Last week I visited again the Balcombe Beach Retreat (pictured)
It is clear that we are called to be hospitable:
- Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:13)
- 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)
- Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.(1 Peter 4:9)
In both Timothy and Titus, being hospitable is one of the key qualifications for church leadership.
So if hospitality is so important, why are there so many lonely people in our communities and even in our churches?
Hospitality requires a fundamental willingness to be open to different ways of seeing the world, to people with different value systems and different life experiences. Hospitality is deeply confronting.
For much of my life I have lived with groups of people whose stated goal was to be hospitable. As I write this book I am in Poatina Village, a community in central Tasmania that says its primary values are generosity and hospitality. These experiences have shown me just how profoundly confronting hospitality actually is. To truly be hospitable is to open your life to pain.
Seven years ago I moved with my family to the Mornington Peninsula, just outside of Melbourne. We moved into a four bedroom flat that was part of an old officer’s mess, the only building left from an army camp that used to cover the Balcombe estate.
The organisation I work with, Fusion, had done research into the needs of young people in the area twenty years earlier and it was clear that youth homelessness was a major crisis. Our experience had shown that the real need at the core of youth homelessness was not a bed but community and purpose, so we established the Balcombe Beach retreat.
I’m fairly sure the reason God took us to Mornington was to teach me about hospitality. Apart from our flat there was another family living in a two bedroom flat and seventeen bedrooms upstairs where both single members of the team lived as well as up to six homeless young people at any one time.
Because the community was so confined and intense it served as a laboratory in which we would get very direct feedback. Whenever the young people felt seen and valued, Balcombe was a beautiful, rewarding and enriching place to be. Whenever we started getting too busy for them, pre-occupied or focused too much on rules and regulations, Balcombe quickly became a living hell.
I learned a lot from the young people that lived with us in those five years. I realised my natural tendency is to be pre-occupied, and I am sad to say that there were a number of young people who lived under the same roof I did that I never actually got to know. There was one young person in particular who taught me a profound lesson. His name too, was Matt.
Matt, like most of the young people who came to stay with us, had a complex background. He obviously identified with the hip-hop sub culture and enjoyed playing his music loud, which was a challenge because his bedroom was directly above ours.
After some initial challenges, he started to settle in and became attached to my children. Moving into an intense community like this with my family was not an easy decision. Leeanne and I talked at length about the risks and prayed regularly for the safety of our children. Looking back I can see God looked after us. I can also see clearly that often the Garvin kids were the best youth workers in the building. Both my sons would have long discussions with Matt about all kinds of things, and Matt seemed to instinctively change his behavior whenever he saw Maddie, Josh, Daniel or Sophie anywhere near him.
I still remember the Christmas when he knocked on the door and rather sheepishly brought presents for each one of my children He had taken the time to think of each one and tried to find something that would bring joy to them.
Matt travelled with Fusion to Tasmania for a one week Youth Foundations course and through the process welcomed Jesus into his life.
It became clear that Matt was ready to leave the Balcombe community, and he was keen to start to stand on his own two feet. He would still drop in regularly though, and in particular would ring one of our team members, Chris, who had become a bit like a surrogate dad for him Chris played that role for lots of the young people mainly because of all our team, he was the one who gave them the most space.
I still remember getting the call. Matt was in a coma.
A month or so earlier he had applied for an apprenticeship as a truck mechanic, something he had set his heart on. Two out of three of the business owners had said yes, but one said no and that was it. Matt lost focus and direction, and a next door neighbor offered him drugs.
It was a sad funeral. Matt had so much to offer, and yet he was gone.
Matt was a gift to me. He managed to get through my pre-occupation and I met a very special person. I saw something of his spirit in the way he connected with my children and the way he wanted to tackle life head on. He stands as a symbol for me of why creating space is so important, if one person could have created just a little more space, Matt would still be alive today.
What I have to face though, was that while its easy to blame a business owner, I could have made the space to know what that interview had meant for him. I could have created the space to talk the rejection through with him. I could have been hospitable for Matt at a time when he most needed it. The real reason I wasn’t was that I was too busy. I too full of the rest of my agenda, my plans, my family, my television, my dreams. I didn’t create the space Matt needed.
It’s physically not possible to have the space for all the hurting people in your life. Even Jesus didn’t deeply connect with every person he came in contact with. I am convinced though, that it is real hospitality, the creation of space for the other, that is actually at the heart whenever God’s people are changing the world.
As I look at some of the most effective things the Christian church does, at the heart is not a great performance or a clever program, it is hospitality. The genius of the Alpha course is not the wonderful teaching but the creation of a safe space for dialogue. Fusion’s Open Crowd Festivals have been so effective because they are simply a way to be hospitable to a whole community.
To truly see transformation we need to be ready to step outside of the neat and tidiness we have created for ourselves.
“Really honest receptivity means inviting the stranger into our world on his or her terms, not on ours. When we say, ‘You can be my guest if you believe what I believe, think the way I think and behave as I do, we offer love under a condition or for a price. This leads easily to exploitation, making hospitality into a business”.