By Selina Venier
HOW seriously do you take the “welcome the stranger” biblical theme?
We hear it so often.
“Love your neighbour as yourself” (Luke 10:27), “Extend hospitality to strangers” (Romans 12:13), and “I was a stranger and you welcomed me … (for) as you did it to one of the least of my brothers you did it to me” are just a few to come to mind. (Matthew 25:35, 40)
Through this lens our family were met with a real opportunity to “welcome the stranger”.
As if prompting the encounter, the sky “began to open up” when we attended a recent community event.
At the same time and having moved away from the crowd I noticed a young couple looking somewhat lost and discussing heatedly how to proceed.
They were communicating in my second language so it wasn’t just their tone or body language to suggest a lifeline might have been warranted.
I offered an umbrella and a smile, asking, “Is everything okay?”
The male looked puzzled and replied, “In what way?” and I wondered if I had overstepped some kind of boundary.
“Oh, I just thought you might need some help,” I said.
His partner seemed ever so grateful for the protection from the rain at least and so began a conversation.
It turned out not only were they cold and reasonably lost they were also sleeping in their car.
With the Misses, then 11 and 12, and Master then about Eight Months in tow I suggested we find My Dearly Beloved who was occupied on a stall.
As we walked I pondered if we could accommodate the couple ourselves and put it to the Misses. Neither was particularly happy with the idea.
“Where will they sleep?” one piped up.
“For how long will they stay?” the other asked.
Their response bothered me a bit but I understood, after all, they are given so many warnings about “strangers”.
“God asks us to welcome and care for people we don’t know,” I said realising the word “stranger” in itself doesn’t help the cause, “(And) this might be a good time to do exactly that.”
Still, the Misses weren’t particularly fussed.
Unsure of how things would unfold we walked on and I put the same question to My Dearly Beloved.
He had no issue striking up a conversation with them in his native language and was more than willing to open our home to the duo agreeing we “couldn’t leave them sleeping in their car”.
We offered our phone number and they headed off to find an Internet connection.
We headed home to escape the storm and to prepare a meal for us all.
One hour went by and then two.
The Misses were a bit on edge but happy to be home.
Bedtime arrived but our new friends didn’t.
We tried to call several times without success.
What a mystery, we thought.
Even though there are times better judgement errs on the side of not being hospitable, we had genuinely wanted to welcome the duo and live the Gospel.
It was almost a let down to not be able to but we resolved to try and make contact in the morning.
About a week went by and still nothing.
I found myself shopping or at the park and always keeping an eye out.
One week became two and still no contact.
On the afternoon of Holy Thursday My Dearly Beloved returned home and posed the question, “Guess who I ran into?”
The couple had found somewhere to stay the night we had met them, had tried to phone without success and had begun fruit picking the following day, taking them a reasonable drive away.
It was a good outcome and in an hour’s time they presented at our front door.
We offered hospitality, eventually, and shared more conversation.
With obvious reminders of Christ in our home, faith in God entered our discussions.
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, quite a tirade of criticism of the Church followed.
With Holy Thursday Mass in mind and just hours away, it was quite a timely conversation and I found myself “firing” on all cylinders.
In the end, Jesus was our common ground.
The whole experience, from first meeting to the eventual discussion in our home, was an excellent lesson in following the Lord’s lead and we have shared time together since.
For the Misses especially it reinforced what and whom we stand for when others are in need and when others challenge our beliefs.
It’s a lesson that helped call the stranger, friend.