There is an interesting word in Swahili: the word mgeni. I always think of the above words from the Book of Hebrews when I think of the word mgeni. When I was taking Swahili at Bryn Mawr College, I remember being puzzled when I was doing my homework one night because mgeni can be translated as “foreigner,” “stranger,” “visitor,” and “guest.” How could one word be used for both stranger and guest? So I asked my professor at our next class. She explained that in Swahili there really isn’t a word for foreigner or stranger, because in that culture no one is ever a stranger or foreigner, but always mgeni: visitor or guest.
She went on to explain that in most Tanzanian villages and small towns, all of the young people call all of the adults Mom and Dad; and that one always refers to a person of similar age as “My Brother” or “My Sister.” In this African culture, whether you’re from a neighboring village or from another continent, you are always greeted as mgeni: guest or visitor. Moreover, the greeting quickly changes from mgeni to rafiki—“friend.”
What a wonderful image of the ministry of hospitality for the church. There are no strangers or foreigners, just visitors and guests who quickly become friends! “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” These words recall that day at the Oaks of Mamre when Abraham and Sarah were sitting by their tent and three strangers happened along. The couple offered them shade, water, and a full meal. It ended up that one of the strangers was truly an angel- a messenger of God- who brought them the message that they would have a son by the following spring.
A special thanks this month to all who extend the ministry of hospitality here at St. Paul’s.
Pastor Skip McDowell