Christianity, Hospitality and Immigrants


“The great majority of Christians in America will never host a meal for someone from another culture making his home in the US,” said my friend across the table.  I immediately thought of my fortune not only in having been invited for dinner, but to have been “adopted” into an American family my sophomore year in college. In retrospect, it made all the difference in the world.

Milton and Elizabeth Hollifield

I though it was a silly, frivolous prayer at the time. But in the depths of my lonely days as an international college student, I prayed to God for a family–more precisely, an American family. I had grown weary of not having a place to go during breaks, specially the long summer breaks. My parents in Brazil were financially struggling to keep me in school, my student visa limited the amount of hours I could legally work, and flying home during school breaks was just not a possibility. I never thought I would see that prayer answered, that is until Milton Hollifield Sr, a country preacher from the North Carolina mountains came looking for me. I had met “preacher Hollifield” and his entire family a couple of months earlier during a speaking trip to several congregations in the foothills of Black Mountain, NC.

Milton Hollifield

They were a gregarious, loud, and even obnoxious bunch. I thought of my own crazy, loud, and obnoxious family as I experienced dinner with them. But now, out of the blue, Milton insisted I visited them during the Christmas break. “We’ll figure out how to get you there and back. You just need to plan to be with us.” There was no arguing with the man. So I did.

I was never the same.

I spent every holiday and school break with the Hollifield clan for the next several years until I got married and had a family of my own. Milton and Elizabeth made me one of their kids, even though I was closer to the age of their grand kids. I embraced corn bread and greens, livers and onions, and the Sunday morning staple of burned cinnamon rolls. I stuck out like a sore thumb in a rural community and loved every moment of it. I learned so much about love, family, grace, and acceptance from my new family.

I watched Milton get up every morning, read his Bible and pray for the growing-list of people in his life. Once you got added to the list, only death removed you. At 81, Milton still prays for me everyday. He reminded me of that not long ago.

I cannot imagined what my life would have been had a man whom I met only once, and briefly, not insisted I joined his family for Christmas. There are more people like me everyday in communities all across the country–college students, families, and professionals who are making America their new home. For their sake, as well as ours, I hope we can open our homes and invite them in.

Have you ever opened your home to someone new to country? What happened?

  • Very heartwarming.  Not all Americans fit the “cold and distant” stereotype common here in Brazil. 

  • Very heartwarming.  Not all Americans fit the “cold and distant” stereotype common here in Brazil. 

  • Tracy A.

    I taught ESL for three years at church, during that time I opened my home for all the ESL students to come to my home for a cookout with my neighbors. It was a wonderful event. We had six or eight nationalities present and it was a lot of fun for everyone. There is something endearing about practicing hospitality, it bridges relationships in ways that most other activities do not.

    • So true, Tracy. And I’m sure it was an experience the internationals will never forget.

  • Thanks for sharing your story. Great tribute and wonderful challenge to all of us. While I was still single and living in Nashville, I had the opportunity to open my home as a host family for a Brazilian ESL student for a few months. She met and eventually married a member of a Nashville church. My point is that marrieds and singles of all ages can practice hospitality.

  • Sharon Henning

    I read your article with interest because when I was in college most of my friends were international.  In high school I was such a huge reader that when I attended University, meeting so many students from other countries was like living in the books I’d read.  
    Every single holiday throughout my years at college my parents would host students from Pakistan, India, Southeast Asia, Greece, and Japan just to name a few.  It was fascinating and exciting to get to know so many people from around the world.Even though that was years ago I still have dear friendships with many of these “international” students.  A few of them, one a Muslim and another a Buddhist, would even attend church with me.  I never thought much about it at the time, but I know I’m impressed that people of strikingly different beliefs were willing to go with me to see how people worshiped Christ.  

    •  There’s a great opportunity for outreach for international students. I find them open and willing to learn more about our customs as well as our faith.

  • Adambowles

    I hear you! I’m a pastor – former journalist – doing this doc on immigrant students. Believing people will “shout for joy” when they see it fully funded.

  • I haven’t yet for someone new the country, only because I haven’t had the opportunity. The colleges in my area require you to be married to host any international students, so I’m out of the loop. I have, though, invited many college students over for meals or taken them out to dinner to help give them that “home” feel. Many will even just stop by the house to hang out in the air conditioning or get to sit on a real couch. It’s why I bought a house close to the college campus in my town. Course, my calling and heart is for college students, so I am a bit abnormal that way  😀

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