Last Summer at The Reformation of Food and The Family Conference in San Antonio, Texas we were blessed to meet a very inspirational lady, Theresa Bowen. Along with her family she has started A Candle In The Window Hospitality Network. As we’ve been focusing a lot lately, both personally and on this blog, about hospitality, we could think of no better person to share a vision for Biblical hospitality than Theresa. Pour yourself a cup of tea (iced if it is as warm where you live as it is here in Southern California!) and get ready to be challenged and inspired to open up your heart and home to others!
The Bowen Family
Provision Room: We are so please to introduce you to our readers. Can you please share a bit about yourself and your family.
Theresa Bowen: Hi there! We are the Bowen family from northeast Florida: Craig, a pastor, Theresa, a homemaker and homeschool mom, five children ranging in age from second grade through college, and Nana, Theresa’s mom, a retired school teacher and a special blessing in our lives.
As we leaf back through our guest book, we are reminded of visitors from about half the states in our nation and missionaries or nationals from some eighteen countries, representing five continents, many of whom we had never met until they “came through” and stayed with us. There are sweet memories of times with family and friends as well… special celebrations and spur of the minute pot lucks, church gatherings and neighborhood get-togethers, reunions and “Little House” dinners. We see these guests as “divine appointments”, living, breathing answers to the prayer, “Lord, bring whom You will.” Believe me, there is nothing extraordinary about our home or family, apart from our availability and our desire to share what God has given us with those whom He brings. Might God be calling you to offer up a similar prayer?
If so, we invite you to join us at A Candle in the Window Hospitality Network. Beyond being a great way to stretch your traveling dollar, we believe that opening your home to others, and visiting in theirs as well, will be a tremendous blessing in your life. As God engineers your path, we pray that new friendships might be forged and the stories of God’s faithfulness recounted around countless dinner tables.
PR: Tell us about A Candle In the Window Network, what it is and how it got started.
TB: A Candle in the Window Hospitality Network is a growing online, worldwide network of Christian households delighting in hospitality (As of this writing in May of 2013, we have around 430 members in 63 different countries). It is really an overflow of the blessing that hospitality has been in our own home throughout the years and our hope is to multiply that blessing in the homes of others as our members travel, share a meal and open up their own homes to one another. We had been on various mission’s hospitality rosters and often wished there were something similar for the body of Christ in general. We thought and prayed about how we might facilitate something like this for years before launching in the fall of 2011.
Our mission is to provide an ever expanding online, worldwide database to our members, and a secure communication network through which to contact potential hosts to set up a conversational dinner and/or an overnight stay when traveling through or to their location.
With household budgets becoming more and more strained, travel can be a challenge! A Candle in the Window Hospitality Network provides a creative, economical alternative. And while the thought of saving money, especially in a struggling economy, is extremely appealing, we strongly believe the greater blessing will be in the fellowship and relationships established as others “come through” our homes, sharing God’s faithfulness in their lives and we have the opportunity to do the same.
PR: How do you see hospitality in the Scriptures?
TB: Perhaps you agree that hospitality is a great thing… in theory, but deep down, you still believe the lies: my home isn’t big enough, or nice enough, or _______enough (fill in the blank); or my children are too young, or too many, or too _______; or we are just plain too busy. In other words, hospitality is great for some people, but not for us, at least not now…
You might be surprised to learn that in Scripture, hospitality is not an option or a preference, it is a command. In Romans 12:13, Paul writes that we are to “practice hospitality”, literally, the “love of strangers”. Commenting on this verse, Alexander Strauch in his Hospitality Commands, notes that the word “practice” here is the Greek word “dioko”, which is “better rendered ‘strive for’ or ‘pursue’. Thus we are to actively pursue, promote, and aspire to hospitality. We are to think about it, plan for it, prepare for it, pray about it, and seek opportunities to do it. In short, the Romans 12 passage teaches that all Christians are to pursue the “practice of hospitality.”
This is further reinforced by the fact that being “hospitable” is one of the requirements for church leadership (I Tim 3:2), as well as one of the qualifiers used in the New Testament to determine whether or not a widow was worthy of eventual Church support (I Tim 5:10).
So we see that hospitality, in some shape or form, is commanded of all, expected of church leadership, and a fruit of godly womanhood.
And consider these and other examples wherein hospitality was tied to God’s message: the homes of Abraham (Genesis 18); Rebekah (Genesis 24); Rahab, the harlot (Joshua 2:1-14); the widow whose flour and oil never ran out (I Kings 17:8-16); the Shunnamite woman (2 Kings 4:8-17); Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-9); Matthew, the tax collector (Mark 2:15-17); the townspeople, to whom Jesus sent out the seventy (Luke 10:1-16); Martha (Luke 10:38-42); the Early Church members (Acts 2:47-47); Simon, the tanner (Acts 10:5-23); Cornelius (Acts 10: 24-48); Lydia (Acts 16:14-15); the Philippian jailer (Acts 16: 22-34); Aquilla and Priscilla (Acts 18:2-3,24-26); Philemon (Philemon 22); and Gaius (3 John 5-8); and how about those believers who have “entertained angels unaware”?
PR: Certainly the Biblical examples are astounding! And what about today? Who is your personal example and inspiration for hospitality? Is there a particular woman who has really inspired you to hospitality?
TB: Actually two women have influenced me greatly (primarily through their writings): Elisabeth Elliot and Edith Schaeffer.
As a young woman, I took a summer school course on Biblical Femininity with Elisabeth Elliot. She shared a great deal about her parents and the home she grew up in. She later expounded these thoughts in her wonderful book, The Shaping of a Christian Family.
Quoting her father, Phillip Howard, she wrote, “The presence of Christian friends or even strangers—unless they are eccentric, self-centered, and thoughtless—should brighten the home and enlarge its outlook, as the guests tell how the Lord has led them through the trials of life and of work they are doing for Him. It is a good thing for a family to be jolted out of its routine, and to look beyond the four walls of its own home and the weekly routines of its business, school and church.”
Elliot, herself, continues, “My parents saw the entertaining of God’s people as a great privilege and blessing to the family, so no matter what the economic condition, they contrived somehow to have a guest room set apart and always ready… [They] knew how important it was for us children to meet Christian men and women from all walks of life, to hear firsthand their stories of the faithfulness of God, and to enjoy the privilege of asking them questions… When we had guests, which was often, my father was keenly interested in them and always tried to draw out as much as possible about their lives and work. The impression these stories made on us was deep and lasting.”
Edith Schaeffer, as well, especially through her books The Hidden Art of Homemaking and The Tapestry, greatly inspires me! God used the open home of Francis and Edith Schaeffer to launch an outreach that came to be known as L’Abri, “The Shelter”, in the Swiss Alps. Through the Schaeffer family’s faithful hospitality, L’Abri became a mecca for thousands of postmodern intellectuals seeking “enlightenment.” Lively table conversation, the Scriptures expounded by the warmth of the fireside, and daily family routines were used to direct all who came to the God of the Bible. I remember reading that “as many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer’s cinnamon buns as through Dr. Schaeffer’s sermons” And while not meant as a theological treatise, I think it speaks to the power of hospitality in our sharing of the gospel.
PR: That’s beautiful. I think I need to go do some baking. So many people are really intimidated by having people over. Perhaps because of all the books and TV shows on entertaining. We set the bar really high sometimes. Do you see a difference between hospitality and entertaining? If so, can you explain the difference and ease our minds!
TB: It is important to define Biblical hospitality—what it is and isn’t! The American Heritage Dictionary defines “hospitality” as “welcoming guests with warmth; a fondness for entertaining,” but we believe Biblical hospitality goes much farther than a mere “fondness for entertaining”! It seeks to serve, to share what God has entrusted to us with those whom He brings.
You don’t have to be Martha Stewart, or have a large home to practice true, Biblical hospitality. Beyond being a command in Scripture (Romans 12:13), a heart for hospitality reflects the heart of God. We open our doors and we open our hearts and lives, offering refuge and refreshment in Christ’s name. We invite people in to see us as we really are, in all our weakness and dependence upon God–not to “impress” them. Our preparations are merely a tangible means of expressing, “I want this to be special because you are special! You are precious to God and you matter to me!”
Think back to some of the places you have felt most loved, most welcomed. Memories such as these have very little to do with “entertaining”. There is little recollection of what was served or on what plate. In the end, however, it is not the preparations—nor the lack thereof—that we remember. It is the touch of God … not always, but often. Because of an open heart, an open home, a plate of something, a candle’s glow or a quiet word, God somehow chooses to draw us closer to Himself and to one another. That is Biblical hospitality.
PR: Just hearing you explain it makes me want to come to your table and experience that candle’s glow and God’s touch! We can’t do that through the computer, unfortunately. So, could you let us in on some of the Bowen family secrets. Can you share a go-to recipe or brilliant tip to inspire us and make our guests feel special?
TB: First of all, I want to stress that there is nothing extraordinary about our home and family… as we have endeavored to make ourselves available, it is God who has engineered folks to us. That said, there are a few things that I try to suggest when encouraging hospitality:
1) Don’t wait for things to be perfect! Go ahead and begin practicing hospitality right where you are. Don’t wait for your dream house or for your children to grow up—it is a blessing to grow up with company. Of course, it may look different in different seasons, but hospitality is not for adults only. Opening your home to others is a wonderful education for children. Practice “having company” with little ones and you might be surprised to find them sitting long around the table with you and your friends as they enter the teen and young adult years. Include them in your preparations. We would not be able to do half of what we do without our children’s help… Not surprising, they are the ones that now light the candles before guests arrive, or spritz some fragrance in the bath or guestroom. They learn by watching, then doing alongside and then doing themselves.
And hospitality doesn’t always have to mean opening your home, it can also mean opening your front porch, your backyard, your campfire, your local park’s picnic table, or a corner in a local restaurant. Be creative!!! It might mean packing a basket and heading out for your neighbor’s home or campfire, and receiving that which is offered with thankfulness and grace. Biblical hospitality can happen in any place that allows you to open your heart and lives to others. And through these simple acts, God is glorified.
2) Fit it in with what you are already doing. One thing that we enjoy doing is combining hospitality with whatever we are learning in school or church. For example, the year we read the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House Books, we would have dinner at the end of each book, dress up and eat whatever they would have eaten in that particular book and invite another family over to join us. We did the same with a Medieval Feast when studying the Middle Ages, and Passover when studying the Exodus. We’ve had Swamp Fox Parties, Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett dinners and we’ve included believers and unbelievers.
3) Be grace oriented. In sharing our vision for A Candle in the Window Hospitality Network, we like to stress that despite our many differences, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are one. Be gracious when your host or guests do things a little differently than you do. Consider hospitality, especially to “Christian” strangers to be a little taste of heaven where we will join the throngs from every tribe and nation throughout the ages. Each unique, but all one, in Christ alone.
As for special recipes… I usually choose simple over gourmet. I try to plan things that allow me to be with my guests rather than cooking once they arrive… A ham in the oven, with green beans on the stove and potato salad can be ready ahead of time. As an alternative, when I do need to prepare when guests are over, I often invite one of them to join me in the kitchen and we fellowship while preparing together. I also try to keep some soup base/mixes (Bear Creek is our favorite) on hand that can be made quickly on the spur of the minute by adding water and “doctoring up” with whatever else is on hand. I also keep brownie mix in the pantry and the kids will often mix up while we are visiting and the aroma is wonderful. Also, when people offer to bring something, I usually accept! Many of our meals are covered dishes in which everyone brings something.
One thing I do try is to serve whatever I make in an attractive and creative way. Taking the time to put jelly in a dish instead of the jar, a simple candle or blossom or a branch from the yard, seasonal emphases, etc. Early in our marriage, a teenager was over visiting and I remember as we were preparing breakfast, she made the comment, “My mom never puts the jar out on the table, she always makes it special, even just for us”. That comment has stuck with me all these years! And now I find my own children preparing special teas and beautiful trays of goodies when their friends come over!
For overnight guests, a fresh clean bed and access to a bathroom and towels is adequate. Beyond that, there are little touches that make our guests feel special–a simple bud in a vase, a treasure trove of good books (or pull a few that you know would interest them) and quiet music are extra blessings. My friend, Judy, is one of the most hospitable people I have ever known. It is little touches such as these that make me feel so loved whenever I am in her home, but more than these, a genuine welcome and interest in others will most effectively communicate a hospitable heart.
PR: Can you share a testimony or two from A Candle In The Window? How have people’s lives been affected?
TB: We often receive emails from members sharing their experiences. This is one of my favorite things–to know that our vision is being realized in others’ homes around the world! We post many of these on the website under “Member Stories”. Here are a few:
A Dutch family traveled throughout the states last summer and stayed with 8 different “Candle in the Window” families. We received one note from a family in NY who especially enjoyed their visit as the wife’s ancestors were Dutch. The cookbook they left as a gift contained many recipes that the host remembered from her own childhood.
Another member from Colorado, a filmmaker and minister of the gospel, stopped over in England with another member on his way to preach in India. As a result, they are considering his returning to help host a European Christian Film Camp.
And one of my favorites… one large family had hosted a family through a Candle In the Window and then didn’t receive any more requests for quite awhile. Her little children began to ask, “Aren’t any more candles coming???” to which the mom replied, “We can pray and ask God to send someone”. And when they checked their inbox, there was another request!
We are also receiving more and more international homeschooling families! It is a deep desire for us to help network these members with one another for fellowship and support within their own countries.
PR: Thank you, Theresa for sharing your experiences and opening up your heart to readers of The Provision Room!
If you would like to know more about A Candle In The Window, we encourage you to check out the website or visit them on Facebook! You will be blessed! Most of all, we hope that you will allow the Lord to lead you into greater measures of hospitality, sharing your lives with strangers and letting your light shine in a world that needs it so desperately!
(Linked to Fabulously Frugal Thursdays, Bloom Designs, From The Farm, Small Footprint Friday, Sharendipity Place Pin It Monday, Motivation Monday Making Your Home Sing, You’re Gonna Love It! Backyard Farming Connection #35 Titus 2 Tuesday, Wise Woman Link-Up! Tasty Traditions and Creative HomeAcre Hop)