Holy Hospitality

By Ben Sutter, benjamins5@goshen.edu, Franconia Conference CommunicationsBen in the coffee shop

One thing I’ve experienced this first week of living in Philadelphia is hospitality. I arrived last Monday at one in the morning and was picked up by my boss, Steve Kriss. Steve took me to his own house, because my more permanent housing arrangements hadn’t been settled yet. He welcomed me into his life and his work for three days, allowing me to live with him. He embraced my questions and my musings as he began to describe the city and the conference. He helped me start recognizing and thinking about the nuances and characteristics that I would run into in this new setting. I felt acknowledged and accepted into his work in the conference. Steve showed me only the beginning of the incredible hospitality that I have encountered in my first eleven days in Philly.

Last Wednesday I was welcomed into the home of Pastor Aldo, one of the pastors of Philadelphia Praise Center. Aldo lives in a home with five other Indonesian young men and an older woman we call “Ibu” or “mother”. I’ve come to dearly love staying in this house, even though I’ve barely been there a week. Everyone in the house is busy, but they’re all interested in each other’s lives. Food is a very important part of how we relate to each other. Almost every time I open the front door and come back to the house, the first question I’m asked is if I’ve eaten yet. Whoever is home at mealtime eats together. I fill my plate with rice and noodles and Ibu always tells me that I need more. She takes my plate from me and adds at least one more heaping spoonful.

My roommates Yonathan and Ardi have embraced me as a friend and brother in Christ. They’ve taken me around the city and shown me the ropes. Yonathan showed off Chinatown and the Redding Market, while Ardi explained the train system to me and took me to the train station to buy my ticket to work. They’ve treated me to food, buying me McDonalds and Phileo Yogurt. We hang out together in the evenings, watching TV in the house and walking around the city.

This past Sunday, I attended my first services at Philadelphia Praise Center, one in Indonesian and a second in Spanish. I was amazed at everyone’s willingness to include me. People welcomed me as I walked into the sanctuary, shaking my hand and saying “hello,” “hola,” or just giving me a big smile. Even though languages were different, communication was possible.

In the Indonesian service, I listened to the message through a translator speaking into a head set. The songs weren’t translated, however, and many were sung in Indonesian. Most of the songs showed English translations alongside the Indonesian words on the screen in the front of the church, but I found myself drawn to singing the Indonesian. It was too hard to follow both the English translation and the Indonesian words sung by the congregation. Singing the Indonesian words, even in my poor pronunciation, made me feel apart of the community. It didn’t matter if I knew exactly what I was singing or even if I was doing it well. All that mattered was that I was joining the community in praising God. I could tell that at the core of whatever I was singing, God was being praised—God received the glory.

I’m excited to see where this summer takes me. I have felt embraced by the conference and supported by its people. I recognize the presence of God in the relationships that I’ve begun to foster and the barriers that I’m beginning to help break down. I pray that as I continue my work, I will continue to see God’s dream for the world revealed in authentic and tangible ways.