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As I get older I am more contemplative about welcoming in a new year.  Perhaps it is because I have learned to slow down and give more thought to life, or perhaps I have a better understanding that life is fragile and that at any moment it can be turned upside down for the good or the bad.

Two things have come to mind as I welcome in 2013.  First is a welcome that I received last October at a church in Yekepa, Liberia and the other is I Peter 4:7-11.

 A Welcoming Spirit

One of my students invited me to attend a church with him in Yekepa.   I accepted the invitation and on the way there he told me that I would receive an unusual welcome.   With a grimace, I asked him if I would have to sit up front next to the pulpit facing the congregation, which I do not like to do.   I know it is very hard for my white face to escape notice in a Liberian church, but really I just want to be a part of the worship and not a spectacle.   He smiled and assured me that I would not.

I entered the church and my student and I walked toward the front to be seated with other ABCU students who are members of the church.  The service started and as occurs in most churches in Yekepa, an invitation is extended to a first time visitor to stand up and say your name and where you are from.  I did so, along with another woman.  Then the welcome ceremony started and what a welcome it was!

Playing the saw-saa and one of the drums.

Playing the saw-saa and one of the drums.

I and the other visitor were escorted to the edge of our row next to the middle aisle.   The drums and saa-saa were played as the women of the church danced to the back of the sanctuary and then up the middle row of the church.  The women moved to the lively beat of the music singing a welcome song.

As they danced by me and the other lady, each woman in the procession greeted us and shook our hands.

Stopping to greet me as the lady dances up the aisle.

Stopping to greet me as the lady dances up the aisle.

Moving forward some stayed at the front of the church, while others moved freely in and out of the pews.  The song and dancing continued for at least another two-three minutes with everyone in the congregation singing their greetings and shaking our hands.

A smile spread across my face because the greeting was such a joyous and beautiful welcome – as a visitor I was engulfed in a sense of genuine hospitality.

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Later I found out that only about half of the congregation was in attendance.  A young man from their church had died suddenly and many had made the trip to Guinea to go to his funeral.  As I thought about this it struck me that even though all of the congregation was mourning over the loss of the young man and had their own personal problems, they still made time and room in their heart to give us a warm welcome.

Welcoming 2013 and Wondering What Will It Bring

The thought of this warm, hospitable greeting brings me back to thinking about how I will welcome in the unknowns of 2013.    What will the year be like?  Globally will countries continue to be on the brink of economic disaster?  Will we see more young children slaughtered? How many hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters will occur?  What countries will break out in war?  What citizens will continue to die as they fight for freedom?  What will I celebrate?  What will I mourn?  How will I respond to the highs and lows of this year?

The Apostle Peter was no stranger to responding to a world that was fraught with uncertainties and danger.  In I Peter, he addressed  Christians who were being tortured and killed as they lived under the rule of Nero and who were scattered across Asia Minor.    Peter doesn’t focus on the negative, but he counsels the readers on things that they can do to live positively in the fallen world that surrounds them.

The end of all things is near.Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.  I Peter 4:7-11 (NIV)

So what can we learn from Peter about welcoming in and facing the challenges of 2013:

  1. To pray earnestly and with discipline.  God does not need our prayers, but He welcomes them.  Prayer allows us to communicate with God by unburdening ourselves and listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit as we seek direction.  Prayer is a solace that gives us a place to run to when we want to rejoice and when we need quiet space to heal our spirit.
  2. To love deeply, to care about others, and to show hospitality without grumbling.   These are all components of social support, which are keys to good health and decreasing stress not only for those receiving, but also for those giving.   What comfort we bring to others when we have a welcoming spirit that shows love and concern. Though some, like myself, do not have the innate gift of hospitality, we need to be alert to when God is asking us to extend ourselves to others.
  3. To use our gifts to serve others and to glorify God.  Imagine what it would be like if each time that we used our God given gift(s) that we remembered that God gave us these gifts to build His kingdom and the strength to use them.  (A note of caution: please do not confuse the use of gifts with trying to be a superwoman who moves forward on her own strength and beyond God’s calling.)

Peter’s words bring me back to the congregation at the church.   Even though they have little in the way of material possessions, even though they know the harsh reality of life will be at their doorstep this year, and even though they were in mourning the day I visited, they set aside their own needs and instead used their gifts of music and dance to welcome us with love and joy.  May I do the same this coming year.

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What is a Think Through?  it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation.

Today’s Think Through:  What are your thoughts about 2013?  Is God calling you to use a certain gift?  Has God laid a verse, a promise, or a challenge on your heart?  What will you do to welcome in and embrace the year?

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