I was in Nashville, Tennessee, this last November filming an online success course for young women. It was late Friday, nearing sundown, and I had a decision to make. I would either be spending the night ( miserably cold) in my compact car, or be feeling guilty about putting $64.99 plus tax on my mom’s credit card for a night at the Motel 6. I had been there a week already, staying at a friend’s house. Now there was a bit of a snag--the sleeper sofa was double-booked! My friend’s roommate had also promised the space to his brother and sister-in-law, so rather than creating any friction between two fantastically tenacious Vanderbilt Law students, I packed up my clothes Friday morning and, during breaks from work, I looked at various free/cheap options for the night.
I had started off the morning by getting on a website called Couchsurfing.org where I am a member. Couchsurfing.org is one of the biggest and best-organized online hospitality exchanges--basically a formalized social network of travelers and hosts all over the world who offer accommodation (be it spare room, spare mattress or simply a couch) to one another at no cost. I also made a few phone calls to local Adventist churches. I left messages with the answering machine but didn’t expect much from the digitized voices telling me what time services started in the morning.
By 4:15 that afternoon I had one rejection and two invitations to couch surf. One was from three professors who said to come over, any time after 11 pm—they were all going to a Broadway event somewhere and wouldn’t be home till late. The other invitation was from a young couple in a bungalow-style home. They said to come over any time and invited me to join the party they were hosting that night at 7—and to bring a bottle of something to share. I thought about bringing some sparkling grape juice, but the whole situation had too many variables. Neither option was conducive to my Sabbath plans. I had struck out and now, with about a half an hour till sunset, I was feeling a little let down. Where were the Seventh-day Adventist couch surfers? Why didn’t churches check their messages on Fridays? I was hoping for some hospitality, but I had no way of getting anyone in my last-minute situation, which brings me to my point--we need more Adventist Christians on sites like Couchsurfing.org. Here are three reasons, beyond my own self-interest, that may convince you to throw at least part of your vast store of caution to the wind and check out couchsurfing.org.
1. Providing hospitality to strangers is such a unique opportunity to serve and has a rich tradition among God’s people.
There are many examples of hospitality in the Bible that point to a deep commitment to providing care for strangers. In Genesis when three strangers visit Abraham’s tent, he begs them to stay for a foot washing and a “morsel of bread” but then proceeds to provide a full meal, which did not involve a hot-pocket type convenience dinner but the butchering and preparing of a fatted calf (Gen. 18:5, KJV). A handful of verses later, Lot was willing to protect these same strangers with his life and even sacrifice his own daughters rather than breach the hospitality standards of his culture. We find that abhorrent today, but hospitality was serious in Bible times, and the stranger who decided to stay with a Hebrew family was entitled to protection (Ex. 23:9) and were to be loved even as the Hebrews loved their own (Lev. 19:34).
We are nowhere that committed to the concept of hospitality now, and for good reason—resources are so plentiful in the Western world that it’s easy to think we aren’t needed, but I don’t want to let us off the hook so easily. Too often we invite someone to stay for a “hospitality lunch” and call it good, but is a Styrofoam plate full of strange casseroles the way we define looking after our guests?
I hope not. The word hospitality comes from the Latin word hospitalis, which embodies the concept of inviting in a stranger and “equalizing” and “compensating” them with friendliness and sometimes gifts before sending them on their way (Online Etymology Dictionary). The Greeks called this idea philoxenos meaning “the love of strangers” (Strong’s Greek Concordance, 5382). True hospitality asks us to love strangers, as God himself loves the sojourner (Deut 18:18).
2. Having strangers visit really enhances your worldview.
I don’t have fancy Barna Group poll to back this up, but quite a few Adventists I know live in a bubble that involves worshipping, socializing and sometimes even working with mostly other Adventists. As a result, we can become somewhat insular as a people and even though it’s not our intent, we may be closed off from and resistant to any ideas originating from outside our own collective SDA brain. If we don’t have a problem with that, we’re not just exclusive but destined to be elitist too. Yikes! That’s not something I want to be or be known for—especially when I’m trying to represent Christ.
Doing something like signing up for couchsurfing.org will totally blow up your bubble worldview. It did mine! The community encourages cosmopolitanism in the best sense of the word. Just by meeting or hosting a few new friends, you’ll develop an openness to welcoming strangers from other backgrounds and learn to appreciate and relate to a much wider variety of people.
3. Couchsurfing is postmodern “witnessing” at its best.
I hesitate to even use the word witnessing here in case any of my postmod friends are reading and cringing at the word, but I’m using the term to mean properly representing Christ and His character to someone. In my reckoning that can be as nonchalant as being an awesome host and an obvious Christian or as purposeful as a discussion on faith or a Bible study—the Holy Spirit has prompted me in both approaches. The point is that by being a host, you have an excellent opportunity to dispel some of the negative labels the opponents of Christianity have done such a good job popularizing, at the least, and swap ideas on origins, the nature of man, etc. when the Spirit leads the discussion that way.
As a testimony to the effectiveness of this method as a legitimate approach to repainting the character of God, I can tell you that even within my limited experience, I have gifted several books on theology, enjoyed friendly discussions on positivism, love, Pastafarianism (yes, that’s a recognized religion) and all sorts of other topics and, most importantly, I have been regarded as a friend by people who claim no other Christian friends. To me, that’s a compliment to and testimony of the love of Christ.
I know that couch surfing will not appeal to every Adventist, and there are some legitimate concerns about opening up our homes to strangers, but certainly we can do better than the 132 members listed on the site under the organization “Adventist.” I encourage you to go to couchsurfing.org, check it out, and get involved—even if it’s just to attend an area potluck. You will meet wonderfully open-minded and sometimes non-traditional people (there are disproportional numbers of vegetarians, food growers and non-materialistic gypsy types), expand your own worldview, and possibly even get a chance to demonstrate the love of Christ.