Bighearted Hospitality for Strangers

Please welcome my guest, Sarah Quezada, author of Love Undocumented, which brings together her personal story and experience of the U.S. immigration system with Scripture and her Christian faith. In this excerpt, she talks about bighearted hospitality which speaks to her U.S. context, to my Canadian context with its different immigration issues, and to anyone who wonders about how to relate to strangers in their midst. Thank you, Sarah and Herald Press for an engaging and insightful book! Excerpted from Sarah Quezada’s new book, Love Undocumented: Risking Trust in a Fearful World. (Herald Press, 2018) All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Big-Hearted Hospitality for Strangers

book excerpt from Love Undocumented by Sarah Quezada

Too often we associate hospitality with inviting someone over for dinner or hosting our friends for Pinterest-inspired theme parties. There’s nothing wrong with those things, of course. But the word hospitality in the Bible comes from the Greek word philozenia, which is defined by Strong’s Concordance as “love to strangers.”

What does it mean to show love to strangers? What does hospitality look like? Perhaps it means offering them your bed after a long flight. Perhaps it means whipping up home remedies when you learn they are in pain. Perhaps it looks like holding someone’s face in your hands and thinking, “You help me remember someone I care about.”

Jesus is often described as a migrant or stranger. Right from the start, he was born in a city far from his parents’ home (Luke 2). Then, while he was still very young, his family fled to Egypt to escape persecution from King Herod and save Jesus’ life (Matthew 2). And by the time he began his ministry, Jesus traveled from place to place, often relying on the warm and open welcome of the people he encountered. What if when we engage strangers we saw Jesus in their eyes, felt him in their touch, and heard God in their mouths? How quick would we be to show love and offer hospitality to the stranger?


The good Samaritan (Luke 10) is an all-time favorite biblical illustration of caring for the stranger. In this story, a Jewish man is beaten and bloodied by the road. Two other Jewish men walk by. In fact, they are respected Jewish leaders, but they bypass their brother and even cross to the other side, possibly preoccupied with ritual cleanliness and their personal responsibilities. And then we see the Samaritan— a member of a people group despised by the Jews— who serves as the example of how to care for our neighbor. He offers personal attention, medical provision, transportation, shelter, and financial support. The injured Jew is a stranger to him, but he responds with bighearted hospitality. Jesus uses this story to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” At the end of the telling, he poses the same question to the man who originally asked it: “Who was the neighbor to the injured man?” The man has only one response, of course: the one who showed mercy.

I can’t help but think Jesus’ listener— an expert in religious law— felt a little sheepish when he had to declare the despised foreigner the hero of the story. In his book Christians at the Border, M. Daniel Carroll R. explains it this way: “The scribe responds correctly, but he cannot bring himself to say, ‘the Samaritan.’ The merciful person is simply called ‘the one’ (10: 36). Jesus concludes their exchange by telling the scribe to emulate that neighbor, the Samaritan, in order to fulfill the command to love (10: 37). Once again, the people of God are taught about true faith through an encounter with one outside and rejected by their culture.” (4)

In the same way, we can learn a great deal about bighearted hospitality and loving our neighbors from those outside our culture. Because, unfortunately, Americans are not doing a good job with even the most basic dinner invitation, much less all-up-in-your-business care like the Samaritan demonstrated. In fact, the Billy Graham Center found that only one in ten immigrants has ever even been invited into the home of a U.S. citizen. (5) Christians have a biblical call to welcome the stranger, and only 10 percent of immigrants have been invited into an American home! To my knowledge, the center didn’t collect statistics on how many have been force-fed homemade lime concoctions for a cough, but I strongly suspect it’s even less.

What is stopping us from opening up our homes, our lives, our hearts to the strangers in our midst? Are we dropping the ball on hospitality altogether, waiting for our farmhouse decor and colorful pineapple-and-steak kabob skills to be honed for perfect presentation? Are we too busy to work hospitality into our lives? Or are we afraid of saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, cooking the wrong things? Too disconnected from those who are different from us to know where to start?

I’m afraid that welcoming the stranger may always be awkward. Encounters with strangers are a toss-up. You just never know what will happen. You might click instantly and have a new close friend. Or you might stick your foot in your mouth and have to apologize. Frankly , you may find yourself in new situations where you simply have no idea what’s going on. Many years ago at a neighborhood barbecue, a young African American girl asked me to help fix her ponytail. I didn’t know her, and as a white person, I didn’t know much about black women’s hair. But her request was simple, and I obliged. And then her hair fell out into my hands. I had no idea what to do with the weave I was now holding. Should I push it back into her ponytail somehow? Set it down somewhere? Or do what I did: stuff it into her jeans pocket and say, “Take that to your mom”?

If you take the risk to engage new people across cultures, it’s inevitable mistakes will be made. One friend shared with me how she invited Muslim friends to a lunch meeting . . . in the middle of Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. She was embarrassed, but they graciously attended and participated in the conversation while still choosing to maintain their fast.

In my experience, there is enough grace for us all as we seek to engage across cultures. Denying hospitality for fear of making a mistake cannot be our default position when meeting someone new. The reality is that bighearted hospitality does not require the perfect timing, precise foods, or savvy conversation starters. Sometimes all it requires is a turkey sandwich.

4 M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 122.

5 “Why Should I Care?” G92,

Writing/Reflection Prompt: In this excerpt, Sarah asks,”What is stopping us from opening up our homes, our lives, our hearts to the strangers in our midst?” How would you answer her question?


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4 thoughts on “Bighearted Hospitality for Strangers

  1. April, your blog post just reinforced what I listened to yesterday at an MDS fund raising event. Ted & Co (from Virginnia) were the entertainment, and they really emphasized the idea of hospitality and its importance by dramatizing a number of events in the life of Christ. It was entertaining, funny and amusing, but at the same time made me realize what a huge place this takes in the teachings of Jesus and how important it is,

  2. Congratulations on your book progress. I shared this post on FB because I fear being hospitable myself. I’ll host foreign students for a luncheon and be totally exhausted afterward. I wonder if some of the tiredness, though, comes from my hyper vigilance about what to say and what to do. Hospitality might require a healthy dose of humility, knowledge of a few key questions to ask, and an ability to listen and serve.

    1. Thanks, Greta – I’m definitely in the home stretch of my book manuscript, with an emphasis on the s-t-r-e-t-c-h I guess, since I’m definitely taking advantage of the bit of flex in the publishing process! And thank you for sharing this post–I love the way Sarah acknowledges the challenge and awkwardness we may feel, even as she encourages us to practice hospitality. Being tired is another one of those challenges, so deliberately planning for some rest time in between may be a helpful strategy.

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