The church in Escuintla, Guatemala had no door, windows or roof. The property had virtually no grass or landscaping. The seating was plastic stools with no backs, The floor of the church was gravel and dirt. If you needed to use the bathroom, the neighbors across the road were gracious enough to allow you to use theirs. The church would hold roughly 200 people.
My church is beautifully landscaped. We have sports fields and ponds and palm tree-lined entrances. The building is 2 stories of smaller classrooms, large rooms, a kitchen and a coffee shop. That doesn’t even mention the sanctuary which seats approximately 5,600 people.
On the surface, the churches seem like complete opposites. But see, the exterior, surface-level things are where the differences stop. The people attending both churches are sinners. Each week broken, hurting and searching people come to visit and see if maybe this place can offer hope the world can’t scrounge up. That’s what I love about the Body of Christ. Each church looks and operates differently - but the Church doesn’t change because Christ is the Chief Cornerstone. If Jesus Christ is where our eyes our fixed, then we have the most important thing in common with believers around the world whether they meet in cinder-block wall, roof-less churches, in multi-million dollar facilities or in someone’s home in secret.
It’s not the exterior that matters. John 13:35 says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” It doesn’t say if we have a nice building, or good signage in our parking lot, or a killer coffee shop. We are known by our love! And that precious congregation in Escuintla had so much love that it could have blown the proverbial roof off their church! The hospitality of this name-less church literally drew me to tears the week I was there, and is still my new standard of the biblical mandate for hospitality. Once a week, the pastor’s wife and a few other “sisters” from the community come together and begin early in the morning to fix food. They have a MASSIVE stock pot and add in wiskil, potatoes, chicken, onions, and tomatoes to make pepian -a delicious stew they serve over rice. Then, when school gets out around lunch time, the children come running. The meal is free, but the children have to bring their own bowl. While we were there, over 140 children from toddler to teenager were served lunch. I literally watched as the kids kept coming and the pepian dwindled. I thought, “but there’s still more children.” And God multiplied. I saw it with my own eyes! Every time I thought there was only enough for 1 or 2 more bowls, more were fed. For many of them, that will be the best meal they eat all week. As they eat, they hear Bible stories and learn God’s Truth.
Friends, this roof-less, floor-less cinderblock rectangle of a church welcomed in and fed 140 children! These men and women have every excuse. Money is tight. It’s hot and standing over the fire stirring the stock pot is stifling. It’s tiring. We have no tables. BUT! These men & women also know they have no excuse that stands up to the commands to love the little children, care for the orphans, and show hospitality. They know that a giant pot of pepian is hospitality and love - and it is drawing the community in. The people are curious; the parents ecstatic to have a safe place away from gangs to spend time and get fed. So the parents are starting to come to the church services. A simple, albeit hugely sacrificial, gesture of hospitality is preparing the way for a community to encounter Jesus!!!
What is our excuse? I have a small home - I can’t have 20 people to my home for a Bible-study. Money is tight right now - I can’t have people over for a meal. I’m so busy and tired from my schedule - I will have people over when my life settles down. Friends, these excuses don’t hold up in light of the gospel. The Message version paraphrases Luke 12:48 by saying, “Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!” We have been given much! Salvation alone is a gift far greater than we deserve, and we must share it with others! But even beyond that, you have much to offer.
I get it! It’s easy to feel like what we do have is not enough. That others have more to offer. And they might. However, we have a responsibility, as the Church to love well. The church in Escuintla will never know this side of heaven just how much they encouraged and challenged me that week. I want to be more like them. I want people to know I’m a disciple of Christ through my love. I want a love for friends and strangers alike to overflow from my life. I pray that a life of hospitality, because of Jesus, will be a legacy I leave.
How have you seen your local church impact the community by providing practical needs? Have you played a part in that? I know there are churches like in Escuintla, and my church in Tampa, all over that are practically loving the community and pointing people to Jesus. (And if you’re not in a church that is loving like the Church is supposed to, perhaps it’s time to step up and take the lead!) I’d love for you to take a minute and brag on your church, small group, or even just a friend who lavishes hospitality.