Her name was Samantha. We met her earlier with her little boy, David, playing among the throng of women and children at the Child Survival Program. Young and timid, she did not say much as our small group gathered together to accompany her to her house. We climbed into the small pick-up truck, loaded up with a bag of rice and other groceries for her and her family, and made our way across the dirt and cobbled roads, further up the mountain in her small village outside of Quito. We stopped beside a house and climbed out. She informed us through the translator that this was not her house but that the truck could go no further. We grabbed the groceries and rice and followed her down a small but steep path to her home. All around us were breathtaking views of the mountains of Ecuador; I mentioned how beautiful of a place it was where she lived and after it was translated she kind of snorted. She carried David in her arms, the path too steep for his 14 month old legs to travel. Carefully we made our way down the side of the mountain to her home. We stepped in to a shaded room that contained a bunk bed, a small kitchen counter with a sink and oven, and a fridge that may or may not have been working. A small room to the side was the only private bedroom where her brother-in-law slept. Random objects and places to store clothes, a few pictures on the wall; all her life possessions in that dirt floor room she called her home. Later I realized there was no bathroom but had not think to ask, nor if the water ran in the pipes to the sink.
She told us about her life: 19 years old and her husband 18, she spent every day at home with her David while her husband was often gone looking for work. The house was not hers but borrowed from a family member. It shared a wall with another home of equal size where a cousin lived. She explained how five of them lived there in this one room.
And then she asked through our translator, “I know it is small, but what do you think of my home?”
Her translated question hung in the silence that followed as my friend and I looked around, trying to form the words that would be both encouraging and true.
How do you say to a person that their home is nice when the electricity does not always work? How do you say it is lovely when the chances of the rain leaking through the roof are high and the home she lives in is smaller than any apartment where you have lived? How do you tell her that her life and home are good when the poverty screams from the dirt floors and the worn shoes and the empty cabinets?
We told her we were thankful that she allowed us to come and share her home, that her hospitality was appreciated. We made a comment about the heart painted above the stove, of how we could tell she loved her family. We dodged the question with our meager attempts to encourage. It was not the first time either one of us had been to a home like hers, but it was the first we had been asked our thoughts on it.
She asked us to pray for a bigger home, for her husband to get a good job, and for her son to grow healthy. She had concerns about his lack of walking and wanted only the best for him. We prayed and explained to her the different groceries we had brought. She thanked us graciously, never averting her eyes.
Samantha knew her circumstances. She was not ashamed but rather practical in how she spoke about her circumstances. She had hope that things would become different. Her willingness to bring us into her home, to help us understand her life and her way of living, was humbling. With a house that could fit in my living room, she made room for us to enter in. In a humbling moment I realized how inhospitable I had become, how little I invited people in to my own home. Whether out of fear of judgment or lack of approval, worry that my children would be too rambunctious, or that the meal I cooked would be unsatisfactory, I have allowed my own insecurities to prevent the opening of my home. And there I stood with Samantha and David, the translator and one of the counselors from the program, and my friend, looking around and thinking, It is not the home that is inviting, but the heart.
When your heart is open, the guest will feel welcomed, as if they belong there. When you are real with what you have, not trying to cover up imperfections, the relations will blossom.
This was the lesson of hospitality I learned in Ecuador. Every experience, from the translators and trip guides, to the people like Samantha who invited us into their homes, to the children we played with at the programs, showed me that an open heart and love for God is the key to a hospitable home and heart. And while it does not solve the very real problems that these people face, I can’t help but think it eases the burden to know they do not face them alone. There is hope for change. There is chance for change. And there is always the God who moves mountains among them, keeping their hearts soft amidst hard circumstances and orchestrating moments like the ones we shared to bring about that change. And it starts with more open hearts.