The gift of hospitality

By Wendy Kittlitz

Serving in the background of our retreat ministries is an amazing group of men and women without whom we could not do what we do to serve ministry leaders and married couples.

When Focus on the Family Canada began exploring the idea of adding marriage intensives to our ministry leader retreats, we met with one of the leaders from the Focus Marriage Institute in the U.S. who had spent years working in the hospitality industry. His words resonated with me as I reflected on my own experiences of staying in various hotels, resorts and other accommodations: “When people come to us and see that things have been taken care of for them, they are able to let go, relax and become able to take in what they have come there for.” It’s a bit like being able to exhale all the stored-up tension they have come with.

When ministry leaders come to stay at Kerith Retreats or couples in very stressed marriages come for our Hope Restored marriage intensives, they are inevitably feeling weary, in need of care, to varying degrees hopeful but not sure what to expect. Hosts notice the change that occurs from the time they walk through the doors to when they leave: “Often guests seem apprehensive when they arrive, don’t know what to expect, and leave rested and encouraged and joyful.”

Upon arrival, they are greeted by hosts, most often volunteers, who serve our ministry with the express purpose of making people’s stays comfortable and relaxing. They are shown to beautifully appointed rooms, advised where to find whatever they need, and informed of where and when they will enjoy regular, wonderful meals and snacks ready and waiting for them. Feel the exhale?

Hospitality has been defined as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers.” The Bible is filled with examples of hospitality (see Matthew 25:40; Romans 16:23; 1 Timothy 5:10; Luke 10:38-42). Hospitality is one of the qualifications to be an elder in the church. God’s people are even commanded to be hospitable:

  • “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)
  • “Do not forget to show hospitalityto strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
  • “Offer hospitalityto one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9)

Our teams of hosts are outstanding examples of taking these commands to heart and putting them into practice. We truly believe that the practice of welcoming and serving our guests is as transformative as the programs and/or counselling that we offer. Anxious, stressed people are able to profoundly relax, rest, let go of their pain, and gain the mental space to be refilled with hope, grace and energy to move forward again, whether back into ministry life or into healthier marriages.

I asked several of our hosts recently what motivates them to serve in this way. Here are a few of their responses:

  • “Use our gifts to bring joy/nurturing/delight to those we have been given the privilege to welcome at Kerith Retreats.”
  • “Our love for enjoyable mealtimes, for listening well, for bringing some humour (when appropriate) and joy to their time here. Our privilege as hosts is to be praying for the guests as they are here.”
  • “The good feeling I get inside having guests express genuine appreciation for the efforts we put into preparing the meals and going out of our way to make them feel welcome and well cared for.”
  • “When we retired, we agreed that we wanted to remain useful and think of others not just ourselves.”
  • “I find great satisfaction when I have the opportunity to exercise my God-given gift of helping and serving.”
  • “We know how important it is for leaders to be served, have down time, and be encouraged.”
  • “We simply get to show God’s love in a way that makes our guests feel safe and valued and we’re rewarded by the sheer joy of being part of something so life-changing and God-honouring.”

Hosts report that guests have been touched by the extra special touches they provide. One host recalls a man who loved coffee being especially appreciative that she made him a special coffee. Another remembers putting together a special little gift basket for a couple who were spending time alone together in the great room at the lodge. Ministry leaders retreats include a dinner where each couple is served privately in an intimate setting and one guest said, “We felt like you washed our feet.” Other hosts feel warmed by the appreciation expressed by guests with food allergies whose needs were graciously accommodated by the hosts’ food preparation. Most of our hosts are couples, while others are friends and we even have one team of brothers! In each case, the warm and loving interaction of the hosts with one another has often been a source of inspiration and encouragement for guests as well.

From the first greeting at the door, to serving up delicious, nutritious meals, to addressing unique needs attentively, to being a warm, welcoming presence as well as a listening ear and praying intently for each guest, our hosts create an atmosphere that allows guests to be in a space to receive what God has prepared for them during their time with us.

One host shared, “There is something transformative that takes place when we come to the table to enjoy great food together – even in the company of strangers.” The first meal together are groups of guests as strangers. But by their last meal together, so much has changed. Friendships have formed, warmth has been exchanged, healing is happening, and mutual support has been experienced. Hospitality is the foundation upon which all of this happens.

As the leader of this program, I am profoundly thankful for the people who graciously serve our ministry in this way. This is an invaluable and indispensable component of our programs. While people with leadership gifts are often more visible in our ministry programs, it is these servants with gifts of hospitality and service that truly touch people. I invite you, as leaders, to come and experience our outstanding hospitality! I also encourage you to identify and affirm the people with gifts of hospitality within your own ministry settings – they are gifts to the body of Christ.

 

Visit KerithRetreats.ca to learn more about our ministry leader renewal retreats. Visit HopeRestoredCanada.ca to learn about our marriage intensives.

 

Wendy Kittlitz is a registered counsellor and vice-president of counselling and care ministries for Focus on the Family Canada. Wendy also oversees both Kerith Retreats and Hope Restored.

 

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