“It’s who we welcome, not who we just invite that says a lot about who we are and what we believe. There’s more room.” – Bob Goff in Love Does
As I travel to the villages, visit the schools and spend time in the communities in Africa, I find that they all have a common activity. After the music is over, after the speeches are said, after my heart is overflowing with the joy and love of those I’ve met, it all ends with signing my name in the guest book to say I was there.
WIll I get a follow up survey about the quality of my visit? No.
Will I get a Christmas card or added to their monthly email newsletter? Doubtful.
Will they send me an envelope to donate to their next building project? Unlikely.
They just want to honor my visit and remember it. It’s worth recording it. To them, I matter. To them, I’m welcome, not just invited.
When we arrive in these communities, they never make us feel like they weren’t expecting us. Sometimes they wait HOURS for us under a tree just to share a song or story. Some walk hours, for miles, just to honor our visit. During my recent visit in Kenya, 200 school children assembled, in their uniforms, on a day that school was not in session. When they saw our vehicles coming, we could hear their screams and cheers of joy long before we saw their smiling faces.
While in Lwala, Kenya a few weeks ago, I was invited to eat dinner at the home of a family in the community, I felt incredibly welcomed. In this home, the whole family assembled to have dinner with us. It was an occasion. Food was prepared for a feast—one that I’m confident they rarely have and came with great expense.
During the meal, there were extensive conversations—ones that rarely happen around the table at my house—that lasted for hours. It wasn’t a rush to eat and go onto the next thing on the list. It was an opportunity to know one another. To enjoy each others company.
I’ve heard once that the most personal thing you can ask about someone is their name.
Your name was given to you.
It identifies you.
It sets you apart.
One of the conversations revolved around the name they were going to give me and our traveling companions in their native language ‘Dholuo.’ In the community of Lwala, your name has unique significance; it’s not associated with your family as much as it is associated with the events around your birth. Your name may signify the time of day you were born, or the weather, or the season. “Big and Tall” is how I was identified. (Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that extra piece of chapati). It’s how they saw me. It’s the name they gave me. It kinda sounded like “matador,” so I was fine with it.
So, when I leave my name behind in their guestbook, I’m leaving more than just the tracks from my shoes. I’m saying that I was welcomed here, and my visit here mattered enough for not only me to remember, but also for those who I visited.
I think we’ve all been in those situations where we felt we were just invited, but we weren’t particularly welcome. When was the last time you were rushing through the day that your time with someone was a task rather than an opportunity? When was the last time you invited someone rather than made them welcome? When was the last time you reflected on the guests you hosted? Or those who hosted you? Making someone feel welcome requires us to slow down. It requires us to listen. To put our guests needs before ours. As Bob Goff says, “There’s more room.” In our hearts. On our calendars. In our relationships.