By Craig Funston
I was raised in a home where hospitality was the norm—you know, people stopping in for meals, bumping me out of my bed so they could stay overnight. My wife was raised the same way, so it was natural for us to become hospitable once we were married.
If you want a brief vocabulary lesson on the word “hospitality,” here it is: 1. it has nothing to do with the word “hospital,” though there must be some branch in the etymological tree where they’re linked; and 2. it has everything (literally) to do with the “love of strangers.”
There now, don’t you feel a lot better?
We’ve had a lot of friends that we have fed and housed over the decades; we’ve also had a number of strangers—some “stranger” than others (Maurice, just a little play on words, okay?).
Part of entertaining strangers for us has been this network that we’re part of, called “Mennonite Your Way.” It is only one of many organizations that link open homes with travellers. I am not Mennonite, but, as you know, I have many strong ties with them.
Having visitors stay overnight with you harks back to the old-fashioned days of travellers finding free accommodations, even among hosts unknown. That practice led to roadside inns, which morphed into Motel 6, Super 8, and Travelodge 10, er, Inn.
Recent visitors to our home included a retired grain farmer and his wife from South Dakota. Others included a retired United Church pastor and his wife from Ontario. Last year, we were supposed to host a retired professor from Trinity Western University, but that didn’t work out.
There are many pluses with this sort of service we provide, although one big one stands out. They include:
1. We save the travellers money. They leave a token amount on the dresser on the way out, and I mean token. But that’s no problem, as we’re not doing it for the money. How do you put a price tag on fun and fellowship?
2. By keeping their money in their pockets, they have more to spend elsewhere—meaning, we help the local economy. I know business people reading this appreciate the value of tourist dollars.
3. A lot of goodwill is exchanged: There is a greater connection between strangers-cum-friends over coffee, learning about other families and parts of the land. It brings together different regions of the dominion, or the dominion and the republic (Maurice, that would be Canada and the States, respectively), even if in a very limited way.
The fact that they politely laugh at my jokes is icing on the cake. Maybe the threat of “laugh, or we turn of the water” helps.
4. Visitors always benefit our family, prompting us to get the house tidied up even more than usual, and our kids to serve others. After all, my wife and I were kids who saw this modelled in our respective homes—and look what happened to us!
5. The biggest reason, even for a experienced married person like yours truly, is the sight of older people still married to each other, still enjoying each other. There aren’t any fix-it books or how-to DVD’s that can teach that. You’ve got to see that in person.
I am not so naive to think that they’ve had no problems in their marriage or that their marriage is perfect. Not at all, but I see real, ordinary people, who are the backbone to this country, committed to each other in a mutually beneficial way.
In an era when relationships are as disposable as plastic razors and as shallow as a wading pool, I am encouraged to see couples that continue to work at it, stay together, and finish well. That goes against the grain of current trends.
I wouldn’t think this was a motivation for the founders of Mennonite Your Way, but it has been a great by-product. They can send Mennonites (and non-Mennonites) my way anytime they want to.