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Alternatives to Traditional Hotels & Traditional Temporary Housing

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19 Then one of the teachers of religious law said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

20 But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”

Matthew 8:19-20

While there are many options with points & free night certificates to stay at hotels, & there are plenty of options for more traditional temporary housing, there are also more unconventional options for places to stay during ministry. I've done both more extensively than many in ministry.


When going the unconventional route, especially in certain situations, safety is an important factor to consider in certain situations, especially in more impoverished locations, but even in highly developed nations in low-cost or no-cost locations. Missionaries have varying views on self-defense, although personally I strongly believe in the ability to defend oneself or protect oneself in certain scenarios. Accordingly, I feel better equipped to defend myself than 99% of people with my hands & with objects after a history of boxing, jiu-jitsu, taekwondo, rugby, football, lacrosse, & above-average fitness. At the same time, in religious persecution, I also believe that there are times when one should literally "turn the other cheek" &/or flee. Be mindful of human trafficking, the possibility of being drugged from your food/drink in private settings, etc.

Examples of where I've stayed/slept during times of ministry at low or no cost, learning, & otherwise to cut costs, gain empathy for those of low income, & minister to those of low income:

A. Free:

1. Outside in a 1 man pop-up tent on private property with permission from the owner. I've also backpacked across distances using tarps and rope. My favorite location to backpack was places filled with wild berries as well as Lake Superior. While we typically boiled water before drinking, in Lake Superior, the water was drinkable without any boiling or other method to clean it.

Be wary of public locations that break the law; sometimes tents are purposefully destroyed by police, even whole camps of large groups of the homeless. There are a number of locations around the world where you can freely camp. Here's an example of a map for them primarily for the US & Canada. Here's an example with more international locations outside of the US & Canada.

When camping, be sure to be properly equipped, especially if in extreme conditions or with wildlife that can be fatal (i.e. bears, brown recluse spiders, venomous snakes, etc.).

2. Homeless shelters, whether temporary ones in churches or permanent structures.

One critical principle here that I used is that if there was a lottery system, I would enter the lottery, but volunteer to not stay there for the night if there weren't enough beds. I would encourage the same from other men who aren't too old in ministry who would have viable options if they didn't stay in the shelter.

Watch out for molestation, bed bugs, violence, athlete's foot, and theft in these (& in certain other unconventional routes). I encountered one homeless youth who reportedly wouldn't go back to homeless shelters after being molested or raped in one. I've also seen where a shelter went to extreme measures to prevent bed bugs by requiring that all of your belongings go into a "hot box" while everyone showered in communal showers with no separation for privacy and following that acquired temporary clothes similar to a hospital. Below is an example where there is a curtain for privacy, but where those staying there have purposefully cut holes in and removed sections of the curtain in order to watch their belongings during a shower to mitigate highly prevalent theft at this particular shelter (supposedly the worst homeless shelter in the city where I was, which I heard prior to going there, but it also had more flexible hours than any other location, giving me ample time to stay there and still team up with those in ministry on a mission trip during the day. In that case, I had the option to stay in a hotel with the team every night once the team arrived, but chose to stay in the shelter instead).


3. Orphanages where I was performing ministry (example in Nepal when I was 11)

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4. In my car (window shades etc. are helpful for light and safety)

5. With Couch surfers with the website . There's now an annual fee, but it's pretty low ($2.39 per month (or $14.29 per year as of 2020)). 

6. Police station lobbies and train depots

7. A monastery

8. In a cabin with campers where I was a summer camp counselor for a Christian retreat center where I got paid in addition to them offering food and housing.

9. In dorms with campers where I was a summer camp counselor for a Christian hockey camp at a university where I got paid in addition to them offering food and housing.

10. Staying with friends 

That said, I've also known where a woman was invited to stay with a man, only to find out after a long journey there by bus (I sat on the bus with her on her way there) that the man expected the woman to pay for her stay with sex. Be sure to be clear on any expectations they may have prior to staying with someone, especially if you're female.

11. Staying in churches (some even have showers). When I played lacrosse for Wheaton College, we typically stayed in churches to conserve costs when needing to sleep overnight somewhere.

12. Staying in businesses (some even have showers)

Generally speaking, I find it best especially when receiving free hospitality from others to seek to be an exemplary guest. Accordingly, in addition to sharing the love of Jesus with people, seek to fill needs, whether in terms of education, providing food for others, doing dishes, & even "lowly" things. If there's poop to scoop in someone's backyard from their dog, offer to do it. If there's a mountain of dishes & you're only staying somewhere 1 night, don't be afraid to stay up all night and do them as long as a thrown-off sleep schedule wouldn't be a big issue for you.

Just because a place doesn't have a shower doesn't mean that you can't stay there. In some cases, you might find that you stay at one location and take showers somewhere else if no showers are available. For instance, last I checked, many of low income can acquire free showers at YMCAs after going through their approval process.

B. Low Cost:

1. Missions hospital compound that I was working at for an internship (& who had meals to the tune of around 50 cents or so each if I remember correctly) where they had rooms for people to stay


Above - me at a Christian hospital in Northern India where I worked and stayed during the majority of my time in India. The hospital was in an area that was .02% Christian, highly effective in church mobilization, education, increasing the health of locals, well drilling, etc. The walled compound was attacked by a mob of around 100 radical Hindus about a month after I left. While in India, I recall seeing news about other violence against Evangelical Christians as well.

2. With a host family in El Salvador that was involved with an organization that I was ministering to where we stayed at their home No payment was agreed to in advance, so we went grocery shopping for them around the end of our stay. I also stayed with the family of a pastor of a church I assisted in the black township (like a Jewish ghetto or Native American reservation, where black people were forcibly moved during Apartheid) Soshanguve, South Africa. In the latter case, I recall an incident when a rat was a few feet from my face while it was dark. I also recall an occasion where I got home at night alone and a man escorted me home who I met on the bus for me to get home safely. At the same time, my time in South Africa (pictured below) was completely wonderful, and little things like that meant nothing by comparison to the experiences that I had there.

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3. While not technically an alternative to a hotel, I've stayed at hotels before that offered heavily discounted "missionary rates". You don't know until you ask in many cases about these situations.

4. Boats are another example where you can stay somewhere at low cost. Some dock fees even in places like SE VA are as low as $100/month. Sometimes someone with a dock will allow someone in ministry to stay at their dock at no cost or for some kind of small service. Some will avoid the dock to avoid the cost, and simply anchor their boat in a relatively safe location, but in certain locations (i.e. Somalia) watch out for vandals, thieves, and pirates. Some boats can be acquired for very low costs or for free. For the tax deduction, some ministries may incentivize boat donations to their ministry. I know a couple who lived on a boat for years acquired quite cheaply that suited their needs very well while at a $100/month dock in SE VA (Yorktown), plus the cost of utilities. They later moved to Hampton where they anchored their boat for nothing. Because it was a sailboat, they could go places at low cost (though of course, much more slowly than a powerboat).

4.  On a campground within a homemade structure built out of sticks, pine needles or leaves, etc. as I learned from my time in the Boyscouts (wilderness survival merit badge), with no problem in a storm the first night & a tent already put up that I didn't use to sleep in if I had needed it. 

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