 10 people sitting on the ground outside in the dark. They were pastors and their families who had just arrived from Nasir. Their vehicle had broken down, so they had to walk the rest of the way. We didn’t have enough beds for everyone, but we were able to offer them food, water, and a place to stay for the night.
The next day our team was able to reflect on the experience, and we realized that in the United States we had never even had the opportunity to host complete strangers like that. It is unfortunate because Hebrews 13:2 says: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
So while there are times when I wish there were a less open door culture, I am thankful for how the Lord is stretching and shaping my understanding of hospitality to be more in line with his Word. I am also thankful that the South Sudanese are a gracious people, quick to overlook my cultural shortcomings.