Strangers, Angels, Firemen

Strangers, Angels, Firemen

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” —Hebrews 13:2, NRSV.


Early in our medical careers, as my husband and I were given the opportunity to help develop departments at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, we were constantly, for several weekends a month, recruiting out-of-town physicians looking for positions in our specialties. We also had three small children whom we wanted to be with, especially on the weekends. So we usually took our children with us on tours of Little Rock and treated them to lunches in the afternoon. We often ate at a hotel restaurant that had an inside glass elevator and escalators; so when the children had enough recruitment entertainment at lunch, they entertained themselves by making several bird’s eye view trips up and down the hotel.

I don’t know if this term is still in fashion—but we would identify the visiting physicians to our children as “visiting firemen.” The phrase is still a well-used part of our family vocabulary.

Many of these “visiting firemen” indeed were “angels unawares,” as the King James Bible translates this verse from Hebrews. We had no idea how we would be able to work with those we were recruiting; but we took a leap of faith, and they changed and healed children’s lives—and influenced us as well.

They helped us put out fires when the politics of medicine reared its ugly head. They taught us by their presence how grateful we were for them every day, as we tried to solve and identify and change the course of children’s diseases, consulting with each other in community rather than making decisions by ourselves. Their presence and their wisdom changed me from an anxious person to a grateful person. They brought with them peace, one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5.

The greatest accumulation of strangers with whom I now meet weekly are at St. Mark’s food pantry; but soon they, as well, are no longer strangers. Many indeed are angels. They ask for prayer, but they know how to pray so much better than we do. They have very little, but they share with others. Many bring their neighbors who cannot drive. Most repeatedly tell us stories about how blessed they are. Perhaps this is a sign of an angel, one who lives in gratitude.

I share with spiritual friends that I have learned most often from strangers that gratitude is a straight path to our soul, to the God within us.