Editor’s note: As part of FMS’ 2017 Advent blog series, missioner Erin McHugh reflects on the meaning and application of true hospitality and shares what happens as a result.

It is such a beautiful God thing to me that our Advent theme for us this year is hospitality and welcoming the stranger, as I have felt so welcomed on mission here in Guatemala at Valle de los Angeles.

Guatemalans are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met. It is their pleasure to serve you and they will do anything to make you feel comfortable and at home! However, upon deeper reflection, I realized that hospitality is not just about welcoming strangers into your home or about having a warm cup of tea ready for visitors. True and radical hospitality is opening the doors of your heart, and sharing it with the world. It’s about welcoming strangers as if they were Christ.

This reminds me of a meditation I recently read called “Share your Heart with the World,” by Melody Beattie:

“Share your heart with the world. Share willingly, openly, joyfully, what you have seen, what you have learned. Sharing honestly and openly teaches people around us the most helpful truth—that the imperfect way we live our lives is right for us at the time. When we love and accept ourselves enough to honestly share who we are, it helps those we touch to believe that they’re good enough too. Share your heart with the world and you will bring healing to those you touch.”

The community at Valle is extremely special. They welcome you with open arms, and accept you for exactly who you are. Here, I have learned to love and accept myself again. I have learned to be open and honest with myself and others, and in doing so, I have opened the doors of my heart. I have shared my heart with the Valle community. I have shared my story and I have developed relationships on a deeper level. I have made a heart-to-heart connection with the kids. We have opened up to each other and shared our lives, and in doing so, we have brought healing to each other.

The doors of my heart have been opened wider than I thought they could. I have loved deeper than I ever have. I have felt compassion and empathy on a deeper level. I feel more generous and hospitable and want to just give more and share more of my heart with this beautiful accepting community.

This is what hospitality is to me now. It is opening wide the doors of your heart to strangers. It is listening to their stories and loving them as Christ loves us. Hospitality is meeting each other in our humanity and welcoming others into your heart. I want to leave you with this quote from Pope Francis:

“I cannot engage in dialogue if I am closed to others. Openness? Even more: acceptance! Come to my house, enter my heart. My heart welcomes you. It wants to hear you. This capacity for empathy enables a true human dialogue in which words, ideas and questions arise from an experience of fraternity and shared humanity.”

Reflection Question: How can you open the door to a stranger and welcome them not into your home, but into your heart? How can you share your heart with the world this Advent season?