I met her at a quaint bed and breakfast nestled in the woods, with small clusters of flowers gracing the wooden steps. When I picked her up to take her to her interview, she greeted me with a warm smile and a big hug, a kind reception reflecting the heart of a woman touched by the loving hand of God. She who was graciously welcomed into the family of God now gladly extends that same love to all with whom she comes in contact.
From Professing Atheist to Professing Christian
Over twenty years ago, Rosaria Butterfield was a distinguished professor of English at Syracuse University. A staunch feminist, outspoken atheist, and practicing lesbian, she was the least likely candidate to become an advocate for Christ. Or so she thought.
But that didn’t stop one Presbyterian minister from reaching out to Rosaria in the form of a letter, encouraging her to consider the very questions and accusations she posed against Christians. From that snail-mail correspondence came the most unlikely friendship. Pastor Ken Smith and his wife, Floy, welcomed Rosaria into their home with genuine hospitality, building a relationship with her one meal at a time. As the Lord would have it, those open arms and the friendship that followed were all that was needed to open her eyes to truth.
The Car Ride
So there we were, this former English prof and I, cruising down the highway at seventy miles an hour, with me holding back from spouting off a million questions a minute.
I was mindful of the fact that she had just come from a speaking engagement and was now heading into an interview with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth in the Revive Our Hearts studio, so I assumed she would appreciate saving what remained of her daily allotment of words for the recording. (Or am I the only one who runs out of words before the end of the day?)
But instead, she engaged in conversation and graciously answered my questions. For two introverts thrown together in a car for fifty minutes, we came up with plenty to talk about.
It was a delightful drive. Our conversation simply flowed, quickly turning from casual chitchat to glory stories of the gospel—beautiful tales of God’s mercy in her life, sweet stories of her children, and testimonies of God’s faithfulness in her interaction with the LGBT community and non-believing friends.
Woven throughout the tapestry of her personal testimony is this thread of hospitality. It was in the home of the Presbyterian minister and his wife where she first heard the gospel. And it was through the loving, open arms of their church that her heart was softened to the truth. Even now, hospitality is the avenue she uses to show the love of Christ to friends and neighbors.
“The Gospel Comes With a House Key”
In her interview on Revive Our Hearts (airing this week), Rosaria emphasizes the importance of hospitality in a Christian home. God has given us the gift of neighbors to practice being neighborly, she believes. When you open your home to others, you are painting a picture of the gospel, for it was by invitation of the Master that you were welcomed into His family and given a seat at His table.
That open-door policy seems easy enough when we’re talking about family or close friends . . . but what about the stranger, the outcast, or that nosy neighbor?
If you look up the word hospitality, what you will not find is a definition that reads, “Graciously hosting a weekly small group,” or “Welcoming your best friend and her family into your home for a home-cooked meal and game of Monopoly.”
Rather, true hospitality means loving the stranger; treating a new acquaintance like an old friend; sharing the best of your time and possessions with the underprivileged. But we don’t get excited over that definition, because it takes effort and intentionality on our part.
Unless you live deep in the jungles or on a lone mountaintop, most of you can look in any direction from your home and see neighbors on all sides. But do you know who they are? It’s hard to show Christ’s love to the person next door when you don’t even know their name.
Get to know your neighbors. The front yard is one of the most unused places in America, Rosaria says. But not at the Butterfield residence. Rosaria and her husband, Kent, make it a point to spend at least one evening a week in their front yard as a family solely for the purpose of creating opportunities for conversation and prayer with their neighbors.
“We’re known as the praying family in our neighborhood,” she said. “This community prayer time has become a source of strength to [our] community, and a witness—that we are people who believe that there is a God who made us and will take care of us . . . and hears our prayers.”
She went on to say that “it is our responsibility as believers to take those needs to the Father for the non-believers who do not have access to the throne of grace.”
The Purpose of a Bridge
Hospitality is actually a command we’re to carry out, but under one condition—“without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9). This means we all bear the responsibility of gladly showing hospitality to one another and to the stranger.
Depending on the climate you live in or the season of life you find yourself in, having a weekly prayer gathering in your front yard might not be feasible. But there are a myriad of other ways to invest in your community:
- Host a summer block party.
- Deliver a plate of cookies to the family who just moved in.
- Offer to help your next-door neighbor rake his leaves or shovel snow.
- Simply greet your neighbors as you pass on the street!
Here’s an illustration I heard from Rosaria: A believer in Christ is like a bridge. What is the purpose of a bridge? A bridge’s job is to get walked on. We don’t like the sound of that, do we? But as followers of the suffering Savior, we should count it no great loss to sacrifice a little for the sake of the kingdom. What is one evening of our week or a few extra dollars from the grocery budget in comparison to what Christ gave up to redeem sinners from eternal condemnation?
At the heart of hospitality is the heart of the gospel—sacrifice, love, humility. And it’s hard. Jesus bids us to come and die, and there’s nothing easy about that! But there’s much at stake when we fail to reach out in love before a watching world in general, and our kids in particular, as Rosaria pointed out in this statement:
If [you] really want to send the message that the family of God is the real deal, but only on my terms and at my convenience, that sends a message to [your] kids that is potentially compromising to their understanding of family and their witness for Christ.
Hospitality is so much more than having a good time with a handful of friends. It is one of the key ways prescribed to administer the gospel to a needy world.
The interview concluded, and I assisted in getting this professor-turned-wife-and-mother to the airport. It was a Friday night, and she was eager to return to what she considers her highest calling. Her husband and kids back in North Carolina were awaiting her arrival. There was bread to bake for the Sunday service and a home to prepare for any surprise guests they might bring into their home.
I smiled and waved goodbye to this beautiful woman of God who less than twenty years ago was proactively scorning the very person she’s become. And that, my friend, is the work of the loving hand of God, the redeeming blood of Christ, and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
Want to learn more of Rosaria’s story? Visit ReviveOurHearts.com, where this post was originally published, to enter for your chance to win a copy of her first book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith.
You can also listen to Rosaria’s interview on Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth all this week.