Beauty from Ashes: Welcoming the Stranger
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
I began my journey with World Vision just over a year ago when I was hired to work with our supporters to educate and encourage around our work in the Holy Land. Little did I know, that in one of the world’s most conflict ridden places, I would find an unexpected beauty in the welcome and hospitality of our staff, supporters, and children!
One of my first work responsibilities was to host a small group from our Orange County Women of Vision chapter – traveling with one of the champions of the faith, Angela Mason, former Chapter Advisor for Women of Vision. I had known Angela from my previous work in the local church in California. I admired her vitality, passion, and zest for responding to the needs of the world’s poor. For years, her work had captured my attention and my heart for children from Romania, to Lesotho, and all over the world. The idea of traveling with her to the Holy Land was thrilling! I consider it a great privilege that she asked me to lead the trip.
Here I was, brand new to this immense and influential organization, and one of my first organizational responsibilities was to lead one of our veteran staff and some of our most stalwart supporters – who had each been to the region of the Middle East numerous times – to show them our work and talk about challenging issues affecting Christians in the Holy Land.
I was unprepared for the way these women embraced our work and ministry, and our communal call to make a difference in the world. As the five of us gathered over a meal prior to our first day’s adventures, I learned that Joni, Marie, and Jaclyn each had a passionate investment in the work of our Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza office. They talked about their hopes for the week, their excitement to meet and spend time with their sponsored children – and they embraced me wholeheartedly as a fellow traveler on the journey.
I have led numerous trips and pilgrimages around the world, but there was something unique in the way these women welcomed me to the fold. It was as if we were fellow companions on a common journey – learning, growing, seeking to discern how we can make a difference and honor the missional call of God on our lives.
This theme of welcome extended to the communities we visited throughout the West Bank. One of my favorite visits was to a girl’s school in the village of Jenin. When our small group of women arrived, several dozen young girls – dressed in traditional Palestinian decorative dress – were standing outside waiting patiently for us. They greeted us with song. Shivering a bit in the cool weather, their smiles radiated the most beautiful of welcomes.
It is hard to describe how that first trip to the region with World Vision opened my eyes to the growing and significant impact of our work. I was deeply moved by the hospitality and graciousness that was extended to me around every turn… from Angela to the women of Orange County… to the young girls at the school who continually said “Ahlan Washalan”… Welcome.
As we continue into the Lenten season, I am reminded of Jesus’ invitation: “Come.” We are welcome to be in intimate relationship and community with Him… just as we are welcome into beloved community with one another. May you experience the open arms of Christ Jesus and the hospitality of people around you in a unique and special way as we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection this Easter!
by Mae Elise Cannon
Reverend Mae Elise Cannon is World Vision’s Senior Director of Advocacy and Outreach. She is the author of Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World (IVP, 2009), and Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action (IVP, 2013).