On Strangers and Angels
Reading: 3 John
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I have strong feelings about missionaries. Most of my working life has been in missionary service overseas and our own country is as much of a mission field as any part of the world. What part of my life I didn’t spend overseas in missions, I have spent here in ministry. So I have a bit of a soft spot for those who leave behind what they can’t take with them to gain what will accompany them to glory.
That’s why the first few verses of John’s third letter brought a smile to my face as I read them. It’s a mini-manual on how to treat your missionaries.
“Dear friend,” writes John to Gaius, “you are faithful in what you are going for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth” —3 John 5-8, NIV.
I couldn’t begin to tell you about the wonderful people who have received me with such generosity and gracious hospitality over the many years I have served with my mission. To some of them I was “an unknown quantity.” Who knew if I would wrinkle my nose at the food set in front of me, or leave a ring around the bathtub (I didn’t do any of those, by the way!). But they took a chance and took me in anyway, often picking me up at bus and train stations and airports since I did all my travelling by public transport. They fed me like I was the Queen of England coming to tea, listened to my stories, and even invited me to come back anytime.
They must have read these verses from John. They were the spitting image of Gaius. Alas and alack they are also a dying breed. I’m not sure why there are so few people willing to offer hospitality to missionaries visiting their churches. We’re still nice people to get to know if you give us a chance. But since these diamond-studded instructions are in the Scriptures it must be that God intended that we continue to show gracious hospitality to those messengers of the Gospel who come our way.
The writer to the Hebrews said: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it” —Hebrews 13:2, NIV. While I am pretty sure the author was talking about “angel” angels, still I like to think that maybe he might also be giving the nob to people like me who, though we can’t claim to be angels, are certainly on a mission for God.
We really are nice people—really.