This week we celebrated the arrival of our 400th guest at Casa Alterna. And how did we celebrate? With $400 cash, of course!
One of our newest volunteers, Katie, and I (Anton) took guests #400 and #401, “Jorge” and “Yeldín” to a restaurant that specializes in food from their Central American homeland. It’s become a tradition for me to invite guests to dine with us at a restaurant with cuisine from their country of origin.
Hospitality is welcoming the unknown other as though they were a long-lost friend.
Hospitality is welcoming the unknown other as though they were a long-lost friend. It’s a practice of mutuality. And in the spirit of mutual friendship, what better way to enjoy the flavors of hospitality than by breaking bread at a table where the outsider experiences a bit of nostalgia and gets to be the expert who introduces something new to me. As Ed Loring of the Open Door Community is fond of saying, “Justice is important, but supper is essential.”
Why did I mention $400 cash earlier? If you know me and my frugal ways, you know that wasn’t some five-star, elegant eatery. The affordably priced meal actually came with a 25% discount because the owner, an immigrant herself, loves to brag to her customers about the work of Casa Alterna and loves to welcome the newly arrived asylum seekers from her homeland into her restaurant for un sabor de su tierra (“a taste of their homeland”).
So after paying our discounted tab, I divided the sizable remaining amount into two equal parts. Then as I informed Jorge and Yeldín of their milestone visit, I handed them the remaining cash mixed with some words of Christmas blessing. Jorge, with watery eyes proclaimed to Yeldín, “Seguramente, Dios está con nosotros.” (“Surely, God is with us.”)
This is Advent; we wait for Emmanuel, God with us. God isn’t in the $400 but is in the hearts of those who give generously to Casa Alterna and, by extension, to those in need of refuge.
But God isn’t just with us; God is within us. And just as God was within the migrant Mary of Nazareth, God is not just with my new friends Jorge and Yeldín; God is within them. Yes, God is within them.