A Good New Year’s Resolution for Americans for 2015: Hyper-Hospitality

This weekend, we were traveling across the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho, the small country entirely surrounded by South Africa.

We were driving with our friend Thathu who was going to see his family. On the way, we were looking for his in-laws, who had the keys for the house where we would be staying. As we drove along, we came to an open field along the road, with a big tent and three or four hundred people in and around it.

“Pull over,” Thathu said. “I think that they’re here.”

Thathu had seen their car parked with a few others at the gathering. It was a wedding, and sure enough, his in-laws were there. In fact, his father-in-law was officiating the ceremony as we pulled up.

We were woefully underdressed, just in jeans and t-shirts. And moreover, we were uninvited. So Thathu talked to someone outside and sent word in to his mother-in-law that we needed the key to the house.

The next thing we knew, she was at our car, imploring us to come in, to join in the festivities. We tried to resist, but she insisted. So before we knew it, we were in the front row of this large wedding ceremony, just two seats away from the bride and groom. Afterward, they also insisted we stay and eat.

Can you imagine this happening in the U.S.?

This is radically different than the typical level of hospitality I’ve been able to give back home. I suspect the same is true for many of you.

It was…

totally gracious,

totally above and beyond,

totally surprising,

totally wonderful!

We have experienced a lot of hospitality overseas. In western Kenya, a friend’s mother butchered one of her three chickens just for us. Some of our students in China welcomed us to their families’ homes, giving us the fire-warmed kang to sleep on (and even made it extra warm for us). And one time when I was hungry in Nicaragua, a policeman rode a 20” bike in pouring rain to get me a meal—while I was detained and potentially under arrest. (That’s a long story, but think about the deep hospitality this shows!)

And we have also received a truckload of hospitality in the U.S. A coffee shop we frequented gave us our first couch. Friends in our first apartment building invited us to potlucks. Many different people have let us house-sit or drop in for a night or a week, caring well for us with their space and delicious food.

We’ve been able to offer some hospitality ourselves, too. One person needed a place to stay for a month and ended up staying at our house for two. We had a Thanksgiving meal with a mishmash of people who didn’t know each other but who didn’t have another place to go. We invited a new person at church to our place for a meal on her first Sunday. A woman going through a divorce came over to talk and cry.

But nothing compares to the welcome and care that we got this weekend at that wedding in rural Lesotho.

In talking with Thathu in the car, we found out about a lovely phrase—ukunakekela okweqile. It translates something like “overly-hospitable” or “hyper-hospitable.” It can have a negative connotation, as in a person who is so hospitable it’s actually inconvenient to the recipient of the hospitality. That wasn’t the case for us, though.

Think about it. Would anyone ever accuse you of being “overly-hospitable”?

I doubt anyone would say that about me. But what a great goal for the New Year!

There are a lot of great things about life and society in the U.S. But it seems to me that we are generally lacking in this hyper-hospitality.

Let’s be generous and kind to one another, and even to strangers who are very different from us.

Let’s be overly-hospitable in 2015.

Perhaps this could even start with our Christmas celebrations.