Offering Hospitality to Strangers

After moving eleven times in 42 years, I am no stranger to being a newcomer. Hospitable neighbors are always a plus. Here, we are incredibly blessed. For example, because our latest house needed to be gutted upon purchase, we had a problem when we were onsite to do small projects: there was no plumbing besides the construction crew's port-a-john.

On our first day, a neighbor crossed the street, introduced himself, and offered the use of his bathroom whether he was home or not. Talk about welcoming a stranger!

We quickly learned that kindness and hospitality rule in our little enclave. My husband was told which tools NOT to buy because "community tools" were openly shared. We've long since become used to the "pop-up" porch parties that happen at the drop of a text message.

My favorite gatherings, though, are our Book Club. It's a women-only night and we rotate houses. Each member arrives with a snack and libation of their choice. Generally, the host picks the book but other times one is chosen during conversation.

So it was for our February meeting. I was to be the host, and the book was chosen by acclamation: The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba. Born in Malawi, William was expelled from school because his parents couldn't pay his fees. Thanks to a kindly librarian, William continued to read about his first loves, science and electricity. He discovered windmills and dreamed of building one so that his family could enjoy luxuries -- electricity and running water. Read the book for the rest of his inspiring story!

Having just returned from Malawi in December, I shared their realities of life, especially after the devastation of Cyclone Freddy when six months of rain fell in six days; the ensuing floods and landslides wiped out entire villages of people, soon-to-be-harvested crops, and farm animals. I spoke about the people I met who are the direct beneficiaries of help from The Pontifical Mission Societies (TPMS).

One, a 68-year-old woman named Agnes, lost everything in the cyclone. She showed me her new place -- a 10x15 three room concrete block house, built by TPMS. She shares it with two other women and their children. Her eyes shone with pride as she told me she "never thought she'd own anything this beautiful."

When told the cost to build Agnes's new home was $3,000, the Book Club members rallied and raised $500.

Do you belong to a club that can match that amount? Maybe it's a church choir or a walking group. Whoever your group is, I'm happy to introduce them to Agnes and invite them to offer hospitality to more strangers.

- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.