Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Creating a Safe Place for Your Neighbors

Leslie Basham: Rosaria Butterfield says living out Christ’s love through open hospitality is a welcome relief to the hurting and needy around you.

Rosaria Butterfield: When the family of God lives like the family of God, that is a visible sign to a watching world that a Christian home is the safest place in the world to bring your heartbreak and your heartache and your crisis.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for August 15, 2018.

If you’ve missed any of Nancy’s conversation with Rosaria Butterfield so far this week, you can hear every episode at ReviveOurHearts.com. They recorded the interview at the Ligonier Ministry National Conference. Let’s listen.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, welcome back to Revive Our Hearts and this conversation with Rosaria Butterfield. I feel like we could go for hours.

Rosaria: We could.

Nancy: We have just a little bit of a break here. Rosaria will be speaking at the conference that Robert and I are attending. She’ll be speaking here shortly, and we’re in a little alcove here in a hallway with people milling around during a lunch break, so you can probably hear a little bit of a hubbub in the background. Rosaria, I wish we lived closer to each other.

Rosaria: Me, too.

Nancy: I don’t want to say we would be great friends . . . the Lord has made us great friends, but it’s from a distance.

Rosaria: Yes.

Nancy: But I would love to just pop in to your home on one of those evenings where your home is open. There’s a picnic table on the front lawn—right?

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: Up where I live, that picnic table would be covered in snow and ice about half the year, so we have to think a little differently. But in our area, people don’t do anything on the front lawn. It’s all inside the house or on the back lawn, where you’d be more private.

Our homes have become kind of like our castles, but you’re bucking that. I think this is so fundamental to the gospel, and that’s why your book is titled, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. You’re talking about radically ordinary hospitality in a post-Christian world that doesn’t get that, but it’s so important.

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: As we’ve been talking about hospitality, opening your home . . . I had the joy of growing up in a home where hospitality was a way of life—not quite. We didn’t have a picnic table on the front lawn, I’ll say that. But in our affluent, mainline, suburban Philadelphia area, our home was open all the time, and then at times, more programmed, in formal ways.

In fact, there’s a man who now lives in the home where we lived for years—my family’s moved away from that area and he bought that house. I wanted to show Robert that home when we were dating, so we found the man who owns it now. We called him and said, “Could we come visit?”

He had actually lived in another home on a hill across the road for years and saw people always coming to our home. He heard about my parents’ legendary hospitality and wondered why he never got invited. I don’t know why he never got invited. It wasn’t intentional. But then he bought that home.

He talked about how people have come up to the front door (now this is a massive home) over the years, and have said, “We found God in this home, and we want to know if we could just come back and visit.”

Rosaria: Oh, praise God!

Nancy: This man is not a believer.

Rosaria: That’s great, not yet!

Nancy: Not yet. But then not long ago he texted me on a major event—I don’t want to say what because I don’t want to embarrass him in any way if he were to ever hear this. But a major event had taken place in the Christian world, and he texted me. I hadn’t seen him in four years now. He said, “I just want you to know we’re thinking about you in this home. We care about what’s going on in your world.”

Rosaria: Wow!

Nancy: He reached out.

Rosaria: That’s amazing.

Nancy: But that’s because people had been reaching out to him in a home that was open to the gospel.

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: So this is something that’s part of my DNA. Robert says that one of the first things he noticed when he came into my home, now our home, is that there was a highchair in the kitchen for this fifty-seven-year old single woman.

Rosaria: I remember that. (laughter)

Nancy: It was because there were always families living there, coming through.

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: But I know from experience that when people hear us talk about this subject, it’s really scary for a lot of people. In fact, some of them are thinking . . .

Rosaria: This is crazy!

Nancy: This is crazy. I don’t have the ability. Or, It’s dangerous.

Rosaria: Right. It’s dangerous.

Nancy: They’re home schooling their kids to keep from getting strangers into their kids’ lives.

Rosaria: I would say that when I talk about practicing radically ordinary hospitality, there are a lot of ways to do this. There’s not just one way. If your home or your living situation just isn’t conducive to it, maybe one reason, perhaps, is a husband and wife are not on the same team.

Well, hospitality should never divide you. Wives need to follow their husbands. Pray that he would be inspired. But in the meantime, I’ll bet there’s a place that’s doing this that you’re needed in. See, a hospitality home needs both people who have resources and needs.

It doesn’t just need one kind of person. So if your home is not the ideal home, look around. Is there a home in your church that is? Well, tie in there. I can guarantee you they need some help.

Nancy: I have been on the receiving end of that so many times.  My home, which is conducive to having a lot of people into it, but our lives and schedules are such right now that it’s really a challenge. So there are people . . . I have probably a dozen women friends who know my kitchen as well or better than I do.

Rosaria: Right. Perfect.

Nancy: So they pop in. They help out. We get lots of hands to make this easier work. We do this as a family of God, as a community.

Rosaria: Yes. Absolutely. I home school my children, too, and I home school them for a host of reasons. But one is I do appreciate the ability to teach through a Christian world and life view all of the subjects that we study. There is a certain boundary maintenance to that. It would be deceptive to say otherwise.

But when you have a hospitality home, you have a number of things going on. One of the things is that you have a lot of believers, adult believers, who can pour into the life of your children, and that is really important.

Nancy: Yes.

Rosaria: And you also have unbelievers that your children see coming to faith. It isn’t like a weird cult. It’s not a small thing. The gospel doesn’t seem small. It seems vital and vibrant.

Nancy: And pervasive.

Rosaria: And pervasive. Sometimes strangers are dangerous, but sometimes family is, too. You see, what’s dangerous is sin. Sin is dangerous. It’s really dangerous.

Nancy: And sin can be just as present in that very conservative home where you’ve got all the rules down and the kids have been indoctrinated in the faith.

Rosaria: It can.

Nancy: But sin grows in the heart. Right?

Rosaria: It does grow in the heart.

We had a situation in our neighborhood. We had befriended the man across the street. And let me tell you, this was not the neighbor we prayed for, but this was the neighbor we got. And for years it was like living across the street from Boo Radley, the despised character in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Neighbors gossiped. He didn’t fit in. He didn’t cut his lawn for three months. It was an eyesore. It was a meadow. It was a disaster.

Neighbors started to gossip, and Kent reminded neighbors that we can’t do that. We just can’t. We need to get to know our neighbors, and he was really hard to get to know. I talk about it a little bit in the book. His name is Hank, and he became a dear friend and neighbor, although he struggled with a lot of things, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

And then one day we woke up to crime scene tape covering our neighborhood only to learn that he had a meth lab in the basement.

Nancy: The house across the street.

Rosaria: The house across the street. We were his only known friends. And there’s a certain edge. It sounds so wonderful, it’s a cliché—“Oh you dine with sinners, just like Jesus.” Well, let me tell you what happens when you dine with sinners like Jesus: Your neighbors aren’t real happy with you because they just aren’t. It was a disaster.

But at this point, when this had been discovered, this man had become our friend. We walked our dogs together. We had some meals together. He would come to our house for holidays. He lived alone. He was lonely. We were his only known friends. And it was really hard on our children.

Nancy: In what sense?

Rosaria: Well, Mr. Hank was our friend, and he was quirky.

Nancy: Oh, it was hard when the meth lab first came up.

Rosaria: Yes. And they literally . . . To see someone literally detoxed on the front yard, dragged off like you’re not human . . . The neighbors talked about him like he wasn’t a person. And my son, a very tender-hearted boy, said, “Mom, it’s like they talk about Mr. Hank as if he’s not human.”

And it was at that point I realized I couldn’t help my son in the way that some other adults could. The adult that was most helpful to him at that point was Christopher Yuan. My son calls him Uncle Christopher. 

Nancy: He’s another author and friend of your family.

Rosaria: Oh, dear family friend and an author, but he understood Hank’s side of what was going on. He was able to encourage my son that God’s everywhere, and God’s not done with Hank, and that he really needed to pray and hang in there. In a very age-appropriate way, Christopher Yuan shared his testimony with my son—although my son had known it—but it didn’t have hands and feet.

Nancy: Right.

Rosaria: You know, these children raised in Christian homes, they hear all these stories, but they don’t have hands and feet until you literally see your neighbor detoxed in front of you and dragged off like a bag of flour or something.

So, again, where would we be without having a home with many people to pour into our children? My son’s famous comment of last night was, “Mom, I’m thinking about something. Why are all the really cool and nice people in our church single?” (laughter) And, “I’ll tell you why. It’s because they have more money than I do and time to spend on you.”

But we do life together. So it’s not like my son and my daughter see our single friends in church on Sunday from 10 to 12. We go on vacation together. We have meals together. We’re a family.

Nancy: And the singles need that, and your children need it, and you need it.

Rosaria: I need it. Yes. When the family of God lives like the family of God, that is a visible sign to a watching world that a Christian home is the safest place in the world to bring your heartbreak and your heartache and your crisis. You want your neighbors to do that.

We have a neighbor who had been three decades in a lesbian relationship and that relationship dissolved, leaving an enormous hole and heartbreak, and that neighbor came to us. Kent helped that neighbor find a living situation. Why? We’re not on the same page, but we’re neighbors. We want people to say, “This is the go-to house. Christians care about you. Christians want to be both earthly and spiritual good."

Nancy: Yes.

Rosaria: And when you do that, you have license to speak into somebody’s life. You see, you can’t put the hand of the suffering into the hand of the Savior without getting close enough to get hurt. And that’s just true—that’s just true.

Nancy: And yet we tend to think, I think, more than any culture or group in the history of the world has ever been able to, of our homes as ours, and our castles. We put down the garage door and lock the doors, and there’s not as much this sense of open heart, open home, open hearth that was more characteristic of previous generations.

So we live these isolated lives. And I’m thinking, How many of us have 365 nights a year, extra bedrooms, extra bathrooms, extra space, extra space at the table? We don’t have any inclination to say, “Come. You’re welcome. Come join me, and we’ll do life together.”

Rosaria: Right. And I think part of it is the awkwardness of not knowing where to start, and maybe even the fear that we are imposing ourselves on our neighbors, the fear that we’re saying, “Hey, we’re Christians. We’re better than you guys. Let us help you.”

So I think if that’s part of the issue, one thing we can do is be resourceful. I’m really excited about this program. It’s called, “Safe Family.”

Nancy: Yes. I have friends who have been involved in that.

Rosaria: It’s phenomenal. It’s a little bit like a Christian response to foster care. Kent and I have been licensed foster parents for ten years. We adopted four children during that season, including two children who came to us at the age of seventeen. I tell people I’ve adopted people who stand a foot taller than I do. It’s true. I mean, I’m only 5’2”, but still . . . (laughter)

So I’m excited about entering into the lives of orphans. We have been adopted. We know what adoption means. We shouldn’t be afraid. But “Safe Family” organizes those families that are in need of help, and there’s nothing about them that should be scary. You see, poverty shouldn’t be scary. So these are not families who have drug addiction. That can be scary, and rightly so.

Nancy: Yes.

Rosaria: These are not families where there has been a known case of child abuse. These are families who are living paycheck to paycheck and whose apartment is now flooded out, and they’re homeless.

So what you can do is, if a whole group of people in your church—not even a whole group—let’s say, two families in your church become “Safe Family” certified, you can help this family stay together during a crisis. The expectation is that you will provide Christian ministry, that you will provide budgeting help and help in maybe getting dressed for a job interview. At the same time, you will care for a three-year old, and you will try to keep the family together.

The idea is that you are ministering to the whole family. The reason this is so important is that, too often . . . Let’s say you’ve got a family displaced by a flood. You quickly could see that as a foster-care situation because there’s a three-year-old that needs a home. But taking that three-year old-out of a safe place . . . There’s no sin in poverty.

So removing that child from the people who make that child feel safe, it’s not exactly a win-win. Keeping a family together, but allowing you to have impact and help and share those resources. I know people who have made life-long friendships through “Safe Family.”

And you cut across that huge ravine of class. It is a boundary. You tend to live in a neighborhood with people who can afford the same kind of house that you can afford. That’s normal. It’s hard to break a class barrier. “Safe Family” allows you to do that.

So think creatively about your home, or to tie into someone else’s home who’s doing that.

We’ve not always been able to do this. When we’d just adopted a teenager out of foster care, let me tell you what—we weren’t opening the door wide because there were some real issues we had to deal with.

Nancy: Yes.

Rosaria: When my mother, who was an unbeliever at a certain point, until actually two days before she died, praise the Lord. But when my mother lived with us, and especially when she was dying, we weren’t having twenty people over for dinner. That would be insensitive, ridiculous.

So your home has the same ebb and flow that your heart does.

Nancy: A season of life.

Rosaria: It is a season of life. I think the point isn’t that every single home is doing this. The point is that if no home is doing this in your church, what does that mean?

Nancy: Well, and also, in a different season, you were showing hospitality in different ways.

Rosaria: Yes, absolutely.

Nancy: So, for a period of time, you had your mom there, who was needy.

Rosaria: Yes.

Nancy: You had these foster children, these newly adopted teens.

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: This is hospitality. It looks different back then than it does today.

Rosaria: Right. It looks different. Exactly. But when people are afraid . . . I think sometimes we do this: “We’d love to have our neighbors over, but we don’t know what’s going to come out of their mouths.” And that’s true. You don’t.

Nancy: Or, “How are we even going to have a conversation if their lives and their worlds are so very different?”

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: You talked on an earlier program this week about the philosophical and theological questions that come up. You used to be a college professor, and your husband’s a pastor, but I can hear some people thinking or saying, I wouldn’t know what to do if those questions came up about suffering and hardship and why hard things happen to people.

Rosaria: Right. Well, what I would say to that is: If you simply share what you learned in your morning devotions, you would bless this world more than any philosophical conversation I would have with anybody about anything.

If somebody said, “I don’t know why evil exists in the world.” You say, “The mysteries of God are some of the hardest things for me also, but in my devotions this morning, I was learning how God answers in abundance, and because I serve a God who’s real and who’s here and is risen, I’ll pray for you.”

You can’t walk a Christian walk for somebody else. You’re not supposed to. You’re not supposed to steal glory from God either by claiming that you’ve got all the answers. But if you simply point them to what you learned that week in the sermon, what God taught you in His Word, what you heard on a radio show, a Christian radio show that really just changed the way you thought about something—that’s huge.

And you know the reason your neighbor is going to you? Your neighbor’s not going to you because they want a treatise in philosophy. Your neighbor’s going to you because you’re safe. You’ve made yourself safe. And probably you’ve shown that you’re a human being, too, with problems and questions and unfulfilled hopes and dreams.

Nancy: And I think the thing that is so hard for people, no matter how hardened they may seem, the thing that’s hard for them to react negatively to is genuine concern and interest.

Rosaria: Yes. Right.

Nancy: Robert and I have found over and over again, from people with all kinds of backgrounds and not even close to coming to faith, but when we just say, “Can we just pray for you about this?” We’ve never had anybody turn us down.

Rosaria: Right. I think they take that as interest.

Nancy: We’ve had people break down in tears, like a server at a restaurant, because her world is imploding, and somebody just cared enough to notice her.

Rosaria: Right—to look her in the eyes.

Nancy: So she’s not invisible anymore. She’s a real person with real needs. And then just to say, “How can we pray for you?”

Rosaria: Right. It’s disarming.

Nancy: It opens incredible doors to friendship and then to the gospel.

Rosaria: It does. I think also, when we are living as covenant members of a Bible-believing church . . . This is important because individualism is the heartbeat of atheism. You know that, right? Individualism—the “I find meaning in myself alone. I find purpose in my autonomy”—that is the heartbeat of atheism.

If people see the family of God living like the family of God, that says something. And what it says is: “If I’m in trouble, I could ask them for help because they wouldn’t be patronizing about it because, look at them, look at these Christians—they all need each other. They’re the neediest bunch of people I’ve ever seen in my life. They’re always needing each other. They are genuinely needing each other.”

But I think that’s where it’s crucial. I don’t know if we’ve talked about this, Nancy, but it’s the verse that’s on my heart and has been on my heart for years. It’s Mark chapter 10, verses 28–30. When Peter suddenly realizes that he has lost everything for Jesus’ sake, and Peter began to say to Jesus, “See? We have left everything and followed You.” And Jesus said,

Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

That hundredfold means Jesus is risen. Jesus is real. I commit my life to Him. I lose everything, but I have a family of God. I know where I’m going to live. I know where I’m going to eat dinner. I know it’s okay to say I can’t get through these holidays without living here. I know we don’t have room. I know we’re going to make room. I know it’s going to be real cozy.

And I know that I’m going to get through it because that hundredfold is a promise. It’s a promise right here in the gospel of Mark. It’s not going to fall from the sky. That’s not a spiritual promise. That’s not Ephesians—I’m giving you every spiritual gift. It’s . . .

Nancy: . . . flesh and blood.

Rosaria: It’s flesh and blood. Here’s a sandwich. Here’s a dog to walk. Here’s a meaningful connection. Here’s the promise that you are a brother in the Lord, which means that while you may struggle and battle against all manner of sin in this world, you don’t have to do it alone.

Nancy: Yes.

Rosaria: The Bible really only records two examples of isolation that I can see. One is martyrdom, and the other is the political prisoner. Well, unless you’re called to one or both, there’s no reason to live in an isolated way.

Nancy: And to the contrary, Psalms says God puts the lonely in families (see Ps. 68:6).

Rosaria: Oh how much I have depended upon that!

Nancy: And so this really is a radical way of thinking and living—opening our hearts, opening our homes, becoming a part of community of faith that is doing this for believers and unbelievers alike. It is radical, but it’s also supposed to be ordinary, a way of life for us. And we’re going to just pick up that conversation when we continue tomorrow with Rosaria Butterfield.

If you’d like to have a copy of her book, we’d love to send it to you, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, it’s called. And when you send a donation of any amount to help support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, it will be our joy to send you this book.

It will make you think. It will make you uncomfortable at points. But it’s going to push you in some really healthy directions and help the family of God be more of the family of God and bringing people of this world into His family. That’s what it’s all about. Be sure and join us tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth offering to send you the helpful book by our guest Rosaria Butterfield. To request a copy of Rosaria’s book, visit ReviveOurHearts.com to make your donation of any amount, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Imagine a world where believers are marked by their humility, repentance, and genuine love for other people.

Rosaria: This is the world that the Bible imagines for us. That is the world that Jesus prays for us to create in His name.

Leslie: Rosaria Butterfield will be back to talk about it tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you provide a safe haven for the hurting. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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