The first time, a representative of Franklin Graham’s Boone, North Carolina ministry called. They were looking for a church in metro New Orleans to host a family from Bosnia who were coming to a local hospital to have their baby operated. He said, “I’ve called all over and, frankly, I’ve been surprised that no one is interested. They all say they’ll have to get back with me and no one has.” I said, “Stop calling. You’ve called the right church.”
It took a dozen or more of us families a solid six weeks or more to host the mother, her baby, and the woman interpreter. In addition to providing two bedrooms in a home, there were meals to prepare, and daily transportation to and from the hospital, some dozen miles away. Church members gave money, some drove their car, and many brought meals. Two families opened their homes, a month in one and several weeks in the other. The baby had his heart surgery and they all went back home, carrying happy memories of American hospitality and Christian love.
A year or two later, a medical doctor across the state called my office with a similar story. He went into Mexico frequently doing volunteer medical work, and had located a baby that would die unless immediate heart surgery were performed. The staff at the hospital was willing, but he had to find a Spanish-speaking host family for them in our city. I said, “Friend, you don’t want a host family. You want a host church. It takes a lot of people to pull this off.” I told him we were the church he was looking for.
The doctor told me he was in touch with a local resident married to a Spanish-speaking lady who was determined that he could take them into his home and handle meals and transportation and everything for the entire period. I cautioned him on this, telling him our experience. We lined up host families and drivers, and everything fell into place. The local man who had wanted to handle everything took them into his home for a weekend before his wife informed him that was plenty and he should make other arrangements. It was a big job. Six weeks later, the doctor flew the child and his mother home to Mexico, carrying happy memories of American hospitality and Christian love.
A few months later, a seminary professor called our office. He was running a little errand for the Franklin Graham organization, trying to locate a church in the New Orleans area that would host two women and two babies and an interpreter from Kosovo, coming to the city for heart surgery. He had called all over and no church had responded. I told him ours was the church, that someone in Boone must have dropped the ball or they would have known that, and that we would actually be disappointed if some other church got this blessing.
Two mothers, two babies, and an interpreter. Quite an undertaking. I’m not even the pastor of the church anymore, no longer there to line people up and ramrod it. But Janie Moskau, the church secretary, brought it up in church staff meeting, everyone thought it was a good idea, and they began thinking of church families who would insist on being part of such a ministry.
That’s how, for the next two months, John and Paula Dryden of Kenner ended up with five foreigners as house guests. Even when their daughter Carrie presented them with their first grandbaby, John and Paula stayed at home and on duty, taking care of these visitors from the East. Chris Screen lined up meals–the diets of these Muslim guests were quite different from ours–and finances to buy all the supplies, and even give the visitors a little spending money. Kitty Henry arranged for the daily transportation to and from the hospital, sometimes two round trips a day. Janie Moskau said of Kitty, “We cannot begin to explain all Kitty did. She handled the transportation and a thousand other things.”
On Thursday, December 9, they received a message from Noelle in Franklin Graham’s office. “We received word late yesterday afternoon that your group arrived in Kosovo safely. There was a great reunion when they got home, and Albion’s (the first child) family was amazed to see him so strong and healthy. We will be sending you follow-up reports and photos of Albion and his family, and Fatlind (the other child) and his family as we receive them over the next year.” She continued, “Thank you so much for all the love you showed the group members, and for taking such excellent care of them while they were in New Orleans. I know they will never forget the people of FBC Kenner. You blessed us incredibly, too. May the Lord richly bless you.”
American hospitality and Christian love. An unbeatable combination.
We didn’t get any publicity on this, not on television or in the paper. Because no one sought it. It’s not about newspaper coverage or marketing our church. It’s about opening homes and hearts to those in need, of welcoming a child who would die without proper care. It’s about authentic Christianity.
Later, I wrote love notes to John and Paula, to Chris, and to Kitty. I wish I had known all the people at the hospital to whom to write–the doctors and nurses, technicians, support staff–everyone who contributed freely of their skills and energies to bless these little children and their families.
Don’t believe everything you hear about Christians hating Muslims. And don’t believe what you hear about how Americans despise Muslims.
There is still a lot of love around. Americans still know how to open their hearts. God’s children still know how to love a child.
I was sitting in the dark one night, staring at a Nativity display and wishing I could have lived in Bethlehem that night, that I would have opened my home to Mary and Joseph and their Baby. I began to wonder if I would really have done that, and how can we know what we would have done in those circumstances.
And then it came to me.
Had we lived back then, we would have done the very thing we’re doing now. If I’m showing the Lord’s love and Christian hospitality now, it’s a safe bet I would have done it then. If not now, then not then.
Joe McKeever has been saved more than 60 years, been preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ more than 50 years, and has been writing articles and drawing cartoons for religious publications more than 40 years. He put in 42 years pastoring six Southern Baptist Churches, followed by five years as director of missions for the SBC churches of metro New Orleans, and has been involved in a “retirement” ministry since 2009. He draws a daily cartoon for the Baptist Press (www.bpnews.net/cartoons), writes a series on “My Favorite Deacon” for Lifeway’s Deacon Magazine, blogs daily (www.joemckeever.com), and has published a number of cartoon books. Joe is the father of 3 children and has 8 grandchildren. He was widowed in January 2015. His life verse is Job 4:4, “Your words have stood men on their feet.” Follow him on Twitter at @drjoemckeever.