Last week I wrote on the importance of showing hospitality to those around us. Hospitality is an important part of displaying Christ’s love, but there is another side to it that gets overlooked. We emphasize showing hospitality, but I think that learning how to receive hospitality is equally important. This is especially true in cross-cultural ministry.
As I mentioned briefly in the last post, the highest expression of honor you can show someone of a different culture is to enter their home. It is difficult as Westerners to wrap our minds around this, though. Here are a few things to keep in mind, remembering that these things generally apply to cross-cultural ministry (although if you try these on Americans I would love to hear how it goes!). In addition, always remember that gospel proclamation is the primary goal of both showing and receiving hospitality.
It is not weird to just show up to someone’s home.
For the past two years, I have been regularly visiting a refugee family from Afghanistan who live in my city. I met this family through a homework-help program in the apartment complex where they live. One night, after helping the two daughters with their homework, I walked them home and they invited me to come in. This became a weekly thing— I would come over and they would serve me tea and snacks. At first, I felt worried that I was inconveniencing their mother (who speaks virtually no English). It took me months to realize that this was not actually the case. In fact, I think it was something they looked forward to.
While I stopped visiting weekly because of schedule changes, I still try to visit them regularly, though not as often as I would like. Now, I just show up when I know they are going to be home. This is very unnatural for us Westerners. It took me a while to learn that I do not have to try to make contact with one of the daughters on Facebook before I come over. They do not need a set time or plan. They genuinely appreciate when I come over, and always get onto me for not coming sooner. It is humbling to be in the home of a person who is a stranger to our country, yet makes such an effort to be hospitable and make me feel comfortable.
Make an effort to understand and adhere to their home culture.
While you do not need to know everything about a person’s culture before you step into their home, making small efforts to understand their culture can go a long way. All this takes is observing and asking questions. For example, many cultures take off their shoes at the door when they walk in. All you have to do here is look inside the doorway and at the feet of those inside. Then do likewise.
In addition, do not be afraid to ask questions. If you are unsure how to act around people of a different culture initially, ask another American who has spent time in that culture. Or, better yet, go with them to visit their friends from that culture and observe how they act around them. It is also good to ask your friends questions about their culture. Showing an interest in them and recognizing that their culture has value can go a long way. It may take a while to learn how to interact best with different cultures, but taking the attitude of a humble learner is the place to start.
Accept what they offer you.
In all my time of doing missions, I have never visited someone of a different culture and them not offer me something to eat or drink. This is true in homes I have visited both abroad and here in my city. A big part of hospitality is serving, and to reject their offer of tea or snacks is an insult. Be prepared to eat or drink something when you visit. The most full I have ever been was a visit to a West African family’s home. We were prepared to eat dinner but figured they would not be eating until several hours after we arrived as is usual in their home culture. So we ate a snack right before arriving. They ended up serving us as soon as we arrived, and the food kept coming for the five or so hours we spent there. It was pretty miserable! But, it was worth the fellowship and the gospel conversations we had with them.
As I said in my last post, hospitality is about putting aside preferences for the sake of your guests. This applies in the reverse. At the end of the day, a little awkwardness because of cultural differences, miscommunication from language barriers, or a stomach ache from unfamiliar food is nothing compared to spending time with people who may feel lonely and isolated from living in a country that does not have the same philosophy of hospitality.
Remember that you will make mistakes when interacting with people of other cultures. However, there is grace in this and the Lord is not deterred by your mistakes. Although very little of this post has been instructing as far as evangelism goes, I hope that the implied goal of gospel proclamation has been clear.
Photo by James Vaughan