Bedouins, Bread, and Beds

Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:1-2).


Totally fascinating! That is the best way to begin to describe Bedouins. They are nomads that wander with their flocks and camels throughout the Mid East. Along the outskirts of Jerusalem, the Judean desert, and the Sinai, I grew accustom to seeing their black tents and herds dotting the sides  of the roads.

One of the most fascinating features of their culture is their deep sense of hospitality. Giving to and serving guests is deeply engrained in their traditions. I remember swimming with a dear friend in the Red Sea, in the southern Israeli town of Eilat. We spent all day there enjoying the sun, sand, and water.

Throughout the day, we were vaguely aware of a group of Bedouins that were hanging out on the beach too. They were not swimming. In fact, I have never seen any of them wear anything but their long white tunics and scarves or black dresses and robes, often elaborately hand-embroidered.


The Bedouins spent the day fishing in the Red Sea. They made a fire, cooked the fish, and also baked some flat bread on hot stones. Suddenly, they came up to us and invited us to join their meal. The women served the men, who ate first. They squatted on their thighs in a circle while the women handed each a large piece of flat bread with a grilled fish in it.

Then the ladies circled up, squatting on their thighs as well, and ate the same. We were included with the women. The meal was fantastic! I don’t know why but fresh grilled fish and bread tastes so good right off the grill seaside. Then the ladies served us hot, very, very sweet Turkish coffee in small plastic cups. It was so strong and delicious.. and so sweet we didn’t need dessert!

My friend and I thanked them profusely for including us in their spontaneous fish fry on the sea. But it was nothing for them. They would have fed everyone on the beach that day. It was part of their culture. Hospitality is a way of life–giving to others even to the point of sacrifice. I will never forget that colorful event, and I will never forget their unsolicited generosity.

I have traveled around the world enough to know that most Americans, and this is painful and shameful to admit, fall way behind in the area of hospitality. For instance… the above verse “Do not forget to entertain strangers…” Entertain STRANGERS? That means to open your home to people you don’t even know… feed them a meal, let them sleep in your bed and share your space… It doesn’t even register. The dark side of our society causes us to despise strangers and almost fear them–not entertain them.

Entertaining friends comes closer to home–seems less strange–still the art of hospitality is foreign to us. When someone comes over for a visit, we can offer water maybe or tea or coffee if we are feeling generous. But not much more than that. We don’t really think about offering hospitality in an extravagant way. We are thinking about what is easy and quick and no trouble.

I really didn’t begin to understand hospitality until I lived overseas in Ukraine. I comprehended it first as a guest then as a hostess. The Russian people are wonderfully hospitable as well. Everytime we visited someone, just for a chat, they brought out their best china and served their best food. And they served a lot of food. They didn’t just throw some cookies on the table. It was humbling to receive such extravagant offerings from people that I knew were much poorer than I.

A sponataneous visit might include offerings of cheeses, sardines, sausages, bread, eggs, salads, crepes, homemade dill pickles, cakes, compote, fruit, tea and coffee. An invitation to a real Russian meal would include many, many dishes of savory foods, lots of wine and vodka, and lots of sweet endings. A dinner is an event you don’t want to miss.

It is a wonderful feeling to be received with such generosity. But for every action there is a reaction. And that meant my greatest connection with the people and the culture of Ukraine was to become a Russian-style hostess myself.

It was hard at first. I remember a pastor and his wife showing up on our doorstep after 10 PM. I was already in bed, but these people had made a long trip. And I couldn’t just offer them cookies. I had to make a quick meal and take the time to visit and share our lives. It grated my flesh. But slowly, I bent into it, and God changed my heart.

Before I went to the mission field I hated hospitality and entertaining, and now I love it. My husband and I have people over all the time now. OUr home seems empty without a guest.

Here are a few American misconceptions about hospitality.

1) It takes a lot of money to entertain or be hospitable. This is false. Some of the best meals I have received and/or provided for others have been with a limited budget. The seaside meal from the Bedouins costed pennies. The fish was free and the flour and water for bread cost next to nothing. And that was one of my all-time favorite meals to remember. What made it special was the generosity of poor people to me… a stranger. Give what you have ungrudgingly. Your generosity will fill a place deep in your hearts that nothing else can fill.

2) You must have a designated guest room for a visitor to spend the night. This is false. Most of the world’s citizens from different countries do not have guest rooms. Often their homes are much smaller than American homes. They give up their bed or bedroom for their guests, or they train their children to give their rooms up. Children don’t mind sleeping on pallets on the living room floor for a few nights. They love it! And it teaches them to share what they have. An over-night guest broadens the family’s horizons because they will introduce new thoughts and ideas on life.

3) You must be a good cook to entertain. This is false. In today’s world, entertaining is as easy as “take out.” Or you can make things semi-homemade, which is my trick. I used to slave over making homemade spaghetti sauce until a friend suggested I buy Prego. I know it sounds totally simplistic, but it set me free. I use it and spice it up. I even use it for lasagne. My Italian friends are cringing! Now I do everything semi-homemade. The important thing is to make your dinner guest feel special–that the meal and love behind the evening is all about them.

4) Life is too busy to entertain. This is false. People do the things that are important to them. Entertaining in your home frequently is a wonderful way to bridge gaps. Maybe you don’t want to cook a meal every week for someone, but you can open your home for a weekly church meeting like a cell group or life group or community meeting. Wayne and I have always enjoyed this and have derived more from it than the people attending.

With the economic downturn, people are looking for ways to save money. Entertaining your friends and neighbors in your home can be far cheaper at home then going to a restaurant and movie. And it is often much more memorable.

The best way to open your heart to others is to open your home. And remember there was a reason God’s Word specifically states that we should not shy away from entertaining strangers… Of course, you must be wise, but I believe there is a special blessing in it if you are willing to venture out.

Hospitality is one of the best ways to share your faith. Have someone over for coffee, make it really nice without expense, and pray for an opportunity to sprinkle some seeds…

Coming soon: Parts 2 and 3 on “How to be a Good Hostess” and “How to be a Good Guest.”

4 Comments Add yours

  1. beth says:

    This I like. It reminds me of Edith Schaeffer’s book, L’Abri.

  2. Amrita says:

    Very good post there Bonnie.
    In India too hospiality is a way of life, we ‘re like the bedouins or Russians.

    If you visiting the poorest of the poorest they will give you water and piece of jaggery .

  3. Susan Sears says:

    I just returned from India. I had some of the best hospitality. I love to have people over for coffee or desert or hummus and chips…

  4. Jerry says:

    This is so good. I must share it.

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