Hospitality is central to the Christian faith. In Matthew 22, Jesus articulated the “greatest commandment” to love God with our whole heart. He then added a second, related commandment to love our neighbors (37–40). In the modern language Bible translation “The Message,” we find that hospitality is a tangible way to reflect our love for God in the way we love others:
Love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time (1 Peter 4:8–11).
Perhaps your first association with the word hospitality is hosting a dinner party. While food is often involved, biblical hospitality is more than that. In the Bible, hospitality is framed as selfless generosity and welcome, whether the person at your doorstep is a friend or a stranger.
Most of us know someone who exudes warmth and openness. Wherever they go, they seem to create a warm and friendly space where everyone feels at home. It doesn’t matter how large their home is or how it’s decorated. The sense of acceptance people feel in their presence has no connection to the food they serve or whether the plates match. Hospitable people seem to hold loosely to things and tightly to people. They are the ones you know you can call no matter what. They are the ones whose door is always open.
Bethany’s services—domestic, global, and refugee—largely take place in homes, where most essential care happens for body and soul: feeding and sheltering, listening and loving, and binding up wounds of every kind.
Across the country and around the world, Bethany parents, caregivers, volunteers, mentors, and staff show hospitality to children and families who need support. The following are foundational values of authentic hospitality shared by four of Bethany’s leaders. These values inform the way we design and deliver services so children and families know they’re safe, loved, and connected.
Julie Paine, Senior Director of Family Preservation Programs
Safe Families for Children is built on hospitality. When parents are going through a temporary crisis, we surround them with caring, compassionate community—providing friendship, coaching, resources, and short-term care for their children through volunteer Host Families. The
“secret sauce” of the Safe Families model is the relationships that form when Hosts are present with parents in crisis—not trying to “fix” them but showing them they’re loved and not alone.
In the 2015 book “The Body Keeps the Score,” author Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist and trauma researcher, makes the case that presence is one of the most powerful remedies for healing trauma. People who have experienced trauma carry fear and stress along with physical and emotional wounds, and they long to be in the presence of someone who is safe. When that happens, their bodies can begin to relax and release, and they can move toward healing.
Of course COVID-19 has made it harder for all of us to be physically close with others. As an organization, and through our Safe Families network, we’ve had to get creative about how to be present with people who feel more isolated than ever in this challenging time. Our volunteers have continued hosting children through the pandemic, and throughout our communities, people have been picking up groceries, dropping off meals, spending time together virtually, and checking in on each other to show they care.
Showing hospitality through presence is God’s idea. Ecclesiastes 4 reminds us that two are better than one (v. 9), and a cord of three strands is not easily broken (v. 11). People are hungry for connection, and presence is an essential part of restoration and well-being.
Cheri Williams, Senior Vice President of Domestic Programs
Child welfare in the U.S. was built on a “savior” mentality. The assumption was that parents who were poor were morally deficient, so their children needed to be saved. From 1854–1929, nearly 200,000 children were sent from New York City on “orphan trains” to be adopted by rural families in the West. For kids who were exploited for farm labor, the solution to “save” them did more harm.
Racial and class biases are still apparent in child welfare today, both at individual and systemic levels. People (and systems) assume children who are poor will be better off if they’re raised by wealthy, white suburban families instead of their own. People (and systems) assume parents accused of neglect are objectively bad people without regard for how they landed in such desperate circumstances. Unchecked biases lead all of us to determine who is worthy of compassion, and out of fear or judgement, we usually reserve our hospitality for those who are most like ourselves.
When we show hospitality to those who are most often overlooked and ignored—whether we are social workers, pregnancy counselors, foster parents, adoptive parents, child services administrators, judges, or volunteers—we need to be sure our motives are true. Can we humble ourselves and wash the feet of those who are different from us, those who have been dealt a hard hand, without casting judgement?
Biblical hospitality calls us to open our door to others not because we’ve got it all together but because Christ calls us to love without condition and be a light in the darkness.
Dona Abbott, Senior Vice President of Global, Refugee, and Immigrant Services
Think about the hardest times you’ve ever experienced in your life. Who was with you during those times? When you felt sure you were all alone in the world, who rewrote that false narrative with their presence, generosity, openness, and warmth? That assurance that you were cared for, safe, and accepted is foundational to every person’s well-being and survival.
When refugees come to the U.S., many arrive alone or with a few family members. All have left loved ones behind. They sometimes have a few personal items with them, but they often have only the clothes on their backs. Bethany’s services begin by meeting basic needs—food, water, clothing, shelter—leading to connection with community and church volunteers who help with transportation, employment, language skills, and more. All of these are tangible acts of hospitality that warmly welcome refugees to their new community.
After more than 40 years in this field, I’m still moved to hear a resettled refugee say, “I finally feel safe.” Most Americans don’t think in terms of safety—no one’s going to arrest us for something we saw, for telling our story, for disagreeing with a political decision. Most of us don’t realize just how blessed we are. When we have food and water to share, a home and a family to share, and financial resources to share, it’s humbling to realize we have more than enough.
With more than 70 million displaced people, the world is experiencing the largest refugee crisis on record. Refugees have lost their homes, families, and countries. If we say we believe in justice, we must respond. If we say we believe in integrity, we must respond. Welcoming the stranger—showing hospitality—is as central to Christianity as faith, hope, and love.
Kristi Gleason, Vice President of Global Programs
Hospitality honors the human dignity in every person and seeks to do the right thing, regardless of the situation.
In our work to get children out of orphanages and into families, Bethany has focused largely on children with disabilities—the kids in the back rooms that visitors don’t get to see. When we began global foster care work in China in 2010, all the kids we placed with foster families had disabilities.
We specifically told orphanages we wanted to serve kids where foster care might be their only chance to have a family. Children with significant medical needs are often relinquished to an orphanage within days of their birth. When they age out of orphanage care, they’re moved directly into a nursing home environment designed to serve elderly adults, not children.
Transitioning from one institution to another, they never experience life in a community, with a family. And we believe every child deserves a family.
The same was true of the work we did for nearly 40 years in intercountry adoption. We focused on finding permanent homes for older children; sibling groups; children with emotional, developmental, and medical needs; and kids who were HIV-positive—kids who were seen as “unadoptable.” And that focus continues today as foster and adoptive families are providing homes for these children right in their own countries.
Helping children who need us most has long been our model. It’s an incredibly hard space to work in, and we don’t always get it right. But we remain committed to do the right thing for children around the world, trusting that God alone opens homes and hearts to welcome a child and to support this work.
Explore Bethany.org to learn how you can open your home, your family, and your life to help children and families across the country and around the world.