How prioritizing welcome has shaped the lives of a Toronto couple.
Helen Kukoyi of Toronto (third from right in the photo above) never uses the word hospitality to describe her life. As she puts it, “I grew up in Antigua immersed in the world of we. Helping others was what we did as a family.”
Hospitality became a spiritual imperative for Helen in her early 30s. She’d read in Acts about the early Church and immediately knew that God wanted her to live that way – sharing all she had with others. Her husband Tafari (second from left in the photo) agreed.
Jesus’ invitation to come and follow Him became a clarion call to discipleship for the couple: To both be Jesus’ disciples and to make disciples the way He had done, they would have to spend time with people. In the same way they had received Jesus’ invitation to spend time with Him over a meal (Revelation 3:20), they too had to invite and spend time with others.
“Hospitality is essential,” says Helen. “Look at Jesus’ life. Jesus couldn't have had disciples unless He’d chosen to spend time with them.”
They started living out their call to make disciples by feeding people and listening to them, inviting them out for a meal after church. That welcome quickly deepened as they reflected on the hospitality Jesus illustrates in His parable on the Good Samaritan.
“Even in church, we’ll invite ‘the other’ to a meal, but are we as quick to invite them to stay over at our homes?” they ask. “We have to show people God – through our lives, through sharing our time, money and physical space.”
What has this showing and sharing looked like for them? It looks like family – redefined.
They’ve had Helen’s brother live with them for 13 of the 15 years they’ve been married. When their firstborn was 10 months old, they took in a cousin’s day-old newborn for a time. Today, two young men they met at their church– Peter, a teenager from Kenya, and Elliot, a 20-something university graduate in social work – live with them and their three children. Peter and Elliot have become their spiritual sons and members of their family.
“Peter looked like a crackhead,” remembers Helen. “No one was spending any time with him, beyond taking him out for a meal after church. That was it,” she remembers. “If people even saw him, they didn’t think they could share their lives with him.”
Today, Peter is readying himself for his second year at Seneca College. Tafari’s hours with him at the kitchen table, wrestling with high school math, and Helen’s cajoling him to read, then read some more have paid off. More importantly, Peter made a life-changing decision to follow Christ.
The couple’s welcome of Elliot also spanned years, from first meeting him at church, to their inviting him over for meals and conversations about life and about God. They prayed Elliot through dark valleys – depression, an addiction to pornography, loneliness and more. They literally prepared tables of nourishing welcome and sanity for him when his own family could or would not.
Today, Elliot is ready to move into full-time social services work, a vocation he would never have pursued if not for Tafari and Helen’s encouragement – an encouragement born out of prayers, meals and living together as family.
Home-based hospitality unlocks discipleship, redefines family and comes at a cost. “People think about the costs of time (which is huge), money and space – to the point where they don’t see God and what He can do,” says Helen. “The Samaritan saw the need and just did it. Keep your eyes on God. If He’s asking you to open up your life He will take care of you and provide all you need.”
Renée James of Toronto is communications director for Canadian Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec. Supplied photo used with permission. Read the related cover story by Renée James, Widening our welcome, in our Jul/Aug 2020 issue.