Oh! Company Is Coming
BY “AWAKE!” CORRESPONDENT IN GERMANY
“MAMMA, Mamma, our company’s here!” the children cried. Little Mike ran to hide and Ruth hung onto mother’s apron, while Esther, relaxed and jolly by nature, ran ahead to greet the guests: “We are so happy you’ve come. Mamma has your room all fixed up. We children are going to sleep with mamma and daddy in their room.”
“Here is your room,” mother said. “We hope that you will feel at home here. You can put your suitcases here, and there’s a little corner where you can write; otherwise, feel free to use our living room. Just make yourselves at home. In the meantime, I’ll get something to eat. You children, leave our guests alone for a moment so they can freshen up.”
Certainly this reception was refreshing after a hard trip. It may remind a Bible reader of the hospitality that Abraham showed his guests when he said: “Let a little water be taken, please, and you must have your feet washed. Then recline under the tree. And let me get a piece of bread, and refresh your hearts.” (Gen. 18:4, 5) Just the thought of being welcome makes one feel comfortable.
Type of Visit
The above-described reception was experienced by a traveling representative of the Watch Tower Society who visits certain congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses in Europe once every six months. He stays a week in order to build up the congregation in their faith, helping them much as did the apostle Paul and other faithful servants of the early Christian church. Our visitor, however, did not come alone; his wife accompanies him and enjoys association with her Christian sisters while preaching the good news of God’s kingdom. Another type of visitor that many Europeans entertain is the paying guest who comes to take advantage of the mineral baths in the community, or the tourists who rent rooms for their vacation. Here the greeting is more formal and these guests are more concerned with rest and independence. Then there are the courtesy visits, coffee or afternoon-tea visits and the visits made on sick persons.
In some countries it is customary, when someone shows you a kindness, to visit this person early the following morning in order to express your thanks again. If this is forgotten, the person will always be remembered as being unappreciative. It is a common occurrence in West Africa when missionaries of Jehovah’s witnesses come to an out-of-the-way village as traveling ministers to visit the congregation for the chief of that village to greet them hospitably. He may send his wives with a bowl of rice and a large chicken as a welcome present. In such a case one must go the next morning to thank him for it.
Of course, preparing for guests is work. But such work is done gladly if the guests are appreciated. However, do not overdo a good thing. It is not absolutely necessary, for example, to wash the curtains. Perhaps you have not stopped to consider that too much preparation could make your guests uncomfortable. If you consider painting the stovepipe in order to make the room look nice and clean, think of the obnoxious smell it will give off for the next few days. New hand towels look nice, but they do not absorb the water so well. And, in addition, a housewife who is all tired out from the hard work of preparing for her guests is not a happy hostess.
There is something that is thoughtful and that does not require a lot of work, however. If company is coming in the winter, the unused guest room should be heated a few days in advance in order to drive out the dampness. There is nothing more uncomfortable for a guest than having to crawl into a cold, clammy bed!
Naturally it depends largely upon how the guest conducts himself as to whether his visit is a joy or a burden. If the guest uses a little discernment and is tactful, his visit can be upbuilding. The words, “Make yourself at home,” are a very generous expression. However, what may be accepted as the normal thing in one family may not be allowed in another. In some families, for example, it may be taken for granted that when one is hungry he can go to the cupboard or refrigerator and get what he wants. Another housewife may not like having a guest in her kitchen. Perhaps she has an exact plan, and purchases everything according to the menu to be prepared for the next day. Then when something is missing it may ruin her planning.
If a guest takes books from a shelf, he should return them to the same place on the shelf. Later, when the host is looking for a certain book, he may get quite upset with his family if the books are out of order.
Another point is adjusting to the family’s schedule. Do you, as a guest, let the family know what your plans are during your stay? They told you to “feel at home,” and probably gave you the key to the house, but it would be wise to let them know when you expect to be coming and going. In case you have to come in late some evening, be sure to tell them beforehand, otherwise they will be worried if you do not show up at the time they expect you. If your host lives in a thin-walled apartment house, then you should be especially considerate, not causing unnecessary noise late in the evenings, as by typing.
Loving consideration of all members of the family, including the children, makes for a happy visit long to be remembered. A missionary wrote about her childhood: “Special traveling representatives of the Watch Tower Society used to come and visit our little group. They were busy people, and, I feel sure, often quite tired. But, nevertheless, they always took time to speak to me. It made me feel as if I were a part of what was going on.”
The wife, when one of the visitors, can also contribute much to making their visit a joyful one. It is not, however, always easy to fit into the family routine, especially when one is tired. While one housewife may appreciate having someone help her to do the dishes, another may prefer to do them herself, as she gets nervous when anyone else is in the kitchen. Some housewives appreciate the guests making their own beds, whereas another may prefer having the beds air out until she gets around to cleaning the room later on. If you take a dustcloth to tidy up a bit, your hostess may get the idea the room is not clean enough to suit you. All of these are small matters that a person can find out if discernment is shown. Why not just ask: “Shall I make the beds now or would you rather that I make them up later, after they air a bit?” Or say: “Please let me help you with the dishes.” In that way you can soon find out whether she really wants you to help.
Your being overly modest does not make it easy for the host. He wants you to feel at home, and so, if he offers you something, feel free to accept it instead of always saying, “No, that is not necessary.” What did the three men say to whom Abraham offered a meal? “All right. You may do just as you have spoken.” However, if something is offered that may not be good for you, then have the courage to be honest and tactfully refuse it. In the tropics you may have to refuse a well-meaning offer of refreshing water, even when the friendly host takes a drink! It probably will not hurt your host, because he has grown up with it, but there may be problems with amoebas for you.
When you are invited to dinner you can avoid an embarrassing situation if you do not sit down at once. Instead, wait until your host shows you where he wants you to sit. Jesus gave this good counsel, as recorded at Luke 14:8, 9: “When you are invited by someone to a marriage feast, do not lie down in the most prominent place. Perhaps someone more distinguished than you may at the time have been invited by him, and he that invited you and him will come and say to you, ‘Let this man have the place.’ And then you will start off with shame to occupy the lowest place.”
You, no doubt, very much appreciate kind and gracious hospitality. You can show your appreciation for it not only by words of thanks but by tactful consideration and by endeavoring to make the conversation delightful, encouraging, informative. Too often conversation is all “small talk” or inconsequential. William Gillette, the actor, once related that as a young man he lived in a boardinghouse with many people. At that time he was studying stenography and, to practice it, he would take down the complete conversations of the other boarders who were sitting in the drawing room. “Years later,” he said, “I went over my notebooks, and found that in four months of incessant conversation no one had said anything that made any difference to anybody.”
Of course, as an invited guest you are not in a boardinghouse and so you have more responsibility to contribute to meaningful conversation. Try to reward your host by conversation that is enlightening and upbuilding, at the same time giving others the opportunity to express themselves. This will help to make your visit a joy and a mutual success.