January 10 – Why Joining the Journey is Better than Being Along for the Ride

AmigosChristian welcome is more than sliding down the pew to make room for a visitor

A couple days after Christmas I received an email from a good friend and colleague who had left our area last spring to accept a new call serving a congregation in the Midwest. It was great to hear from him. He had a favor to ask. A young man in his congregation – 23 and a recent Stanford graduate excited about serving God wherever God would send him – was heading to Brazil in January. He sensed a call to Brazil, even though he’d never been there, and wanted to get a flavor of the country, and, especially, God’s people there. Doug, the young man, is smart, a mathematician and a musician, self-taught a nearly fluent in five languages including Brazilian Portuguese, but he had no contacts in Brazil and no itinerary other than a round trip ticket to and from São Paulo for a month of who knows what. Might I make some contacts among my Brazilian friends on his behalf?

I figured I’d get back to my friend when I was in the office the next week. But then my friend called. Doug was leaving the U.S. on December 31 and arriving in São Paulo on New Year’s Day.

I made my contacts. One of those I contacted lives in a city about 65 miles from São Paulo and I knew that Renato would do what he could to help this unknown tourist. I didn’t expect him to do as much as he did.

I put Renato and the young man in contact with each other, and immediately Renato offered to be at the airport when his flight arrived. Doug said he didn’t want to be a bother and that he’d take a bus or a taxi and find a youth hostel in the city.

I emailed Doug separately reminding him that Brazil is a hospitality culture, that Renato’s offer was real and that it would be a literal shame to decline it. About the same time Renato wrote saying that São Paulo is dangerous city and, please, tell me your flight number and arrival time.

So, the long story short is that Doug has spent the last week with Renato, his wife Karem and their three sons at their home in Hortlândia. He’s been introduced to all their friends (and some visiting Americans I just happen to know, as well). Renato has made contacts with friends at the Presbyterian university in nearby Campinas and Doug is getting the taste of Brazil and the Brazilian church he longed for.

Karem says Doug is “nosso novo filho,” our new son.

On 24-hours notice Renato and Karem opened their home, their hearts, their faith to a young American Christian on nothing more than “a friend of a friend” request. What a joy to have played a very small part in this wonderful story.

Brazil is a hospitality culture. Renato and Karem are incredible servants of Christ. There are ways in which we cannot, even should not, do exactly as they have done with Doug. But we have a lot to learn from the way they model Christian welcome.

“Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God,” Paul writes the Romans.

“Welcome him as you would welcome me,” the apostle tells Philemon speaking of the slave Onesimus.

Paul uses the same word for welcome in both texts.  Literally it  means to take along with oneself. For Christians, welcome is more than sliding down the pew to make room for a visitor. It is a welcome to the journey and then allowing the stranger to join the community as a friend bound for the same destination as all the other pilgrims. Welcome is not content to offer a cup of coffee and then get on with what we were doing. Christian welcome, the church’s welcome of brothers and sisters in Christ – and those would be brothers and sisters in Christ, insists that we open our homes, our hearts and our faith to the other (and you and I will do so as North American Christians with something to learn from our Latin American brothers and sisters, but in ways that are true to who we are).

Christian welcome knows that we’re on a journey and invites the other to come along with us because where we’re bound is worth the trip. Being a Christian is more than being along for the ride. It’s joining the journey, sharing the risks, carrying our share of the load. And rejoicing at the successes and vistas along the way.

Oh, it turned out that Doug packed his fiddle for the trip to Brazil. That’s Doug and his new friend Renato in photo. It’s always good to have a musician or two along for the journey.

So this Sunday and the next and the one after that, if visitors happen to your pew, do more than slide down to make room. Welcome them, inviting them to join us on the journey. Where we’re bound is worth the trip.