Everyone who travels to Tanzania returns home with a story about the generous hospitality of our partner congregations. Villagers turn out to greet visitors from America. Feasts are prepared. Bright fabrics are presented as memory-filled gifts. My own experience as the "Askofu" from America was like that, too. Add in the fact that I am the first woman bishop ever to be seen in those parts, and Mama Askofu - Mother Bishop - became my new identity for the days I was in the Iringa Diocese.
Such hospitality and welcome does not get old. I arrived more than a week ahead of time for the Consecration and Installation of Bishop Blaston Gaville. That early arrival allowed me to visit a number of congregations and preaching points, as well as two boarding schools, an orphanage, a hospital and a university. I will have more reflections to share on those in another blog. But it is my heartfelt response to hospitality within the Christian community that is on my mind as I write this.
Hospitality is an ancient virtue in the Christian tradition, as it is in many cultures and faith traditions. Hospitality includes concrete acts that allow one to feel at-home in a brand-new setting and context. In Hebrews 13:2 the faithful are instructed - Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
In our culture, it is the person who crosses the sanctuary on Sunday morning, extends a hand, and boldly says - "I don't think we have met. I am glad you are here" and follows that with an invitation to brunch. It is the family that piles out of the car and offers to help unload boxes from the U-Haul for the new neighbors on the block and then invites the newcomers to their deck for burgers later that day. It is the high school senior who pauses in the lunchroom on the first day of school to see if the new transfer students wants to join her group of friends for lunch.
Do those seem too far-fetched, too extravagant? We aren't very good at that depth of hospitality in our churches or our communities. But our siblings in Tanzania are.
On one of my days traveling in the diocese, Julia Hubbard, Peter Harrits and our BKB colleague, Lusungu Msigwa and I made a quick stop in Kidabaga where Msigwa's mother lives. We had already been on the road for hours and had covered many miles on unpaved roads in our visits to several congregations. Although we were weary from our travels, there was an easy banter to the stories we shared as we relaxed in the family home. Cool drinks were served.
When we prepared to leave for our home base in Iringa, Msigwa's grandmother (pictured above) came outside from her nearby home to greet us. We marveled at her health and I told her that I had a sister, who was her age. Without missing a beat, she replied - through her grandson's translation - I am your sister, too.
Not a stranger but a sister, a sibling in Christ. That's the fundamental understanding that makes hospitality seem natural in all its extravagance - in Iringa and in this synod. That's the new identity in Christ that never gets old.
Bishop Patricia Lull
Saint Paul Area Synod