The Bible teaches that one of God’s tests for a just society is the way that society treats immigrants. In Leviticus, God’s people were clearly instructed: “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34
This theme of hospitality runs through the Bible like a golden thread. It begins with God preparing a place where Adam and Eve can live. The wonderful story of Abraham inadvertently hosting God, Ruth settling from Moab to Israel with her mother I law Naomi, or Esther’s intervention on behalf of the Hebrew people living in the Persian empire all demonstrate God’s instructions to show mercy and compassion to the orphan, the widow and the stranger. The New Testament reiterates these themes and in Matthew chapter 25 includes Jesus’ words: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me in…whatever you do for the least of these you do for me.” Showing hospitality is a mark of a just nation but also of a justified individual. It is one of the markers of genuine faith in God.
Showing hospitality is a mark of a just nation but also of a justified individual
All sorts of people need our help and hospitality: refugees, unaccompanied asylum seeking children, children in need of foster care or adoption, care leavers, women fleeing from domestic abuse, those finding themselves in poverty or victims of crime. The church has both a great track record and much more to do in all of these areas. Now, with the large numbers of people due to arrive imminently from Hong Kong in a challenging time in their lives, in our nation’s life and in the history of the world we have a truly unique and urgent opportunity to practice hospitality.
I became a Christian in university in China, after graduation, I came to the UK to do my post-graduate degree. I arrived in Worcester, and went to St Paul’s Church. An English couple from that church took me under their wings, treating me, a stranger from China, like their daughter. The love I received in their home contributed immensely to the growth of my young Christian faith, inspiring me to love God and people like they do. When I was in Bible College, I met another couple in my ministry placement, and they too embraced me as their daughter. When I moved to Leicester, new to the ministry and place, and lonely, apart from my Chinese friends, two lovely English ladies showed me hospitality, and welcomed me as their friends. My life is enriched by all these people who not only invited me into their homes, but also into their lives; not just opening their doors, but their hearts too.
Since I became a Christian, the biggest burden on my heart was for my parents to come to know the Lord. In 2013, they had an opportunity to visit me in the UK. They were totally overwhelmed by the welcome and love they experienced from all my Christian friends, especially the British ones: they could understand that while their daughter is overseas, her Chinese fellow countrymen would help her, because they are from the same motherland; but they couldn’t explain the love and hospitality from the non-Chinese ones: what benefit can a Chinese stranger like their daughter bring them? Nothing! What do they get from giving so much of their time, money and love to a stranger? In the end, my parents found the answer to their questions: it must be God, the God that these people believe, He must be real! Because God is love, so that His people can love. At the end of their visit, my parents invited Jesus to become their personal Saviour and Lord, and got baptised before returning to China! Praise the Lord, hallelujah! So a Chinese girl like me, received so much love from people in the UK. And I pray that any visitors here, whether for a short time or long term, will be asking the questions that my parents asked, and will also find the answer to that question, that we love, because God first loved us.
Being a friend to someone struggling to feel at home in a new country, providing local knowledge to someone who doesn’t know how the systems work, can make a big difference. Whether you speak Cantonese or not, all of us have something to offer those arriving from Hong Kong. Whatever our political opinions or religious leanings, we can all agree that we should show the better angels of our nature by welcoming the stranger. In so doing, some of us may entertain angels, without even knowing.
This is a transcript from the BBC's Radio 4 service celebrating the Chinese New Year. The full transcript can be found at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000s15v