Dear Dwayne and Rita,
You asked us in your letter to tell you more about how we host and entertain strangers. That’s like asking an avid fisherman to tell you about his fishing adventures. We love strangers. We love to have them in our home. We love to tuck them in The Upper Room. It’s a thousand square feet of love and surprises above our garage. Our last guests left just an hour ago. We now have time to tell you how God uses us.
Our outreach is a little different than yours. We started with the full intentions of restricting our hospitality to full-time church workers, pastors, priests and missionaries just like you do. But within a very short time we discovered that princes and paupers were equally needy, loved by God and to be loved by Jesus through Peter and Rebekah. You will be able to see as you read our invitation to “The Upper Room,” that there is “room at the inn” for all who have a need to get closer to the heart of God. But it is necessary to make reservations. The key is that they have a need to get closer to the heart of God. We have declined to make the guest apartment available to a few honeymooners or those who merely wanted a crash pad after skiing or hiking adventures in these beautiful mountains.
Guests generally prepare their own meals. We wash their clothes whenever there is a need due to their length of stay. The average stay is about five days. Occasionally someone will stay up to a month. That may have happened four or five times during the twelve years we have hosted guests in “The Upper Room.” We love to interact with our guests, but only do so at their request. We make ourselves somewhat unavailable so that guests are more inclined to take their spiritual needs directly to God. We do all we can to protect their privacy and suggest friends or family do not contact them by phone.
We call our home “The Hiding Place.” Almost everyone who has been here is aware of God’s presence and peace the moment they enter the house, but especially as they enter “The Upper Room.” They weep gentle tears of release and comment on the peace they feel. One of our guests has affectionately called the guest apartment “The Rocking Chair of God’s Heart.” We have shared many holy moments with our guests as the Holy Spirit touches their exhausted bodies. As they enter into this safe setting they are able to remove their armor and set it aside. Angels are always standing by to repair and polish it. Rebekah is occasionally privileged to see them.
Our guests are our greatest gift, but many times they also leave some kind of a surprise gift when they leave. Sometimes we don’t find these until later. We appreciate this very much and see it as a part of God’s provision for our lives. We are not supported by any church, endowment fund or generous single benefactor. But we readily can say that Jesus is and has always been our benefactor.
We have been involved in crafts for the past twenty-four years. They have supported this ministry in part. We have sandblasted Scripture verses and all kinds of inspirational messages into wood, tiles, marble, bricks, etc. Some of these items have been purchased by guests. Until 1987 crafts occupied a majority of our time. In fact, we entertained some big dreams of creating a Crafts for Christ village. The banner of our newsletter used to read “Crafts for Christ - a cradle for new ideas.” That is still the legal name of our ministry. But as the emphasis shifted to being stretcher bearers, we changed the banner of our newsletter to read “Stretcher Bearers for Christ.” Those words now fit us like a comfortable pair of slippers.
We still make a few signs and also offer everyone who visits us the opportunity to learn how to make them. Our most recent guest wanted to learn and created a sign on a floor tile which read, “CHRIST in me, the hope of GLORY.” One young man who learned the craft in 1980 now employs 38 people in the sign industry. His work, though, is now primarily of a commercial nature. He has stood by our side in times of great need. We could have easily drowned a number of times if some special friends had not been sensitive to the depth of our exhaustion and had come to our aid with both prayers and provisions. Back in 1983 we were so spent we put our home up for sale. By God’s gracious design no one purchased it.
Rebekah is an artist. We have put two of her paintings into print and a third one will be in print shortly. I love to brag about my wife. She really has a way of expressing the heart of God through her God-given talents. One of these paintings depicts Mary at the feet of Jesus wiping His feet with her hair. The other painting depicts a man behind bars, his hands shackled with chains and the scarred hand of Jesus unlocking a rusty gate. They are really powerful paintings that have brought tears of release to many people. Last week we received a response to this painting from a prisoner in Spain. We have no idea how some of the prints and cards find their way to distant shores. They must have wings!
We do all the housekeeping. When guests leave the apartment ready for our next guests, it is always a present. Our home has been open to strangers almost from the day we were married. We have pretty much done everything ourselves from cutting the lawn, gathering firewood, painting the house, taking trash to the dump, vacuuming, making beds, etc. I am sure you know what that is like. But we are now trying to shed as many of these custodial responsibilities as possible. Ten years ago we were able to replace our cedar shingle roof with a metal roof. We no longer need to remove tons of snow from the roof each winter. It now slides off without coaxing on our part. Two years ago we installed natural gas heat. We still have our wood burning stoves, but we now purchase the small amount of wood we or our guests enjoy using for atmosphere.
I am now 66. Rebekah and I would both prefer to serve as spiritual house parents and let others serve as caretakers. We are slowly moving in that direction. Rebekah would like to have more time to paint and for Bible studies. I would like to have more time to interact with people, whether face to face, by phone, e-mail or conventional correspondence. I love it whenever folks just drop in unannounced; and they do.
We generally publish two newsletters a year, but at random times. I invest many hours in these newsletters before they are finally ready for the printer. Writing personal letters to friends is one of my great joys. We chronicled our lives in an autobiography called “The Wood Blossom” - A Search for Sanity in an insensitive World (Amended and renamed: "To Hell and Back" . We continue to be asked for copies, but the book has been out of print for almost fifteen years (It can now be downloaded from our web site). We hope it will be published again with additional insights and or the stories previously published in the newsletters.
The greatest desire at this point in my life is to acquaint others with what we have learned about hospitality. The gift of hospitality needs to be stirred up just like any other gift. That is why I share my thoughts with you today. To cultivate this or any gift, it has to be practiced and encouraged. We believe some of our guests may have been angels. It is written, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2). The rewards and surprises are great. It’s like celebrating Christmas all year long. Since we do not limit ourselves to one particular denomination, class of people, age group or particular profession, etc., we meet a great variety of saints. They all become our teachers and very often a part of our family.
We have entertained the idea of having more ground and more cottages or rooms. The need certainly is there. Being able to share meals with a variety of guests around a banqueting table is something we would love to be able to do more often. It is always like a foretaste of heaven. We would also like to help create a park-like setting with more privacy, but only if we do not have to deal with the increased custodial or administrative aspects of a larger place. We are no longer striving for this to happen. If it does, it will happen without great expenditures of energy on our part. It is time for some young, pioneering blood to become involved. Our gift to others now is not so much what we can do for them, but who we are in Christ.
We have lived in our home on Lake Pagosa for the past 22 years. New homes have popped up all around us like mushrooms. The traffic sometimes is a nuisance. Rebekah likes to refer to our home as a log cabin castle. Guests have their own private entrance but can also access the main house through a closet like in “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis. Sometimes guests overflow into a bedroom in the main house. Rebekah used to cook for our guests, but she has not been able to do so for a number of years. It is now too much for her and me who has been and still is her dishwasher. Guests invite us occasionally to dinner or even prepare a meal for us in “The Upper Room.” We only need to go up a few steps; but it’s like going out. We love being invited.
We have had a few difficult situations with guests; but we have not allowed these to discourage us. One might say, “That goes with the territory.” The most difficult guests have been those who are filled with self-pity and those who are very controlling, critical, and self-righteous. These are extremely hard on us and very draining. Even though we may not interact much with them, they can still put a dark cloud over the whole house. Sometimes we have felt like prisoners in our own home. Few of us realize we may either have a liberating and affirming or a confining and intimidating influence on others without saying one word.
The only way we have been able to break through with these guests is to distance ourselves from them and pray our heart out. I wrote a story about one of these guests whose stay came to a liberating conclusion. I called it “Portrait of a Heart.” We are always very sad and feel cheated when someone comes and does not have that wonderful, personal encounter with the Lord.
Fortunately these difficult situations have been few. Sometimes we can spot trouble in advance. Nothing new can happen until we are desperate enough to accept that we ourselves may be the source of our problems and pain. We must stop pointing fingers at everyone else, including God. We see “The Upper Room” not only as a place for rest and renewal, but also as a birthing chamber. Many experience the reality that God can and wants to make all things new. Many have grown to be ten feet tall in a matter of just a few days. One person remarked, “I did not come on a stretcher, but I did get stretched.” Others came to realize they were too tall and God was not pleased.
Guests make their own reservations. This helps us get acquainted. It also helps us to plan and pray for them in advance. Only one time were things so out of control that we needed to call the police. This person came with a hidden agenda we failed to recognize. Another difficult experience was with a woman who propositioned both our son and myself. We hope we have learned everything we needed to learn from this experience and that it will never repeat itself. I wrote an article about some of these difficult guests and called it “The Lion of Judah Roars”. I’ll include a copy. (Now available on the web site).
We suggest, even strongly recommend, that guests do not bring their children. They seldom do. But we do have a baby crib for those few exceptions. We pick some of our guests up from the airport in Durango which is sixty miles west of us. Whenever guests fly into Durango, we loan them our car to go to dinner, to the store or whatever. When guests fly into Albuquerque, New Mexico they usually rent a car. Pagosa Springs is 200 miles north of Albuquerque via Santa Fe.
People come from all over including our own little mountain community of Pagosa Springs, which is at an
mountains surrounding our valley are majestic and rise to 13,000 feet. We have four beautiful seasons. The snow intimidates some from coming during the winter.
elevation of 7,000 feet. The majority have come from Florida, Texas and New Mexico. One couple has come from Canada. “The Upper Room” is full about 80 per cent of the year or more. When it is not used we consider that as our alone or vacation time. It allows me the freedom to write these personal letters. Most of the people come because those who have been here have touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and then have told friends about their experience. The newsletters, crafts and Rebekah’s paintings have also alerted others that Pagosa Springs, Colorado may be a special place on the map for them. The
Because of my own battles with insanity, and indeed, they can be very real battles against the powers of darkness, I have much compassion for the mentally ill, the fearful, the confused, the brokenhearted, those with anxious or angry hearts. I see myself as a blend of two people. One of these is “Patch Adams.” Maybe you have seen this movie starring Robin Williams. It is based on a true story. The other person is Henri J. M. Nouwen. Henri Nouwen was a priest, teacher, prolific author and care-giver for the “mentally challenged.” God has chosen to use me in a similar capacity although neither the world nor the church have validated my calling with numerous degrees or titles. That has never been an obstacle. I enjoy reciting this little prayer: “Lord, let my life be Your glorious contradiction to the world’s definition of normal.” We offer this prayer on coffee mugs to those who don’t quite fit the traditional roles in our society.
There is a small paperback book that’s all about hospitality. It’s called “To Love a Stranger,” by Gene Little. This little book really speaks my heart and in many ways duplicates our own experiences, including the painful ones. It is not readily available through book stores but can be purchase from: End-Time Handmaidens, P.O. Box 447, Jasper, AR 72641. Phone: (870) 446-2252. We have a few extra copies on hand for anyone who would like to borrow a copy from us.
Thank you so very much for the material you included about your retreat facilities called Cedarly in Delafield, Wisconsin. May those who have made the retreat financially viable be thoroughly blessed by the Lord. We are greatly encouraged whenever we hear about others who have opened their home and heart to strangers. We are sending you a few things that will explain more about who we are and why we have given ourselves to “Loving Strangers.” In case you can correspond via e-mail, here is our address: LukeFour18@gmail.com. We also have a web site: www.stretcherbearers.com or “Stretcher Bearers for Christ” if you use a search engine to find our site.
We have received many beautiful letters from guests after they returned home. They are real treasures and let us know we are meeting a real need in our frenetic, driven world. These letters help us to keep going and remind us it is the Lord who has called us to a ministry of hospitality. We are much fulfilled. We have found our niche. Maybe this letter will inspire someone else “To Love a Stranger.” If you have an occasion to pass it on to someone else, please do.
With the permission of the writer, I am including a letter we received from one of our guests:
Peter and Rebekah,
We wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed our weekend in “The Upper Room.” I’m sure some people come completely broken and bruised and need more “intensive care” than we did. We’ve had those times and the Lord is always gracious to provide care.
This seemed to be a time that the Lord chose to give us “preventive medicine.” We have had times of turmoil in our marriage, finances and spiritual life; but this almost seemed a time of calm. The rest and time spent “together” alone with the Lord was a much welcomed “gift.” We both needed it in different ways, but together.
I seem to be having a difficult time putting into words what I actually want to say. Speaking for myself …. I am in the “desert.” I believe God is preparing me, teaching and refining me. It’s difficult and I have bad days; but they are welcome. The Lord is always leading me to gushing water. I am always amazed how good His drinks are. It’s so good to be His child! Sometimes He stands me right under a waterfall; sometimes it’s a deep wide lake, other times a river washing over me or a cool small creek.
My time in “The Upper Room” was a quiet sort of drink. It was like slow motion. I have a perfect picture in my mind, like I was a character in a fairy tale. I was surrounded by green grass in a sparse forest. I danced slow and lightly holding a ribbon. I was dressed in satin and silk, all pinks and white. My healing drink just came. It wasn’t all at once or from one particular source. It just was. It came from mists about me. From dew in the grass. It penetrated my skin as I slept.
The Lord is so precious to reveal himself to me in so many beautiful ways. I pray for the Lord to continually bless your ministry so He can touch countless numbers.
Much love to you both, Shawna
I had in mind to write a letter, but it has become an epistle. I so much enjoy being asked questions that allow me to open and pour out my heart. You have allowed me does that. God bless you.
“To Love a Stranger” can be and has been a stretching experience. We love it. We highly recommend it as a way of enlarging our hearts and our horizons.
Peter D. Laue
“The Upper Room is a little bit of heaven here on earth”- Sparky & Barbara, Spur, Texas