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Having grown up as a child of educators who were Christians with non-Christian students from all over the world, Perry Glanzer’s recent blog post reminded me of my parents and their approach to hospitality in our home. We often had students in our home (including living with us for periods of time). Our home was full of Christian symbols – be they books, pictures, cross stitch Scripture, etc. Our conversations were also full of Christianity – be they sermons, Scripture, books, etc. And when we had non-Christian guests, including Muslims, the only changes I remember were not having pork (including in the green beans and cornbread) and making sure to put my daddy’s Bible on the shelf.

To explain, his Bible always sat on the floor next to his big leather chair where he started his mornings by reading it accompanied by prayer, memory verse cards, and tears of praise and thanksgiving. But Mother knew that to leave it on the floor was a sign of disrespect for a holy book with our Muslim friends, so it was my job to make sure it was on the shelf next to his chair.

My parents opened their home to many from far and wide for conversation, cookies, and care. Cookies were especially important in their week-long open houses at Christmas chock-full of people, laughter, food, and stories, including telling the story of Jesus’ birth to any who would listen or ask about the manger scene in the middle of the living room.

The same principles held with my father’s office at a major state university. His walls were filled with printed-out data tables mixed in with scribbled-out Scriptures. A simple wooden cross hung next to field equipment while his Bible sat on the edge of the desk for easy access. For he started his morning at the office by reading it and often needed it in conversations with students and colleagues alike. And the same was true for Mother’s classroom. There was no separation of life from work and no segregation of love for people with their backgrounds or beliefs. Jesus loved the whole world, so they did too, with words and deeds.

My parents’ students always asked questions about the symbols and simple kind answers were always given by my parents. There wasn’t any defensiveness or dismissal; there was only hospitality and hope. And my parents saw many of their students (and families) come to Christ over the years and continue with Him in their lives even when they returned to their homes overseas. This didn’t stop when my parents retired. There’s still people and their questions, cookies, and conversation, and that “come right on in, I’m so glad you’re here” at their house. Nothing faked or fancy or forced. Just hospitality given in genuine love because they still recognize the call to care, no matter the age, color, position, or politics of the people they encounter. They light up like the Christmas trees of my past when they hear from former students about their children’s accomplishments almost as much as they do with their own grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I don’t think even my parents can count how many friends they have who used to be students (or children of students with whom I used to play and sneak snacks from our kitchen).

These memories shaped my life and my husband’s as young professors in secular institutions to do the same with our offices and home in openness about the Good News to students and colleagues. And they do the same today for us as older professors in a Christian institution where not all of our students embrace Jesus. Many of our students do say they’re Christians, but we can’t take that for granted even and especially at a Christian university. For not only do we have non-believer students who are adamant about their disbelief, we have those who don’t know what they believe from only having an inherited faith from their parents. (And between you and me, those students can be harder to speak the truth in love to because they think they know Jesus but really all they know is a cultural representation of Him and His Word. Those kinds of conversations require extra grace, prayer, and deep breaths if you know what I mean. Yet they can be fruitful – if you just don’t give up – but that’s a story for another day…)

So, today, our office walls have Scripture and data tables while our home has brownies and chips for whomever comes through the doors. We know that our hospitality in the classroom and office with the love of and for our Jesus is just as important as our hospitality in the university coffee shop and cafeteria. Food and drink loosen tongues and open hearts to hearing the truth spoken in love. The gift of time in listening is both rare and beautiful in its distinctive hospitality.

My husband and I welcome sinners and saints alike, just as we have been welcomed in our past by other mentors. We ask if we can pray for our students and colleagues, and we do pray, even there in the classroom, hallway, or office. (And we don’t talk to others about what we’ve been told.) We listen and we share stories without filtering the tears, trials, or triumphs because we want our Jesus to be seen in everything to everyone. For our Jesus is everything to us, every day, just like we learned from our parents.

Thank you for letting me reminisce here and give thanks to our Good God in the doing. I surely hope that these memories might encourage you to seek out ways to practice hospitality in your office, home, classroom, or laboratory with whomever God has put in front of you. I’ve learned that the best welcome I can give anyone is to extend the grace given to me, especially if it goes against my natural inclination to accomplish that day’s to-do list. For this person in front of me, no matter who he or she is, is one for whom my Jesus came to live, die, and rise again in the greatest gift of hospitality the world has ever known. Just like He did for me and for you, too.

Beth Madison

Beth Madison, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Science, School of Adult and Professional Studies, Union University, Jackson, TN