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“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:31-40)
For the past eight years, my wife Michele and I have been licensed foster parents. We began this journey by taking in one teenage girl at a time for as long as DCF would keep them with us, and as the needs of our children increased, we eventually transitioned into becoming an emergency placement home, providing a home for a night, a weekend, or sometimes as long as a week to a child of any age who had been removed from their home for abuse, neglect, or during a time of transition. Like any ministry or service, it is not always easy, often disruptive and stressful, but also very rewarding and transformative, not just for us but for our children as well.
Given that background, I was intrigued when an online article came across my screen this morning entitled “Why you should let complete strangers stay in your home.” The author, a man I had never heard of named Mez McConnell, is the author of Church in Hard Places: How the Local Church Brings Life to the Poor and Needy, and you can read the entire article here.
In the article, McConnell shares about a couple in their early 50’s named Bernard and Joan, who let him move into their home soon after his conversion, when he had nowhere to go. He writes:
“They didn’t really know me. All they knew about me was that I had just been released from prison for various violent offences and that I had been a drug addict and a drug dealer. They knew that I had been a liar and a thief. They knew I hadn’t worked for years. They knew that I was angry, aggressive and silently sullen (most of the time). They knew I had lived on and off the streets for years. Yet, despite their misgivings, they opened up their home to me by giving me a room.
Unknown to me at the time, it turned out to be more than a room in an attic conversion. It became my home. They became my family. In the beginning I was untrusting, paranoid and suspicious of their motives. Why would they let me into their home? They didn’t know me. What did they want? What were they getting out of it? (It couldn’t be money because I didn’t have any). Would they even like me? Would I like them? Would they kick me out without reason? (I was so scared of this that I didn’t unpack for months and slept on the floor next to the bed so as not to get too comfortable). I would hide up in that room for hours on end and creep around so as not to make a noise. I would sneak food into my room and eat alone, listening to the laughs and conversation from their dining room table as guests joined them for meals. (They always asked me to join them and I always refused, too embarrassed to sit with strangers and their friends).
McConnell proceeds to talk about how he eventually learned to relax, to communicate with his hosts, to become a part of the family, and to face his demons instead of running from them. He began to desire a home of his own, and a family of his own. And by the grace of God, he did eventually get married, have children, get a home of his own, and open his home to others the way Bernard and Joan did to him so many years ago. He writes:
“It was the kindness and hospitality shown to be by that couple of strangers who, ultimately, showed me a better life and a better way to live. Their actions, almost 20 years ago now, have been passed on to many, many young – and old – men and women who have shared our home and family life over all that time. What they did, intentionally or not, was model to me what a Christian home ought to look like. They didn’t just invite me to lunch one Sunday – they invited me into their lives. And what they did changed me forever.”
Paul writes in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”. Jesus loved us by suffering for us, being willing to lay down His life so that we could find life. To follow Christ means to be willing to suffer, to take risks, to sacrifice, to lay down our desires and comfort in order to help others find love. It may be through taking strangers into your home. It may be through visiting prisons, or giving financially, or making a meal for someone in need, or writing a letter of encouragement to someone. Whatever it might be, I encourage you not to avoid suffering at all cost, but to pursue Christ, and to love your neighbor, even if it involves sacrificial suffering. As Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, whatever you do for one of the least of these, you do for Him.
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