Learn, Pray, Join: Mutuality at the heart of hospitality

Anton Flores-Maisonet is co-founder of Casa Alterna, a hospitality house located in a Guatemalan neighborhood in Georgia and devoted to faithful acts of mercy and justice.

During the funeral visitation for my paternal grandfather, a woman wandered in from off the mean streets of New York City. Disheveled and disturbed she entered this sacred space in search of somewhere to belong.

For some inexplicable reason, pre-adolescent me was drawn to this so-called stranger. I engaged her in conversation; one that was truncated when my mother interrupted it by politely yet firmly asking the woman to leave this moment of private mourning. Upon the unnamed woman’s departure, my mother then warned me of the dangers of speaking with “those people.” I’m not sure I ever learned (or want to learn) my mom’s lesson.

Hospitality has long been my vocation and gift. I love to welcome Christ in the disguise of a stranger. For the past 12 years, I have devoted my entire heart, mind, soul and strength to embodying a welcome that crosses borders. Leaving academia, I co-founded Alterna, a multinational community of Christ-followers devoted to faithful acts of hospitality, mercy and justice.

As an extension of this call, a year ago, my wife Charlotte and I moved into a cul-de-sac comprised of over 25 families, all first-wave immigrants with origins in Latin America. We changed our name to Casa Alterna and shifted our model from being an intentional community to a hospitality house.

With this relocation we envisioned serving as ambassadors between two worlds.

We thought we’d be gospel pioneers bringing a dignity-affirming love during a time of xenophobic policies and dehumanizing rhetoric.

It was easy to imagine programs designed to serve the other-turned-neighbor: tutoring, interpretation, accompaniment, even a food cooperative. And it didn’t take long for these ideas to take on flesh.

But what caught me by surprise was how, through this relocation to the margins, that we would be unmerited recipients of lavish hospitality. We were welcomed as strangers.

Thanks to my neighbors, I’ve learned anew that mutuality is at the heart of a ministry of welcome.

Unannounced and unexpected, tamales began showing up at our doorstep. Invitations to birthday parties and weddings flowed freely to us, the strangers on the block.

The nearly 50 children in our small community have continued to breathe life into us through their joyful presence. These kids, imitating the values of an unknown distant land, still choose nature over Nintendo, soccer over screens.

In the evening, neighbors still gather outside on their front porches and foster community in a way I’ve been seeking all my ministry life.

Recently Charlotte and I took some of our neighborhood children to church. As communion neared I offered some simple instructions to the wide-eyed youth.

I explained that they would first be offered the Bread of Life. Simply hold it in your hand. Then the Cup of Salvation will be offered. Dip the bread in the wine and then consume this holy meal.

Well, these children are all English language learners. Marlon received the Bread of Life but when the Cup of Salvation was offered he jubilantly dropped his bread in the chalice. Unaware of any faux pas, Marlon smiled as the cup bearer figured out a way to extract the bread and return it to him.

Returning to our pew, Marlon looked at me and said, “That tasted good.” To which I replied, “Jesus usually does.”

Hospitality is an invitation to taste and see that Jesus in all his distressing disguises is still good. Welcome the stranger and be welcomed as stranger and you will find life and salvation.

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This post is part of MC USA’s Immigration Justice: Learn, Pray, Join initiative.

With hope we pray for justice for immigrants seeking peace, wholeness and safety in the United States and around the world. We invite congregation to use Peace Sunday prayers and worship resources: “A renewed peace church welcomes the stranger,” created by Mennonite World Conference for worship on Sept. 23.

Consider ways you can actively support immigration justice:

1. Learn skills to help facilitate intercultural competency and/or undoing racism processes in congregations through the Intercultural Development Inventory or invite one of the 18 qualified administrators across MC USA to work with your congregation.

2. Advocate for just and humane immigration policies for immigrants and refugees by contacting your local, state and national elected officials.

3. Offer church facilities and volunteers for immigration documentation services, language classes, mental health support, cultural celebrations, after-school homework help and other ministries.

4. Engage in mutual aid to offer food, shelter, clothing, housing, transportation and other resources to immigrants regardless of their status.

5. Donate to MC USA to support congregations and projects working with immigration justice initiatives addressing family separation, detention centers, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and legal assistance.

Donate here.