Homeschooling with Hospitality
By Shelly Mathiot
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #53, 2003.
What your children can learn from hosting friends, relatives, missionaries, or even a foreign student in your home... and how to do it.
We planned on staying home last summer because my husband, Chris, didn't have any vacation time to use. So, we hosted everyone else's vacation! The Lord has taught us many things about hospitality through the years. It's different than entertaining, it's a blessing to all who are involved and it can change lives.
True hospitality comes from the heart and offering it continues to be an awesome addition to our homeschool curriculum. The Mathiot Mob, as we sometimes refer to ourselves, has six members: my husband, Chris, and I, and our children, Haley 11, Hannah 9, Carly 7, and Ethan, 5. We live in Folsom, just outside Sacramento, California, near a nice lake and on the way to Lake Tahoe. It's a central location that seems to be on the way to everywhere people are going. Sometimes we are the rest stop, but often we are the destination.
In Romans 12:13 (NIV), we are exhorted to be hospitable: "Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." And in 1 Peter 4:9 "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." Although you may not be blessed with "the gift of hospitality," you can still be hospitable. In the same way, although I am not gifted with evangelism, I still must go out and preach the gospel in whatever way I can find to do it.
Biblical exhortation or not, many people look forward to having house guests about as much as a root canal. Ministering to other people's needs does take effort. We have to put thought and energy and some preparation into it, but it needn't be a burdensome chore. I've heard many excuses and used a few of them myself. Is your house too small? Not clean enough? Is the couch too old or the carpet ugly? Or is it that you don't have enough time because your schedule is too hectic? There's always a good excuse to say no. But examine your reasons and make sure they aren't just empty excuses.
Since we do school year round, our homeschooling schedule can get knocked around a bit by company. We've cancelled days, moved lessons around, and postponed things. We've made up days on Saturdays and taken our guests on school field trips. As a matter of fact, having visitors can be an educational experience in itself. Our children have had the chance to talk to a missionary from China, learn sign language from a missionary to the deaf, and help explain the gospel to a student from Japan. They feel comfortable talking to almost anyone because of the great variety of people who have come through our home!
Receiving guests and opening your home has nothing to do with the worldly definitions of entertaining. You don't have to make hand decorated placemats and homemade potpourri satchels for your pillow case drawers. You don't have to live up to the Martha Stewart standards set before you in the women's magazines. As a matter of fact, I steer clear of those women's magazines. They are an inferiority complex waiting to happen.
You may remember another Martha mentioned in the Bible. She had the same problem as our present day domestic diva. She was too busy making everything perfect to sit at Jesus' feet and listen to him. Once the house and the food are as ready as I can get them, I relax. I don't worry about coats and shoes and toys that begin to appear from nowhere as the guests settle in and relax. I sit down with them and listen to their stories and talk. My guests sit in the kitchen with me and I hand them a knife to chop some vegetables or a towel to wipe some glasses. The fellowship in the kitchen while preparing meals together is so sweet to taste!
I guess the first few times I had guests I was a nervous wreck. I tried really hard to impress everybody with my cooking and material possessions. The mistakes I've made have been valuable lessons.
I've burned a dinner or two, or not prepared enough food. I've even forgotten that people are coming! Once I made a delicious chicken salad with cashews in it for a party I was hosting. I failed to mention the presence of these odious nuts. I was feeling so accomplished and proud of the luncheon (it really was beautiful, all set up on the patio by the pool with flowers and everything). One of my guests turned out to be highly allergic to cashews and immediately started feeling ill. I was mortified! So, if you don't remember anything else from this article, remember to put the cashews on the side and ask your guests about any allergies before you plan the meal!
Having made enough mistakes now, I'm a little more humble and I can relax a little bit! I'll serve a simple beef stew to the visiting missionaries if that's all I had time to prepare. I make delicious turkey soup - guests love a bowl of homemade soup and warm bread to go with it. I don't worry anymore if someone sneaks a peek at the laundry room to see piles of dirty clothes in there. As one friend put it at the baby shower I was giving in her honor, "Oh! You have cobwebs too! Now I feel much better!" I've found that if you let your imperfections show and just do your best, you will bless people so much more than if you go for perfection. Besides, I never get to perfection. There's always something that gets left undone, or forgotten. The greatest compliment anyone can give me is "You made us feel right at home!"
Besides the lessons I have learned, our children have profited so much from having people over. They are always willing to sleep in a sleeping bag and double up on rooms. They are helpful in getting things ready to make people feel welcome. Practicing hospitality helps them to hold their possessions more lightly and to put others ahead of themselves.
The children change the sheets in the guest room and clean the bathrooms. They hang fresh towels in the guest room and scrounge around the yard for such flowers as may be available for a bouquet of sorts. The children also wipe off the patio tables, fill the ice buckets with sodas and sweep the front patio.
My girls made special treats for a homeschool mothers' meeting once. They each chose a recipe and made special treats for the ladies. They helped set the table and made a big fuss about making it pretty. They got on their nice dresses, answered the door, passed out napkins and ladled punch into cups. I was very pleased to have the help, but more so, that they had the experience of being hostesses.
Before we had children, we lived in a tiny apartment/condo. A missionary was coming to visit our church and we volunteered to be hosts. Jim Spellman turned out to be an interesting man who changed our lives. We sat around talking to him all evening and heard his testimony about how God worked in his life through sickness that threatened to take his voice away, and how he learned sign language so he could communicate. Now God has him using that sign language to establish churches for deaf believers.
Jim told us that he was going to need help when he came back in a year to start a church. That visit with him, eventually led to us taking sign language classes and helping Jim establish a new church for the deaf in Pleasanton, California. We spent a year helping in the Sunday-School classes for the young children, some hearing and some deaf. The deaf people became very dear to our hearts.
Years later, that church moved in with our church and shared our campus, maintaining separate services in sign language. We kept in close contact with Jim and his wife, Sandy, for many years and had the privilege of having them in our home many more times. Looking back, we can see that not only were our lives changed, but the lives of a great many people also were affected by hospitality
Besides missionaries, friends and family, this past summer, for the first time, we hosted an exchange student. Yu is from Japan and is a very sweet young man and the kids loved him instantly. We were all very nervous, at first, about having an exchange student here. We talked about how we would communicate with him, since he didn't know much English and we knew zero Japanese. I think we all wondered whether he would feel comfortable here. The kids made a big poster that said "Welcome Yu" and they did all they could to make him feel comfortable.
The organization that brought the students over, also arranged parties, picnics and other events. We were pretty busy the month he was here with us. We took him horseback riding and shopping and to church with us on Sundays. Several of his friends wanted to come over and swim, so we also had a pool party here for them.
Every afternoon, after his English classes, he would jump into the pool and play with all the kids and the other guests and friends that passed through our home that month. (July is a busy month around here. Actually from June all the way through July we had someone either visiting or staying with us every day!) We had the opportunity to include our student in our evening devotions as well.
One evening we tried to explain the story of Noah to Yu, but his limited understanding of English made this very difficult. We came up with a plan to explain the story to him with a play. It was Vacation Bible School week at our church and we had a friend of Haley's from out of town staying with us. It worked out very well, because we needed the extra person for the play. So our guest, Ian, got to participate as well. We commandeered every stuffed animal in the house and drew a picture of an ark on a large dry board. Ian played Noah, Haley was Noah's wife, Hannah and Carly and I were sons and Chris was the narrator. He told the story in simple words, while we acted them out. Ethan, who was four at the time, really got into it. He didn't have any speaking parts but he insisted on standing there with a striped pool towel draped over his head! It was great fun!
The children really got into the spirit of the story and were very pleased when Yu indicated that he understood. We gave Yu a Japanese Bible and some Bible tracts before he left for home and we still pray for him. I wonder if we had any impact on his life. I know he impacted our lives. We learned so much about how alike we all are. The children still talk about Yu. Perhaps someday I will get an email from him telling us he has become a Christian!
People who need hospitality don't care if your carpet needs replacing or your yard isn't perfect. They need a comfortable place to sleep and a home-cooked meal, some friendly fellowship and a warm welcome. The blessings are so numerous. So next time someone at church makes an announcement that missionaries are visiting, raise your hand!