On Mission to Welcome Others Into the Imperfect Fray of Our Lives

An Interview with CHBC Members – Steve & Amy King

This week I’d like to welcome you into the home and family of Steven and Amy King.

Steven and Amy King

Amy King is a Kentucky Wildcats girl by birth, a Western Kentucky girl by degree, and a Carolina girl by choice. She and Steven met during freshman orientation in college and since marrying after graduation have lived in Northern Virginia (twice!) and Chiang Mai, Thailand, as overseas correspondents for the International Mission Board.

Today, Steven works as an assistant professor of Emerging Technologies in UNC’s School of Media and Journalism with a joint appointment with the Kenan-Flagler Business School. Amy occasionally writes, but her full-time title is mom to three boys in Durham.

1. How did you become interested in the practice of hospitality?

I grew up in Nancy, KY, a town as small as it sounds with one yield sign and more cows and pigs than people. We also had an open-door culture, where “covered dishes” were returned to your kitchen in your absence and my high school friends grabbed Mt. Dews and settled in our living room for homework sessions on school nights. Steven’s family has always opened their home for longer-term guests from college students to an at-risk mother and child (who was our flower girl!). I think the culture of hospitality was ingrained in us through southern culture, family modeling, and giftedness (not the least of which is extroverted natures!).

We’ve also been strangers in need of an open door. First as college students, then in Northern Virginia as newlyweds with no family or friends, and more acutely as missionaries in Thailand for two years, far removed from everyone we knew and in a culture not our own, we craved welcome and community. We’ve been extended hospitality from the Thai grandmother who offered us rain barrel showers to local friends in Pittsboro who agreed to put our family up for a night or two during home renovations and it turned into five! Those poured-out blessings during our thirsty seasons have made us realize our home and friendship can be an oasis in a lonely world.

2. How would describe or characterize how you practice hospitality?

We practice hospitality both with premeditated intention and impromptu invitations (one which makes the other possible!). From the extra box of brownie mix in the pantry, ready for that unexpected coffee time, to trying to keep a clear path through the living room boy mess (backpacks, Legos, and baseball cleat dirt, oh my!), we try to make the last-minute “come on in” easier to offer. We schedule hospitality in the form of eight 6-9-year-old boys who descend on our house each Monday for Bible study. And when we are neither prepared or in a hospitable mood but God gives us an opportunity, I try to ignore my desire for a perfect house and go with a “good enough” mess pick-up in favor of being a good last-minute go-to for a friend or stranger.

We also want our hearts for others to extend beyond the door of our home. Steven sometimes meets up with friends and co-workers after 8 p.m. boy bedtimes, sitting around an outdoor fire at a local restaurant to have time and space for a listening ear. The ladies in our Sunday school class (Gospel-Focused Families) have monthly Carrabba’s nights and greeting these sisters and sharing tiramisu together is an act of welcoming. We’ve invited our adopted college students to little league games and grab brunch afterwards. Perhaps the best way to describe our hospitality mindset is allowing people to enter into the fray of our home and life, imperfect but with the hope that the love of a perfect God will shine through.

3. What obstacles do you face and how do you overcome them?

Time. Steven’s work at UNC, church commitments, travel, and keeping up with the schools and lives of three boys (all good things!), can create calendar congestion and make spontaneous drop-ins difficult. The juggle is real, and I often have to sit down with my “people list” (those I pray for and want to intentionally connect with both family and new acquaintances) and ask myself if I have left enough space in my careful planning to just be available. Often, the answer is no and I have to start saying that word (“no”) to commitments more often to make those margins a reality, particularly since (as Moriah said it best) my first priority of hospitality is to my family.

Lack of Seeing. I can keep an inviting home, buy a cute tea set, and create space in my calendar, but to actually practice hospitality, I have to have “eyes to see” people as Christ does. I’ve noticed when I’m prayerful and asking God to help me actually see people, there are those that need a five-minute encouraging conversation or an invitation for a playdate. Creating a framework with preparation is helpful but it is people, made in Christ’s image and struggling for hope and community within a broken world, who are at the heart of hospitality. I have to remind myself of that often.

Feelings of Inadequacy. We live in a 1,300 square foot home. Our Facebook marketplace table wobbles with the insert. I’m not a gourmet chef. Our boys might start wrestling during dessert. To overcome these feelings, I’ve have to remember that even Abram welcomed people while living in tents. That break-and-bake cookies are just as welcoming as a Pioneer Woman recipe. And that real-life hospitality, however informal, is what will be imprinted on both our guests’ and our tender boys’ hearts.

4. Any fun stories you would like to share?

Steven once called at 2 p.m. on a normal Thursday.  I had just pushed our two boys (at the time), ages 5 and 3, toward their room for “quiet time” so I could either tackle the disaster-worthy mess of our house…or perhaps just shut my eyes for a minute. “Honey,” Steven said when I answered his ring. “What are we doing tonight?” I knew that tone. Plans were changing. Steven had just found out two Thais we had met the summer before on a family business-turned-mission-trip were in town and had no plans that night.“Can we take them to dinner?” he asked. Staring at the sea of toys, dirty dishes, and dust, I heard myself say, “Out? But they’ll probably never see the inside of an American home between meetings. Can we possibly manage dinner here? ”It was a team effort, those three short hours between our crazy plan and the reality of hosting. I turned my boys loose with dust rags, hid piles of clothes and toys upstairs, and Steven arrived home with our guests and steaks to grill. The relationship that began a year before as a formal greeting over a business dinner in Thailand was now punctuated by hugs from “Thai uncles” around that wobbly dining table in Durham, NC.

Hospitality can be last-minute, planned, or momentary (a smile). We’ve been on the receiving end of all forms and have to be prayerful and open to extend it, both within our home and beyond.