The B&B At The End Of The World
Hospitality is a Christian virtue. It's a central practice of our faith and it's done for its own sake. Not to recruit new members or look good in the eyes of society.
In some ways, hospitality is a lack of judgement. It's working beyond the walls we've put up for ourselves, beyond self-imposed limits of what's truly mine, of what's truly yours.
We'd all like to think we were generous, hospitable people. But like so many things in life, it's actions that speak louder than words, isn't it? How hospitable are we really prepared to be when opening our door might bring a world of hurt down on the ones we love?
Let me introduce you to Vilia.
Vilia lives in Haiti which is half of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, which is not great news considering the number of earthquakes, storms and hurricanes Mother Nature throws at it every year. The Haitian people are tough: they constantly fight to survive. But they’ve been hit by so many disasters now that even their tenacity is reaching its limits.
You may remember the Haiti earthquake in 2010 which saw more than 200,000 people die, over 300,000 injured and over 1.5 million lose their homes. Then in November 2016, Hurricane Matthew wreaked yet more havoc across the southern coast of the country, killing over 500 people and destroying homes, businesses and infrastructure.
Christian Aid is there of course. We've worked in Haiti since the 1980s. KORAL, one of our local partners, has been helping build new houses for families affected by the evil grab bag of natural disasters which plague the island.
And that leads us back to Vilia. First thing you need to know, Vilia is a seriously impressive woman. She is one of the first ever female leaders of a long-held Haitian tradition, the ra ra band – a group of musicians who gather together to celebrate births, weddings and other community events. When she speaks she has a poetry to her words, a quiet determination, a sense of the ocean of strength that lies just beneath the surface. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to use the term ‘badass’ on a Christian website but if I am then let me say this, Vilia is a total badass.
In the 2009 earthquake, she was selling food at the market when her home collapsed. Her neighbourhood was so damaged that it was hard for her to even recognise where her house had stood. She had to walk over the bodies of the dead to get back home. When she arrived she could not find her elderly mother amongst the rubble. To this day, she has no idea where her mum is buried. She says:
"For her to have died without me; this hurts me so much. My strength came from her. She taught me everything. She gave me all I needed until she fell to her knees with nothing.”
Vilia and her husband moved with their family back to her childhood hometown in the south but her old house was in a state of disrepair. Like so many domiciles in Haiti, it had moved past 'fixer-upper' into 'total and utter ruin'.
When KORAL visited, they knew almost immediately that they'd have to build the family a brand new home. A safe, thickly walled brick house with enough room for everyone. Vilia obviously celebrated in normal Vilia-style.
"We organised TWENTY FOUR ra ra bands to come and celebrate with us! I was so happy and excited that finally my children would be sleeping somewhere safe, that I danced and got tipsy and even made a speech into a microphone!”
And that would have been a happy end to that story. And if Vilia was like the rest of us, she would have been thankful for those new sturdy walls, would have shut the door, swept the floor and got on with her safe, protected life without a further glance out the window.
But this is Vilia and this is Haiti and that's not the end of the story.
When hurricane Matthew hit, the winds outside reached speeds of 150mph. It blew people away, tore roofs off houses, ripped trees out of the ground. Did Vilia batten down the hatches, sit in the very middle of her safe, sturdy living room and hug her family closer?
Of course she didn't. Seeing the urgency of the situation, Vilia managed to cram 54 friends and neighbours inside her two room house, struggling to hold the door open for them to get in. A woman arrived holding her baby, screaming that it had died. Vilia wrapped the baby in a blanket and warmed it until it revived. When her neighbours arrived in wet clothes, she gave them dry ones. She and her family slept on chairs so more people could fit in. In the morning she cooked for all her guests like it was the last Bed & Breakfast at the end of the world. And, when the hurricane had passed, her house was the only one in the neighbourhood left standing.
A simple act of hospitality that saved 54 lives.
Every coin, every conversation, every prayer. This is how we show our hospitality to our neighbours, near and far. This is how we build God’s Kingdom. Not with expectations of immediate reward but slowly, diligently and out of love.
(FYI: Our partners built 700 houses after the earthquake. Not a single house built by Christian Aid collapsed during the hurricane. We’re not perfect but we are badass builders)
If you have 6 minutes then please watch this video telling Vilia's story. I honestly think it's one of the most beautiful, well-shot and effective videos Christian Aid has ever produced.