By Linh Ly
My sister and I live in the same neighborhood in Sunnyvale. For Halloween, my housemates and I prayed about whether we should participate in the activities and what would honor God and be a blessing to the families. Rather than giving out candy, we decided to make balloon animals for the neighborhood kids who come to our home. We have been doing this for five of the six years in the neighborhood. By now, our neighbors know us and look forward to it every year.
This year, we opened up the invitation to other families, outside of our neighborhood. That morning, I saw a post in a mom’s Facebook group from a mom who just moved to the Bay Area, asking about what fun activities to do and when to go trick or treating with her 3 yr old daughter. I responded by inviting her to our Balloon Party. The message thread continued through the day and other moms also wanted to come. By the evening of the event, three families from the group came, all who had recently moved to the area and were thanking us for inviting them. One of the moms mentioned that it would be great to have a potluck gathering for these new families.
My sister and I decided to host a Welcome Brunch 2 weeks later and posted it to the same Facebook group. The response was overwhelmingly positive and many families said it was such a great idea and even some who couldn’t make it wanted to come to another one. It was a potluck brunch. We ended up with 11 families (about 30 moms/dads/kids) from diverse ethnic backgrounds, all cozy in our small home. It was such a wonderful time of getting to know one another and making new friends. The kids played outside in the yard with my niece’s toys, bikes, and scooters while the adults mingled inside over an assortment of international foods.
Everyone thanked us for opening up our home and hosting such a fun gathering. They shared their experiences in adjusting to the busy Silicon Valley culture and the lack of warmth and friendliness. I could see a need for community and support for these families. I shared my own experience when I moved here 14 years ago from the East Coast and how my friend’s mom invited me to church with her to meet new people. I extended the same invitation to one of the families to join us at New Vine Community Church on Sunday. The next day, she, her husband and two sons came to worship with us! What a joy it was to see them there and how appropriate that the message that evening was on “Meaningful Community.”
What I learned through this experience is that it doesn’t take much to touch lives and to connect people to God. But with a heart of welcome, hospitality goes a long way. We did not do anything fancy or complicated, but just had the desire to open up our home to welcome these families created space for them to become friends and thus experience God in the process. It truly is an honor to do what Jesus instructs us to do, to welcome the alien among us and to extend hospitality. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” Matthew 25:35.
The heart of welcome is central to our faith, because at one time, we were strangers, too. But God invited us into a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus. And so we are to reach out and extend that to those around us. Who is God calling you to welcome?