IN MY LIFETIME I have met very few people who are so welcoming, so gracious, and so selfless in the way they treat me, that they feel like family to me.
I’d like you to meet one such family.
They are German.
I just got back from vacationing with them.
Here’s the backstory. About 10 years ago their son, Hannes, came to our town as an exchange student. He went to school with my son, Brad.
Hannes’ original host family had some difficulties that required him to switch to another family.
The sponsoring agency told Hannes they would have to put him into a different school because they had no more sponsors on this school district. Hannes loved our school; and it is an excellent school system – it’s the reason we moved to this city.
The agency told Hannes that if he wanted to stay in the same school it would be a good idea for him to talk with some of his classmates and see if any of their families would be able to host him for the year.
My son came home from school and started his pitch this way:
“Before you say no, I want you to know that I’ll give up my bedroom and move into the basement.”
Which is exactly what happened.
The basement became his bedroom while Hannes lived with us, staying in Brad’s bedroom.
Hannes seemed a bit shy at first. Until we got to know each other. Then he became my other son.
I cried at the airport when he left, fearing I would never see him again.
Since then, he has been back to visit us once. And we’ve been over to Germany to visit him twice.
His mom and dad are both Lutheran ministers: Günter and Cornelia.
Our trip to Germany in mid-May was my son’s idea. We didn’t know if we would get to spend any time with Hannes and his family. But we told them when we were coming, that we would be in Germany for about a week, and that we hoped we could get together.
Hannes’ parents live in Reutlingen, in southern Germany. Hannes works as an accountant for a huge firm in Zürich, Switzerland, about a two-hour drive south.
Let me give you a lesson in hospitality, made in Germany.
Hannes, his parents, and Hannes’ lady love, Annette Boos, all took the week off work.
Cornelia prepared a possible itinerary for our time in Germany – the entire time. She assured us that this was just a rough draft and we could make any changes we wanted.
The itinerary included time in their hometown area, a visit to Hannes’ home in Zürich, and a visit to a small village in the Swiss Alps. My son suggested minor adjustments, which Cornelia made.
When we asked about hotels nearby, Cornelia arranged everything for us. We would stay in their apartment while in town.
Hannes picked us up at the Stuttgart airport.
While we were in their hometown, Hannes’ parents moved out of their two-bedroom apartment and stayed in the apartment of a friend who was on a cruise. They gave my wife and me their bedroom. They gave my son and his wife the guest bedroom.
When we visited Zürich, my son and his wife stayed with Hannes. The two sets of parents stayed in a nearby hotel, which Cornelia arranged.
When we were in the homes of our German hosts, they prepared breakfast for us each morning, and any other meals when we were not on the road. They even cleaned up the dishes afterward, diverting us to the couch to relax when we tried to help.
When we were traveling, they refused to let us pay for food or even for entry fees and admission tickets, such as our train ride to the top of a Swiss mountain near the village of Grindelwald.
I tried to pay. Many times. But Günter insisted that they take care of the food and transportation. And they considered excursions as transportation.
All they let us pay for were the few hotel bills.
At least they couldn’t stop me from leaving all my leftover Euros on a shelf, wrapped up in a scribbled note of thanks.
Remember the story of Peter resisting the effort of Jesus to wash his feet?
I felt like Peter.
Undeserving of what was going on.
Yet deeply loved.
And absolutely welcomed.
Hannes and his clan treated us better than royalty. They treated us like family.
It was quite the lesson in hospitality. Timely for me because in a few months, when my daughter gets married, we will be hosting a full house.
“Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.”
—Jesus (Luke 16:9 NLT)
If you’re anything like me, you missed this while reading the Bible.
I tripped over it only recently.
The fact that the Bible says we should use our resources to benefit others comes as no surprise to me. But I didn’t realize Jesus said it, too.
For many of us, spending money might be the hardest part of showing hospitality.
But if we say we’re Christians trying to follow the teachings of Jesus, sometimes we have to put our money where our mouth is.
Note: I’ve omitted the last names at the family’s request.