The year was 1983-84, and the Washington Redskins were a good football team. Our family had just made a massive change. We moved from the deep south into the suburbs of the DC area, a place called Sterling Park. Dad and mom were planting a new church. I was in the sixth grade and had never attended public school. I remember dad praying with us each morning as we hovered over bowls of Honey Comb cereal.
In all the craziness, we found a gift in our neighbors – the Roth Family. Mr. Roth had played baseball for a spell with the Baltimore Orioles and was a high school baseball coach. He had a son named Donny about my age.
They had a passion for fishing, and invited my younger brother Charlie and me every week, sometimes twice a week. Each time we ran out the door and jumped in the side of Mr. Roth’s brown van. We sat in the back on tackle boxes or spare tires.
Mr. Roth had a Jon boat large enough to handle all of us. We did a lot fishing in the Potomac River. On one occasion, after hours of catching nothing, we hit a school of fish just off the edge of a small island. We could bait the hooks quick enough.
Mr. Roth was patient and generous. My brother and I had no fishing skills or tackle of our own. This experienced angler tied every hook, untangled knots, supplied the bait and fishing poles every time.
On one occasion, we had set up shop along the muddy banks of a creek, somewhere off the beaten path in Ashburn, VA, long before the office parks and neighborhoods gobbled up the farms. About 11 o’clock, there stood an overhanging tree across the other side. I threw the worm, landing it a foot from the bank, just under the shade of the tree. Soon, I had a massive hit, something I had never experienced before.
Mr. Roth picked him up out of the water – a large catfish around 18 inches. I couldn’t wait to bring it home to my mother. But Mr. Roth let out a curse word, and I heard a splash. The catfish had stabbed him in the fat part of the hand. Without thinking, I hit Mr. Roth on the biceps with my fist and said, “You jerk!”
There was something mystical about those times on the water that brought joy and meaning in a difficult time of transition. When we had no friends and nothing to do in those months, Mr. Roth and Donny invited us into their lives to enjoy something they enjoyed.
The Bible calls this hospitality. In Greek, the word means “loving strangers.” Our world is full of strangers today who need to hear the Good News about Jesus. We caught Mr. Roth’s love for fishing, and my life has never been the same. People will catch our love for Jesus if we invite them into our lives.
Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”