Warning sign in Rentown Country Store

“Welcome! Care for some stew?”

Mike and I were admiring a tidy vegetable garden when a friendly voice behind us called out the invitation. Turning, we discovered the speaker: a young Amish man standing in front of an outdoor fireplace, a long wooden spoon in his hand.

“Sure!” we answered, moving forward to accept hearty servings of the most aromatic concoction I’ve ever tasted: thick chunks of sausage simmered with carrots, potatoes, onions and herbs. The ingredients may have been garden-variety but Daryl Yoder’s hearty welcome was even warmer than the stew. We chatted for a few minutes, washed our food down with cups of cold well water and were on our way.

This past weekend taught me a great deal about hospitality. Mike and I were in northern Indiana for the wedding of the son of longtime friends. We arrived the night before for the rehearsal dinner, and since the ceremony wasn’t scheduled until mid-afternoon Saturday we had a free morning to explore the area. Fellow guests at the Victorian Inn in Nappanee mentioned a garden walk, and my husband’s eyes lit up.

We discovered that we had arrived on the perfect June day to participate in the third Rentown Garden Walk and Bake Sale – an event held each year to benefit the two-room schoolhouse that educates the local Amish children.

After happily dropping our donation in a fabric-covered coffee can, we accepted mint-flavored cups of sweet tea and perused the baked goods, choosing a loaf of fresh bread, just-picked eggs and homemade egg noodles. A smiling schoolgirl, hair tucked beneath her white bonnet, bagged our purchases and gave us a hand-drawn map to the nine homes on the walk.

Avid gardener that he is, Mike was fascinated by the immaculate gardens we visited tucked far away on country roads. And he loved conversing with the Amish parents and children who welcomed us to their homesteads. He questioned them eagerly about soil content and the names of plants unfamiliar to us, and the Amish gardeners responded to his enthusiasm with offerings of their own.

 Floyd Burkholder sent us on our way with a bag of spearmint leaves for our tea. Mary Hochstetler dug up a perennial she identified as “Rose Campion” and pressed it into our hands. Clara Yoder told us where to order wisteria hardy enough to survive northern winters.

But we came away from our garden walk with much more than bags stuffed with plant cuttings and a belly full of stew. As we drove to the wedding later that afternoon, Mike and I realized that we had just witnessed biblical hospitality at its finest – the art of extending kindness to strangers – and the principles we saw in action are ones we want to share with others.

       Hospitality must be a way of life, not an occasional occurrence. The warm Amish welcome we received in Elkhart Country flowed naturally out of their culture. It’s an unforced rhythm of grace. Amish children are not shooed away but instead greet guests with their parents, extending cups of cold water and chatting easily without a trace of reticence.

  Hospitality begins with genuine interest in others. Our hosts quickly turned each conversation to us, wanting to know where we were from and what brought us to the back roads of Rentown. While we found commonality in our mutual love for the land, they were also avidly interested in Mike’s calling as a Baptist preacher and my past as a farmer’s daughter. If we felt a bit shy about driving onto their property, they quickly put us at ease, and we parted as new friends with promises to return.

  Hospitality is best when it doesn’t seek to impress. These Amish families were truly genuine. Saturday is wash day, and their backyard clothing lines were full of barn-door pants, colorful cotton dresses and children’s underwear. No need to hide their laundry from the English visitors. And when I stepped from our Toyota directly into a fresh pile of horse manure, Floyd Burkholder laughed, apologized and promptly removed it. He didn’t make me uncomfortable by displaying embarrassment. 

Hospitality among the Amish is plain, not fancy. It is outwardly focused. Best of all, it is part of their culture.

You don’t have to don a bonnet or sport a beard to exercise the gift of hospitality. The cup of water you offer doesn’t have to be Perrier. It’s a matter of opening your door to new friends whom you can make old friends out of.

It begins with “Welcome!”

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this

have entertained angels without realizing it.”

Hebrews 13:2 NLT