God's Great Karibu

God's Great Karibu

It was 6:00am on my day off when Miguel was yelling into my bedroom window, slamming his bamboo cane against the bars. “Excuse me! Hello! Excuse me!” he shouted into my slumber. I clenched my eyes shut, hoping that this was either a dream or some misunderstanding that was not intended for me. “Jessica! It’s time to come meet my family!” It was real. I stayed in bed for a moment longer. “I’m coming,” I muttered, as I begrudgingly rolled out of bed and began looking for clothes to wear.

By 6:30 I was out of the neighborhood, hobbling alongside Miguel on the way to his house – wherever it was. I stumbled along, still trying to wake up and coping with the realization that my dress was very obviously on inside-out. After an hour of limping our way clear across town we arrived at Miguel’s home. “Karibu!” (CAR-ee-boo) he proclaimed. Welcome.

Miguel is severely crippled. He does not make any money and is largely unable to do so. It seems that he is in many ways dependent upon charity, a good chunk of it from me. But there I was, sitting in his yard for 5 hours chatting with his neighbors, holding his baby niece, and receiving the meal his aunt made for me. Again and again they shook my hand and said, “Karibu!” Welcome.

Two hours of hobbling across town simply to welcome and serve me. An act of overwhelming hospitality that I would complain about long after.

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Welcome is a way of life in this place. There is a constant call to welcome and to receive welcome. Hospitality is the norm. Sharing is the expectation. Presence is the foundation of community.

But the act of welcoming is not an easy one. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Despite its many blessings, often it is exhausting, interruptive, confusing, and down right irritating.

But isn’t that what God does with us?

Again and again the biblical narrative points to a welcoming God, a God of Karibu. God speaks to Abraham saying Karibu to blessing for all creation. God calls Israel to be a people of Karibu. Jesus lives a life of Karibu to all people, embodying the Kingdom of Karibu. The Church is to live in the Karibu of God and extend the Karibu to others. The people of God are to be a people enveloped by Karibu. God is constantly saying to us, "Welcome! Come in! Sit down and eat! Join the party!"

I worship a God who bangs on my window at 6:00am, desperate to host me exactly as I am despite my bad attitude and inside-out clothes. And that Karibu can only flow outward toward my neighbors – regardless of age, socioeconomic class, religion, attitude, awkwardness, or level of annoyance I feel when I engage them. Just as they freely extend welcome to me, despite the fact that my cup runneth over with inadequacy, cultural faux pas, and inability to finish a full plate of their food.

In this community I am hosted by and a host to the God who dwells in the bodies of my neighbors, those who sometimes appear to have nothing left to give. In this community I am called to give all that I have because all I have was given freely to me. In this community I am called to receive graciously, even when it’s deeply uncomfortable, because the abundance that God gives us is uncomfortable in our own unworthiness and limited ability to return the favor.

I share endless plates of food and empty spaces in tightly packed rooms catching up on telenovelas. I share tea with visitors who come to check in on me. I share dark rooms with the grieving. I share dances with the celebrating. I share days together spent learning and fellowshipping. I share sacred moments and casual greetings.

God is welcoming all people into radical hospitality, into beautiful and broken community, into ever-extending karibu. God is not building higher fences, but rather bigger tables. God is going to the highways and byways urging people, urging me, to come to the banquet. And I have more than enough food to share. And so I sit around the bowl of rice where many dip their hands to eat, living in the shadow of the great karibu that is on its way from Heaven to Earth. And forever scooting over to squeeze another around the meal.

Because the Kingdom of God is like a ride in Mozambique. There’s always room for more.

Karibu.

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