Reflections from Abroad: Being a Guest House

Date posted: Wednesday 29 August 2018

For the last year, Rachel Mann has served in Madagascar as a part of Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM), a ministry of the ELCA. During her time in Madagascar, Rachel served in Fianarantsoa. Now returned home from the journey, Rachel shares an update on the past year as she transitions back to life in Minnesota.


The Guest House


This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.


A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.


Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat all guests honorably.

They may be clearing you out

for some new delight.


The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.


Be grateful for whoever comes

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.




Shortly after leaving Madagascar, I encountered this poem in a hostel. I stood in the stairwell, transfixed, as I read and reread the words that seemed to have been written just for me. Because a guest house is exactly what I’ve felt like over the past couple of months.


There was sorrow, anxiety, and disbelief in my farewells. But there was excitement, satisfaction, and readiness as well. There was disillusionment, shock, and tension during my travels. But enthusiasm, clarity, eagerness, and serenity came too. There was confusion, judgment, frustration, and longing in my reentry. But they were accompanied by joy, comfort, and anticipation. All of these feelings (and more) continue to come and go. Some are completely unexpected. Some linger, while others move on in a flash. Some are easy to welcome, while others I would rather keep waiting at the door.


At Easter, I wrote about how my YAGM year was challenging me to live into my emotions. To accept my feelings and welcome them all, pleasant or unpleasant, simple or complicated. My experiences this year have probably changed me in more ways than I’m aware of (yet), but a major area of growth is in my ability to serve as a gracious guest house host.


I still have a lot of unresolved feelings about my year in Madagascar. I still have a lot of questions. And I still think that’s okay. My journey didn’t end just because I left Madagascar; YAGM started a journey that will continue for the rest of my life, whether my path leads me to pursue a degree in ESL teaching or to serve abroad again or to go on a brand-new adventure.


I ask for prayers for my time of transition to life in Minnesota. Prayers for my fellow YAGMs as they process their own reentries. Prayers for our sending communities who are now welcoming us all back home. Prayers for the new YAGM volunteers who are currently getting ready for their own deployment. And prayers, as always, for my wonderful, loving community in Fianarantsoa, especially as they prepare to open their hearts and their homes to the next YAGM volunteer.


Rachel Mann