I have the greatest appreciation for the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, and for Rosaria Butterfield, a sister in Christ with a powerful story. This article from Revive Our Hearts staff member Leanna Shepard, with thoughts from a conversation with Rosaria, encourages us to take a closer look at how hospitality can be a ministry and a way to share the gospel, as well as a way for us to grow in Christlikeness. —Randy Alcorn
Over twenty years ago, Rosaria Butterfield was a distinguished professor of English at Syracuse University. A staunch feminist, outspoken atheist, and practicing lesbian, she was the least likely candidate to become an advocate for Christ.
But that didn't stop one Presbyterian minister from reaching out to Rosaria in the form of a letter, encouraging her to consider the very questions and accusations she posed against Christians. From that snail-mail correspondence came the most unlikely friendship. Pastor Ken Smith and his wife, Floy, welcomed Rosaria into their home with genuine hospitality, building a relationship with her one meal at a time. Those open arms and the friendship that followed were what was needed to open her eyes to truth.
Woven throughout the tapestry of her personal testimony is this thread of hospitality. It was in the Smith home where she first heard the gospel. And it was through the loving, welcoming arms of their church that her heart was softened to the truth. Even now, hospitality is the avenue she uses to show the love of Christ.
The Gospel Comes with a House Key
In her interview on Revive Our Hearts, Rosaria emphasizes the importance of hospitality. She believes God has given us the gift of neighbors to practice being neighborly. When you open your home to others, you’re painting a picture of the gospel, for it was by invitation of the Master that you were welcomed into His family and given a seat at His table.
That open-door policy seems easy enough when we're talking about family or close friends . . . but what about the stranger, the outcast, or that nosy neighbor?
If you look up the word hospitality, what you’ll not find is a definition that reads, "Graciously hosting a weekly small group," or "Welcoming your best friend and her family into your home for a home-cooked meal and game of Monopoly."
Rather, true hospitality means loving the stranger; treating a new acquaintance like an old friend; sharing the best of your time and possessions with the underprivileged. Unless you live deep in the jungles or on a lone mountaintop, most of you can look in any direction from your home and see neighbors on all sides. But do you know who they are? It's hard to show Christ's love to the person next door when you don't even know their name.
Get to know your neighbors. The front yard is one of the most unused places in America, Rosaria says. But not at the Butterfield residence. Rosaria and her husband, Kent, make it a point to spend at least one evening a week in their front yard as a family solely for the purpose of creating opportunities for conversation and prayer with their neighbors.
"We're known as the praying family in our neighborhood," she said. "This community prayer time has become a source of strength to [our] community, and a witness—that we are people who believe that there is a God who made us and will take care of us . . . and hears our prayers. It is our responsibility as believers to take those needs to the Father for the non-believers who do not have access to the throne of grace."
The Purpose of a Bridge
Hospitality is actually a command we're to carry out, but under one condition—"without grumbling" (1 Peter 4:9). This means we all bear the responsibility of gladly showing hospitality to one another and to the stranger.
Depending on the climate you live in or your season of life, having a weekly prayer gathering in your front yard might not be feasible. But there are many other ways to invest in your community:
Host a summer block party.
Deliver a plate of cookies to the family who just moved in.
Offer to help your next-door neighbor rake his leaves or shovel snow.
Simply greet your neighbors as you pass on the street!
Rosaria uses this illustration: A believer in Christ is like a bridge. What’s the purpose of a bridge? To get walked on. We don't like the sound of that, do we? But as followers of the Savior, we should count it no great loss to sacrifice a little for the sake of the kingdom. What’s one evening a week or a few extra dollars from the grocery budget in comparison to what Christ gave up to redeem sinners from eternal condemnation?
At the heart of hospitality is the heart of the gospel—sacrifice, love, humility. And it's hard. Jesus bids us to come and die, and there's nothing easy about that! But there's much at stake when we fail to reach out in love before a watching world.
Hospitality is so much more than having a good time with a handful of friends. It’s one of the key ways prescribed to administer the gospel to a needy world.
Leanna Shepard serves on staff with Revive Our Hearts and currently resides in southwest Michigan. Her original article appeared on The True Woman blog.
Listen to Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth's 5-part interview with Rosaria Butterfield.