“I WAS A STRANGER…”
July 18, 2009
The email request was forwarded to us by Ross, a close associate in the local simple church movement. One of his acquaintances from Philadelphia was in need of housing for up to three months while the man worked at a temporary job near our home. The job market in his hometown had dried up and this position had become available, but he needed a place to stay while in California. “I’m not twisting your arms,” Ross wrote, “just making you aware of a need.” The request mentioned that the young man’s family might come out a few weeks later, something we took as meaning only a for a brief visit.
After praying about the matter both my wife and I concluded that the Lord wanted us to offer our home to this brother in need. Since our children had all grown up and left home we should have no problem housing one more body. A day after we responded to his email saying we would love to have him stay with us, he replied that we were an answer to prayer! Then he added the bombshell that has transformed our lives over the past several months. Not only would he be staying with us but his entire family would soon be arriving to stay as well including their four children ages three through fifteen. Oh, and one more thing, his wife was nine months pregnant with their fifth child. Suddenly our empty-nest, shrunken family of two grew into a community of nine individuals all sharing the same space.
So how have we all managed to survive? Extremely well, thank you! I must admit when David and Heidi and their five kids moved into our home I spent a few anxious moments (okay, make that days) asking the Lord why He wanted to destroy the peace and quiet (not to mention the house and yard) of two of His more seasoned servants. “What have we done to deserve this?” I whined. “Instead of being able to focus on building our simple church ministry we’re forced to concentrate on entertaining a houseful of strangers.”
But of course, God knew exactly what He was doing. Not only was He providing housing for some of His needy children, He was educating a couple of weary, over-burdened servants about trusting Him and sharing kingdom resources, and He was enlightening us on the blessings which flow when we simply obey what He tells us to do.
Thirteen years ago when we first moved into our present home we were amazed at how all the pieces to the puzzle came together to allow us to live in a dwelling large enough for our own family of five plus room for others to visit. Looking back at it now I realize that was the only time in our family’s history where we could actually qualify to purchase such a home. After we had moved in we gathered our family in a circle in our living room and dedicated the house to God.
“We recognize this has all come from you, Lord,” we prayed. “So we pledge to you that whenever you have a need for this home we will open our doors to your request. This house belongs to you, to your kingdom. Just help us to be good stewards of your home.”
Over the years we have held hundreds of Bible studies in our home, sheltered abused wives and pregnant teenagers, housed many traveling missionaries, counseled many weary pilgrims, held a wedding in our backyard, hosted many organic church leadership meetings, and for the last six years we have used our home for our simple church gathering every Sunday evening. Yet I’m quite certain God still has in store many more opportunities for this home to be used. So Babs and I were not at all surprised when the request came last March to open our home to someone else in need. We were, however, a little overwhelmed at the magnitude of the request once we learned how many would be staying with us. But God always showers us with blessings when we are obedient to His call. And this time the blessings have been manifold.
David and Heidi were hosting a simple church in their home in Philadelphia so when the Spirit seemed to be moving them to California for a season they looked for a network of simple churches with which to connect. They were also looking to learn what the Lord is doing in this corner of world in terms of organic church so they might apply the lessons to their own ministry. They have been overjoyed at what they have witnessed happening around here. At times we found ourselves attending a different gathering nearly every evening. David and Heidi have been profuse in their gratitude over all they have learned in the past three months. But the benefits have been flowing in both directions as they have also proven to be a blessing to us in our ministry.
For years I have been praying the Luke 10:2b prayer. “…Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Even more specifically I have been praying for apostolically minded people to partner with me in the harvest in this area. I just never expected the answer to my prayer would come from three thousand miles away and be temporarily living in my own home. David and Heidi have prayed with us, strategized with us, prayer-walked with us, traveled with us around Northern CA as we visited various house churches, and attended various conferences with us. They have proven in every way to be partners with us in ministry. Had we not been obedient to God about taking in these “strangers” we would not have received the blessing of experiencing the answer to our prayers.
“…I was a stranger and you invited me in…Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:35, 40.
Aside from the blessings to our ministry, there have been the blessings that come from sharing with others the resources with which God has blessed us. Heidi has proven to be an excellent cook and has prepared most of our meals over the past two months. The children are amazingly well behaved and a delight to be with. Even the baby has been marvelously well behaved and hardly ever fusses. In addition, the extra finances they have provided for us in return for their room and board have gone a long way to boost an overly stretched budget. As for our various house churches, the addition of this new family with five kids has been a source of great encouragement to us all and enabled us to connect with and better relate to other young families who have young children.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:38.
Perhaps the greatest blessing we have received is just the rich Christian fellowship we have enjoyed continually. Whether we are sitting down to a meal together, cleaning up the house together, relaxing together after a hard day’s work at our separate jobs, or traveling together to another simple church gathering, everyday has become another church experience. In fact, we have enjoyed almost continuous church since they have arrived.
I’m not advocating a communal lifestyle, but I do think we citizens of the kingdom need to move toward a more intimate fellowship with other Christians. For the most part we in this culture have learned to put on our Sunday-go-to-meeting facades when we gather together and seldom really explore the heart issues that lie cleverly concealed within each of us. Yet transparency in our relationships is essential before we can truly learn how to best minister to and pray for one another. Nine people living together in close quarters are going to learn all kinds of things about each other, some of which we’d just as soon not know. It’s fairly difficult not to air your dirty laundry when it’s lined up in piles awaiting your turn with the washing machine. But such intimacy has brought about a deep-rooted friendship which would not be possible otherwise. And out of this friendship we are seeing each other grow in our relationship with the Lord, and watching in stunning amazement as He causes the kingdom to grow through our collective ministry.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:12-13.
This weekend David and Heidi and their family are moving out of our home to their own rented house about a mile away. I find myself struggling with two opposing emotions. It will be nice to enjoy a little privacy accompanied by some peace and quiet for a change. But on the other hand I will truly miss connecting with this family on an intimate basis every day. It is surprisingly difficult to have them leave our home even though I know in my heart our close friendship will not diminish. However, they need to start developing their own ministry and indeed are already connecting with their new neighbors. And Babs and I have an empty home ready for the next ministry assignments, in other words, guests. We have no idea when the next “strangers” will appear in need of a place to stay, but our ears are attuned to the Master of the house and we are busy preparing the guest rooms.
Bill, a child of God and a steward of His home