Janitors and Tables

While in college I attended a mega church with multiple janitorial job positions. I figured it would be a good job to get me through college and allow me to get my foot in the door at my church. I took the job and worked as a janitor for two years.

While working as a janitor I was volunteering in different ministries. I would have never admitted this at the time but I wanted to be a “cool” pastor. I wanted to be the hip guy with stylish jeans and perfect hair. I wanted people to like me; I wanted to be a big fish in the small pond of my mega church. While volunteering in different ministries, I worked hard to be the well–liked and well groomed minister in training. However, for 20 hours a week I wasn’t the “cool” guy; I would wear a maroon polo with the church logo on the right corner of the shirt, carry a huge ring of building keys, and push garbage cans around – I was a janitor.

I resisted the janitorial image for a long time. I just wanted to practice all the ministry training I was receiving in Bible College. I wanted to preach more, counsel more, and plan more events but the only opening for me was in the janitorial department.

It would take a woman, who I will call Amal, a newly hired janitor to begin to transform my arrogant and immature heart. I was surprised my fundamentalist mega church hired Amal because she was a Muslim. Amal was from Pakistan and spoke very little English. I became her janitorial trainer and we worked together every night.

To help teach Amal English I would point out objects as we walked the long halls of the church and speak them aloud in English and she would repeat after me. At the times I was feeling extra evangelistic, I would point out posters of Jesus and have her repeat after me.

The longer we worked together the closer we became and the better her English was. Amal also loved my wife Samantha. For Christmas one year she bought Samantha a beautiful necklace – we were shocked by the intentionality and generosity of the gift. We quickly learned that she showed her love through giving gifts.

I knew Amal loved cooking because she talked about all the traditional Pakistani food she would make at home. Occasionally she would bring leftovers to work that smelled amazing. One day her food smelled so good that I asked her if she would be willing to make a Pakistani meal to share with me. She looked at me as if she won the lottery! She was thrilled that I would ask. She set a date for our meal and told me to invite Samantha. I agreed. We set the date for dinner right before one of our evening shifts. She said that we would eat in the janitorial office. I asked her where and she simply responded, on the desk.

The janitorial closet was a large room filled with tools, storage equipment, and cleaners. There was a desk in the room filled with files and papers; for whatever reason this was where Amal wanted our meal. She was excited and simply declared when and where this meal was going to happen. I dared not try to change her mind.

I few weeks later Samantha and I showed up to the church about an hour before my shift for our meal. Walking down the hall I could smell the aroma of an amazing meal coming from the janitorial office. As we walked in, Amal had just finished setting up all types of Pakistani dishes that she had spread all over the desk; from savory kababs to fresh chapatis bread to sweet gulab jamun. We were shocked; we thought she might have prepared a few dishes wrapped in foil that we’d munch on before my work shift. We could not have been more wrong. Amal had prepared a feast and invited us to receive. At the janitorial desk in a large surburban evangelical mega church sat two white Christians and a Pakistani Muslim woman around a Pakistani feast.

Some tables we set for others and some tables we are invited to. Amal set a table for us and we were invited to receive. At the time, I thought I was my job to help lead Amal to Christ’s table. Yet it was Amal who lead me to her table. Her table was filled with love, care, intentionality, and hospitality.

The New Testament book to the Hebrews talks about the importance of showing hospitality to the stranger or the “other” because in so doing we might be entertaining angels. The author says,

Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love. Be ready with a meal or a bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it![1]

The author reminds God’s people to live as faithful witnesses of the Gospel through acts of love and service. Hospitality has become an overlooked discipline in much of the modern expression of American Christianity. As the world has become more socially tribal we are quickly loosing the ability to effectively reach out and love different tribes or people.

The ancient Greek word for hospitality comes from the compound of “love” and “stranger” – literally meaning, “love for the outsider or stranger.” Practicing hospitality is something the scriptures continually speak of because this is exactly how Jesus treats us. As the scripture says, “ But now in Jesus Christ, you who were far away from God are brought near through the blood of Christ’s death.”[2] The People of God are called to live like Jesus to love and sacrifice for the outsider.

While hospitality is a right and noble practice, it is incredibly humbling to be on the receiving end of the very hospitality we are called to practice by someone considered an outsider by many. As I walked into the janitorial room where Amal had prepared our feast I needed to accept that she had loved and cared for me in a way that I had not loved her. Instead of me trying to be her guide to what is loving and true, as I sat down at the feast she had prepared, I let her become my guide as to how to practice hospitality.

The scripture in Hebrews reminds us in practicing hospitality we might be entertaining angels. However, until that evening with Amal, I never thought that it could go the other way too. I never thought that I would need to look out for the stranger or the “other” showing me their hospitality. Sometimes an “angel” looks like a Pakistani Muslim woman preparing a feast in the basement of an evangelical mega church. As we joined the table of the “outsider,” God was glorified, the angels rejoiced, and we were changed. Who are the outsiders in your life and what table have they prepared for you?

[1] Peterson, The Message Remix, Hebrews 13:1-2.

[2] Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Ephesians 2:13.

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