Christian Hospitality to Mormons

This week a friend and I visited a popular tourist attraction in our area, and when we were about to board the train home again, I noticed two young Mormon men on the same platform. My curiosity was piqued, so I asked my friend if we could intentionally board the same train car as them. The Mormons were (not surprisingly) American, and one of the guys had heard us talking English,  so he struck up a conversation, which lasted for the next 30 minutes until we reached home. It was probably my first time ever talking to a Mormon about his faith, and I asked a lot of questions. He had well-prepared answers for most of my questions. There was nothing intimidating about his manner, and really I just felt compassion on him, a twenty-year-old Utah boy so far from home. I know they must not be very welcomed in Germany—Germans are particularly wary of cult members.

At the end of the train ride, he took my phone number and said he would get in touch. He was hoping to have a visit with my husband and I to discuss more religious topics. My husband was happy to hear about our conversation and we invited him and his companion to have supper with us next week. We asked if there are any foods from home that they miss, and they suggested that perhaps we could have hamburgers. We're looking forward to hosting them and seeing how the visit plays out.

We've never hosted Mormons before, and my husband and I have been watching some videos about Mormonism and loving Mormons during the last few days.  We like to learn a bit about the religious background of each of our guests. The fifteen minute clip below is my favourite so far. The speaker is an ex-Mormon and speaks with real compassion and simplicity about how to reach out to your Mormon neighbour, coworker, or friend.  

I put a few of his main points together in the graphic below.

As far as the actual hosting of Mormons, as far as I know the only food or beverage restriction is that they can't have anything with caffeine in it. We could play board or card games with them, or take a walk with them, but I'm guessing that they'll probably be most interested  in talking about their faith—which is fine with us, since we like talking about our faith as well! 

As we prepare for next Thursday, it is encouraging to know that really, we can clean the house, make hamburgers and open the door. We can watch videos and think of good questions. But God does the real work.  We trust He brought these young men across our path for His purposes. I hope to post again after we host them, to share anything we learn or experience that might be helpful to others with Mormon neighbours. And if you have experience hosting Mormons, I'd love to hear from you!

Interview #5: Tips for Feeding Big Groups

In our last post, we talked about being intentional about how many people you invite to your home at one time. Depending on what you're trying to achieve at a particular event, big groups can be ideal! 

Today we're talking about hospitality to big groups with Karen, who cooked for many years at the Bible college I attended. Karen seemed to always have a smile on her face despite many early mornings and repetitive tasks. I hope you’ll enjoy learning from her experience both with cooking for large groups (pro tips coming right up!) and using her kitchen as a place for life-changing conversations.

Karen, I know you as a great cook, but I don’t know how you got there. Could you explain how you started cooking for big groups of people? 

Serving people through food was something my mom always did. She often packed up the leftovers from our meals and took them to a shut-in lady from our fellowship, or left cookies for the mailman in the mailbox at Christmas. She and I worked together well in the kitchen; we’d make hearty meals and put away garden produce. Loving people by way of food was her thing and I learned much of what I know from her. As a kid, I thought every family appreciated food as much as my mom taught us to, but later I realized that my upbringing was fairly unique!

"Our pastor could see that hospitality came easily to me, and told me that."

My parents were really diligent also about having church workers or cross-cultural workers over for meals. When I was fourteen and helping prepare and serve a dessert, our pastor commented to me that I had the gift of hospitality. He could see that it came easily to me, and told me that. 

It’s neat that he pointed out your gifting. Sometimes when you do something naturally, you don't realize that others don't. Did you receive any formal training in cooking?

When I was a teenager, I worked in some food industry jobs, although I did not work as a cook. My husband and I attended Bible school in New York, and when we heard that the Bible school was opening an extension in Ontario, Canada (where we are from) and only had one cook, we decided to move to the area so that I could help in the Bible school kitchen. I still don’t have any formal training in culinary arts, but other than learning from my mom, at the Bible school I trained under two other experienced cooks. Eventually I became the head cook in the Bible school kitchen. A few years ago I had to give up my full time role in the kitchen due to health problems, though I still help there sometimes. My younger brother, who went to culinary school, took over the kitchen manager role at the Bible school—God worked that out perfectly!

What are some of your best tips for feeding large groups?

The first thing that comes to mind is to make sure you have the right tools, like a sharp chef’s knife. You get a lot more done with the proper equipment. In our case, having an industrial dishwasher made a huge difference in our ability to feed large groups.

Secondly, choose recipes that expand well and don't have to be individually portioned. Chili, sloppy joes, spaghetti and meatballs are are few examples of meals that can be stretched and served from one pot.

Keep the meals simple. Trying to make something finicky for a crowd is tough. Or, if you want to make one part of the meal more complicated, make the complicated part something you can prepare ahead of time, because at the last minute you can’t do detailed work. For example,  if you want to serve a dessert like homemade pies,  prepare the pies early and allow them to sit until suppertime, when they can be served up quickly. 

What were some of your favourite meals to serve to large groups?

Butter chicken is a meal that goes a long way and pleases a lot of people. Keep the chilli, peppers or hot sauce to the side so that people can make the sauce as hot as they like. 

“Build-your-own-" meals: I enjoy preparing make-your-own-pasta,  -potato or -fajita bars. Put the pasta, potato or tortilla at the beginning and let people choose their own toppings or sauces. (When I make fajitas, I sauté the peppers with the chicken, to make the chicken last longer.)

For desserts, squares work well (such as brownies, apple bars, or Skor bars) because they don’t have to be individually portioned, and portions can be cut bigger or smaller as needed. Squares can be eaten on a napkin, with no need for a plate.

Do you have any advice about the actual serving process, when you're putting out food for large groups?

Portioning out the food for the guests can be helpful, so that you know you’ll have enough. If people are choosing their own portion sizes, sometimes one person will take a lot more and then someone else won’t get enough. Portioning the first serving can help to make sure everyone receives something. Then people can get second servings if there are leftovers. 

For meals with strong ingredients that some might not enjoy, it can be good to leave a few of the ingredients that people may be pickier about off to the side. For example, recently we served a Greek salad but separated the raw onions and feta as optional toppings, so that the guests could choose whether or not they wanted to include them.

Do you have any thoughts on accommodating food allergies or preferences?

We ask people to let us know if they have allergies before they come to our property. Sometimes we ask them to bring their own products along to swap out for things they’re allergic to. So, if they bring along their own gluten-free bread or dairy-free milk, we make their food using their special ingredients. Children can be quite sensitive to a change in their food, so it makes sense for them to bring along a brand of bread or milk that they’re used to drinking or eating. You could do something similar when hosting guests in your home if you want—ask them to bring their own bread or milk if needed.

We see it as part of our responsibility to cater to legitimate needs, but we don’t ask about particular preferences that are not medical needs. In planning the menu, I try to think about what people of a certain age group might like. Picky eaters can choose what to put on their plates (that’s why “build-your-own…” meals are great). Having a tray of vegetables is always good for extraordinarily particular eaters, so that if they don’t like the entrée at all, they still have something healthy to eat.

Since this blog is mostly about cross-cultural hospitality, I wanted to ask: did you ever suit meals to students from other cultures or other backgrounds?

We often had students from Korea, and they’re used to having rice and kimchi at almost every meal. We had a rice cooker and provided rice daily just for them, so they could add a scoop to their meal if they wanted. We’d often keep a jar of kimchi nearby for them, too.

Can you recommend any resources for people planning meals for big groups? 

I have often gotten inspiration from a TV show called Carnival Eats. The foods they feature have to be prepared quickly and served out a food truck window in individual portions. Watching what they prepare gives me new ideas for serving portioned foods in a way that is easier and quicker. If you enjoy cooking and feed big groups, check it out sometime!

What are your thoughts about how physical food and spiritual food (or physical work and spiritual work) are connected? For example, how did you see your work in the kitchen as connecting to the overall work of the Bible school?

There’s definitely a connection between physical and spiritual food. I have observed that people usually won’t come to hear the Word if there isn’t something to feed their bellies. We see this tendency acknowledged in Scripture as well, such as at the Feeding of the 5,000, when Jesus made sure people’s physical and spiritual needs both were met. There’s something about eating around a table that makes people feel cared for.  When they leave a meal to hear a lecture or study with their physical hunger satisfied, I believe that they are more prepared for spiritual food as well. 

I also realized that the kitchen itself is a great environment to demonstrate or develop character. I worked with many student assistants and when we ran out of tomatoes and had to make last-minute changes to a recipe, or spilled a pail of grease and had to clean it up, those were opportunities to help one another instead of getting frustrated. In the kitchen there are so many opportunities to practically live out what God’s Word says about serving one another.

During the last few years you’ve been spending less time in the kitchen and more time in a counselling setting. How do you think that your interest in cooking intersects somehow with your interest in counselling?

It was actually in the kitchen that I first “counselled”. For many years the kitchen where I worked was attached to the Bible school’s lecture hall and students would come into the kitchen between classes to chat. Other students worked in the kitchen with me and we would talk as we worked. Through these conversations, I became more aware that formal teaching and Bible classes are great, but people also need one-on-one advice.  

Eventually someone in authority at the school pointed out that I loved counselling and asked if I’d ever considered studying it more formally. Until he pointed out that gifting (just like my pastor had once pointed out my gifting in hospitality and cooking), I had only counselled informally. Through his encouragement, I decided to study Biblical counselling. People need someone to guide them through how the Word applies to their lives and to provide accountability. The kinds of conversations we used to have while chopping onions are now taking place in a spare room at our local fellowship, but they’re happening because of what happened in my life in the kitchen. 

There have been seasons of my life where I’ve been asked to do mundane tasks, and I’ve often really struggled to accept them. I was encouraged in talking to Karen, seeing that her “less spiritual” work in the kitchen turned out to be very spiritual after all. If she had refused the messy, sometimes-sweaty task of showing hospitality to large groups day after day, she would also have missed hundreds of meaningful kitchen conversations, and may never have had the opportunities she’s having today through counselling. Thank you, Karen, for sharing your hospitality insights! Watch the blog for Karen’s Butter Chicken For a Crowd recipe, in our next post.

Hosting Big Groups vs. Hosting Individuals

My husband and I regularly  host both individuals and groups in our apartment. Having guests takes considerable effort, and our hope is to invest that effort as well as we can. That is, we want to be intentional about whom we invite and how many guests we invite at a time. In some cases, it's practical to host a big group; other times it makes more sense just to have one person over. It depends on our goals with that particular meal or event. Here are a few thoughts on  when hosting big groups is better, and when it's better to host individuals. I'd love your input as well, in the comments!

A group of ladies at a party I attended in India. 

A group of ladies at a party I attended in India. 

Hosting big groups in your home is good for... 

Getting more bang for your buck. 

Already planning on going to go to the trouble of cleaning up, buying food, preparing food, serving food, hosting, and cleaning up (again)? It's usually less work to have one group of ten over than to have two different people over, five different nights. (Unless perhaps you keep your small groups confined to one room so that they don't see the rest of the house, and only feed them popcorn!)

Touching base with a variety of people. 

Especially when we're hosting, I can't spend a tonne of time with everyone at a party. However, I can see a lot of people in one evening, and get a short update on what's going on with them. It reminds our friends whom we may not have seen in a while that we care about them and want a relationship with them, even if they or we have been unable to get together recently.

Connecting with friends of friends.

When we share Life with friends, we want to get to know their friends and family too, instead of singling just one of them out. Parties are great for bringing friends of friends in. People who might otherwise wonder "Why is this person inviting me along?" have fewer qualms when they know it's an event with a lot of people attending.

One of our Indian friends here in Germany recently commented that through us she has met "so many nice people." It's become a normal for her to plan outings or events with our friends even if we're not around. Friend #2 asked if she could observe an event at at her temple, Friend #3 invited her to learn to bake cheesecake with her, and Friends #4 and #5 helped her when she had back problems. These connections all happened because she got to know our friends at events we planned.

Giving people healthy socializing opportunities.

We've noticed that our friends invite particular people to our parties. If they're the heavy drinking, hardcore partying types, they know that our wholesome parties won't be up those friends' alley. So, the people our friends tend to invite are often people that we have more in common with anyway. Our more conservative international friends can relax more in a setting where there's no alcohol or meat they can't eat. And more hardcore party types, if they do come, can see that there are other ways to interact socially that don't involve hangovers the next day. 

Tag-teaming with others and letting them use their gifts.

If you're not a hugely social person (read: introvert) but you can cook well, you can create a setting where others can use their gifts by opening your home and letting them lead in socializing while you're making the food. You can ask a friend who loves games to lead a group game, or a friend who loves music to sing a song at your party. I like to plan and organize parties, but I'm not as bold or skilled as I wish I were about bringing up meaningful conversational topics. It helps when we invite a mixture of like-minded and differently-minded friends to our parties and let them converse. Almost inevitably I heard conversations about religion or philosophy when I'm running after more ice cubes or washing dishes.

Creative themes and decorating.

A snapshot from a small Christmas party held in India. This book is helps you share the story of Christmas and Easter to people who haven't heard it.

A snapshot from a small Christmas party held in India. This book is helps you share the story of Christmas and Easter to people who haven't heard it.

I will admit it: I like theme parties. I've had Reformation Day parties, Christmas cookie decorating parties, colouring book parties, samosa-making parties or whatever else I can come up with. I certainly don't organize the expensive, over-the-top affairs that some people would, but I enjoy letting my creativity flow with theme parties. Usually the guests enjoy being invited to something a bit out-of-the-ordinary. Theme parties are another great time to invite friends of friends or to introduce new friends to old ones.

(Note: We have a small, one-bedroom flat. If we can throw events with 10-15 guests, anyone can! We actually find that people seem to enjoy being crammed into the living room—maybe it feels more personal and down-to-earth than when there's more physical room between us!) 

Just one of many amazing snacks individually made for me by a dear friend in India.

Just one of many amazing snacks individually made for me by a dear friend in India.

Hosting individuals or small groups in your home is good for:

Follow-up after meeting someone in a bigger social circle.

A few months ago we hosted a farewell party for some international friends, and they invited many of their friends to come, too. Then we singled out a couple of guys who had been at the party, and invited them to come for dinner. When they arrived, they were quite surprised to be the only ones here, because they had expected there to be lots of guests again. I think they appreciated the invitation, because hosting individuals is also good for...

Making individuals feel acknowledged and loved.

During His ministry, Jesus spoke to crowds, but he paid frequent attention to individuals as well. He knew the power of speaking to a large audience, but also knew that public ministry didn't replace the power of speaking to one person at a time. We have heard of them: the woman at the well, the tax collector, the woman caught in adultery, the beggar, the prostitute, the thief. Inviting an individual to your home singles them out and says, "You matter to me. I want to know you better." Offering someone your time and attention is a love gift.

Understanding your friend's back-story.

We live in a culture where people are more and more disconnected from their heritage and history, with more migrants and movers than ever. Students and immigrants come and go from our city, and many are never really deeply known by anyone here. A one-on-one setting creates a place where we can learn more about our friends' backgrounds, experiences and worldviews. The more we understand about their heritage and history, the  better we can understand how to share Truth with them.  

Targeted conversation.

If there's a topic you want or need to discuss with someone and want to make sure it happens, one-on-one is best, of course. I think of Aquila and Priscilla and how they took Apollos into their home and discipled him. For a friend who is wrestling through some theological concerns or a friend who needs advice about her new dating relationship,  one on one is best.

When you don't have much spare time or energy.

During the past year my husband and I have juggled a heavy work load for him, quite a bit of sickness, and lots of transitional stuff because of job hunting and planning another move. Hosting a crowd takes more energy and more time than hosting one person. When we don't have a lot of energy or time to offer, we try last-minute, spontaneous invitations or we just invite people over for dessert or a snack. We can show we care without wiping ourselves out.

Parties and individual meetings are both important. You may gravitate to one kind of hospitality over the other, but be sure to consider both options. Jesus showed us that one does not replace the other; He had both kinds of events on His full schedule. When we think through how many people to invite and why,  we plan our hospitality with more intentionality. 

Safe Sundays in Korea: Sharing Hope through Hospitality

Today we have a cross-cultural Sunday hospitality story from Kara, whose American style of hospitality has been stretched as she has practiced hospitality in China and now in Korea. In Korea she's seeing how simple hospitality gives people the opportunity to open up about their hurts and find hope. Her story provides insights for anyone seeking to connect with a Korean friend or a friend of another culture at a deeper level.

"Kara realized that Asian hospitality is more formal than American hospitality."

Kara grew up in the middle of America, where hospitality was casual and comfortable. Meals were plain and desserts weren't fussy. The important thing was simply that people were always welcome around the table. Moving to China after college to teach English, Kara realized that Asian hospitality is usually more formal than American hospitality. However, she carried her more casual American style of hosting with her to China, often inviting students over to her tiny apartment to speak English and eat platefuls of brownies or banana bread. (Hint: both desserts are almost always a win in any culture!)

When Kara married her Korean husband Peter, whom she met in China, they wanted to create a home that would be open to people needing a safe place to talk, to laugh or to cry. Their first home together was in China and later they moved to her husband's home town in Korea, where they started both their family and a small English service at the church next door. 

Peter, Kara and their children

Peter, Kara and their children

Korea is a place of great beauty, as seen in the rolling hills, in the art of the traditional food and in the faces of the gorgeous people. But the beauty of Korea is often weighted down by what Kara describes as a photo filter that increases the shadows, darkening everything. It took a while for Kara to put her finger on the overwhelming oppression in Korea. In fact, it was only when she felt the oppression come over her, too, that she recognized it for what it was. There is a deep, undeniably heavy hopelessness that hangs over the country. Kara sees it on the subway, on the street and on the playground. Hopelessness peers out from under forced smiles and concentrated faces.

"There is a deep, undeniably heavy hopelessness that hangs over Korea."

This hopelessness stems from the stressful everyday life of Koreans. From the time children are able to walk, they are placed in a school environment and shoved into literacy and achievement. By high school, students study from morning to midnight. It's a gruelling schedule that seeks to open up opportunities to attend the best universities, and therefore to get the best jobs in Korea. Once students graduate, they are pushed into an even more gruelling workforce where most people work 12 to 14 hour days, 6 days a week, just to make ends meet. This hectic schedule means families rarely see each other. There aren't many alternatives to this extreme way of life.

A Korean church building

A Korean church building

You would think that for churched Koreans it might be different, but unfortunately for many, the church has become a place that increases stresses instead of providing a refuge from them. Competition and deep hierarchical divisions from outside the church are perpetuated in the church as well. Many churches are more like social clubs than places of worship. For some, church attendance is another guilty obligation. For others, church is an unsuccessful formula for a happier life. For most, church doesn’t offer a real solution to the hopelessness.

"In Korea's honour-based culture, being served can be an especially powerful way to feel loved."

Koreans tend to consider pastors (including Peter, since he is an ordained pastor) as more holy and elite. In contrast, the Bible says that Jesus Himself “came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The implications of Jesus’ example of servanthood are profound for people of any culture, but for Koreans, whose society is based on understanding honour, being served by someone who is above them in the hierarchy carries a deep significance. Being served can be an especially powerful way to feel loved in Korean culture. 

A Korean church steeple

A Korean church steeple

Kara and her husband have found that inviting people from church into their home helps to break down hierarchical barriers. When church friends come into their apartment and see her husband playing with their kids or doing their dishes, it powerfully illustrates how Jesus turns human ideas of hierarchy upside down and calls believers to serve each other. Eating and sharing mundane aspects of life with a pastor's family has a powerful effect on guests, and puts them in a safe place.

Peter and Kara's entryway on a Sunday afternoon

Peter and Kara's entryway on a Sunday afternoon

Almost every Sunday,  Kara and Peter invite the small English congregation to join them for food and conversation in their home after their 2:00pm service. Ten to fifteen people slip off their shoes and gather around the table. Peter and Kara joke that they are "boring" people, and that their intention is not to entertain or impress anyone with their hospitality. They simply want to provide a safe place to serve and be served. Their goal is to have conversations that offer hope.

A Sunday afternoon gathering at Peter and Kara's apartment

A Sunday afternoon gathering at Peter and Kara's apartment

"Using English as the common language opens unexpected conversational doors."

The conversation in their home on Sundays is in English, although most of the guests are Korean. Interestingly, Kara and Peter have found that using English as the common language opens unexpected conversational doors. This is because the Korean language is deeply tied to the cultural concepts of hierarchy, age and status. It can be difficult for Koreans (Peter included) to talk freely about deep, heart matters in Korean. But around their table they've noticed that guests often over-share when speaking English. Speaking English with Koreans in their home breaks down barriers.

For Kara, one of the most significant Sundays so far was when a new church friend sat at their table and shared with her husband that he doesn't believe in God. It was not faith but obligation and habit that had led him to serve in the church. In Kara and Peter's home he finally felt comfortable enough to admit this. Through simple hospitality, he found a place to unload, disarm, and just be without needing to impress people or compete for attention. He continues to come regularly to the Sunday service and to the fellowship time afterward.

Hopelessness still hangs heavy over Korea, but Kara and Peter are learning how Christian hospitality provides hope to the oppressed. Cross-cultural hospitality doesn't take fancy desserts or a fully adapted cultural understanding. It doesn't even require fluency in a common language. There is something significant about welcoming people into what seems insignificant: our everyday lives. Sometimes the most powerful way to bring hope into hopeless situations is simply to open our doors and let people in. 

How We're Reclaiming Sundays for Hospitality

In my last post, I wrote about a few reasons why we've been trying to have guests over more often on Sundays. The Bible commands hospitality, but it doesn't command Sunday hospitality. However, I wrote about why we are trying to have more Sunday guests. It's because: 

...eating together is a long-held church tradition. 
...Sunday is a day when we see others at church anyway.
...Sunday is a day when people often have spare time.
...it makes Sunday a distinct, fellowship-oriented day. 
...spiritual conversation comes up naturally on Sundays, and
...it starts the week on a positive, encouraging note. 

We've also been thinking about how to turn our good intentions into actions. Here are a few things that are helping us make Sunday hospitality a reality more often than not.

We're not making a lot of other Sunday plans.

Reserving time on Sunday afternoons to give or receive hospitality is something that is possible when we we make it a priority. We try to limit how many recreational weekend getaways or activities that could be done at other times keep us from being regularly present with other believers on Sundays. We know that if we choose to spend every other weekend out of town, Sunday hospitality and fellowship won't happen much. Thankfully, neither of us have jobs that require Sunday hours, although we know that for some believers that poses a challenge to sharing Sunday meals.

We're attending (and encouraging others to attend) the monthly Sunday potlucks at our fellowship.

Our fellowship usually shares a meal together every first Sunday of the month and we do our best to be there. In the last few months, the potluck attendance was waning, and so we encouraged people to put reminders out ahead of time, and tried to take along a bit of extra food in case people forgot to bring something. We can encourage people who plan Sunday meals by attending and helping out. If your fellowship doesn't have a regular time to eat together, this might be something you could easily organize.

We're trying to keep our Sunday hospitality simple. 

"When we keep the meal simple, having Sunday guests doesn't have to mean exhausting ourselves."

This is something I have to constantly remind myself (especially in Europe, where our guests may be accustomed to fine cuisine): our guests aren't coming primarily for the food, they're coming to spend time with us. The food is secondary. If I come home from church and rush around frantically, Sundays will be stressful. When we keep the meal simple, having Sunday guests doesn't have to mean exhausting ourselves.

(Note: we might assume eating out rather than in would be the best way to keep Sunday meals simple. However, we prefer to eat in rather than out, because our home sets a better stage for freer, more intimate fellowship than a restaurant does. That said, we do what we can with our time and resources. Some Sundays we haven't taken the time to prepare a meal at home, and we invite others to eat out with us. If we aren't offering to pay the whole tab, we try to go somewhere affordable so the price won't stop our friends from coming along.)

We're trying to intentionally host people from our church whom we don't know very well. 

When making invitations, we try to think about who might be encouraged by a visit with us, not just whom we would have fun hosting. When we have the same guests over and over, it's easy for the conversation to move toward common hobbies or recreational topics, but adding a less-known person or two to the group (or hosting accquaintances on their own) can help keep the talk from turning to trivialities. Recently we had several guests that we didn't know very well, and we asked them to tell us the stories of how they came to know Jesus. Learning how God reached into their lives and rescued them was one of my favourite parts of the afternoon.

We're not having guests every Sunday. 

It sounds funny to say that we're reclaiming Sundays for hospitality by not having guests every Sunday! But for us, every Sunday can't be a have-people-over Sunday. Some weeks are just too busy,  and a long Sunday afternoon nap is in order. We're trying to make sharing Sunday lunch a rule rather than an exception, but sometimes we need a quiet Sunday to rest and reconnect to God and to each other in a way that isn't possible when we're serving guests. (Today was one such Sunday.) Not having guests every weekend affords us the energy to enthusiatically host guests when they do come. 

"Not having guests every weekend affords us the energy to enthusiatically host guests when they do come."

Hosting guests always makes our Sundays more beneficial and constructive than they would have been otherwise. We feel more connected to our local fellowship and to the family of God. We hope you'll find the same thing, as you generously serve through Sunday hospitality. How are you reclaiming Sundays for hospitality? 

Why We're Reclaiming Sundays for Hospitality

If you grew up in a church setting, you may have known people whose homes were regularly open to guests on Sundays. However, if you're still part of the church today, you've probably noticed that most of us fill our Sundays with—well—not hospitality. Once the formal gathering time is over, we shake a few hands and then we're off to shop, watch a movie at the theatre, take the kids to soccer, or catch up on housework. Lest you think I'm pointing fingers, I've done all of the same things on Sunday afternoons as well (except take my non-existent kids to soccer) and there's nothing morally wrong with such activities. But lately we've been  asking ourselves if there is a better way to spend our time on Sundays.

Paul wrote, "'I have the right to do anything,' you say—but not everything is beneficial. 'I have the right to do anything'—but not everything is constructive." Sure, we can do many things on Sunday. But for us, we're realizing that one of the most beneficial and constructive way to invest our Sundays is by giving and receiving Christian hospitality. Here are a few reasons why we think reclaiming hospitality on Sundays in particular is worthwhile. 

(Note: Please don't get stuck on the word "Sunday". I know that for some of us, Sunday is not the day that we meet with other believers. If "Sunday" doesn't work in your context, please apply these ideas to the day of the week when you are able to meet others to worship God together.)

We're reclaiming Sundays for hospitality because...

...eating together has been a tradition of the church since its early days. 

When we read about the early church in Acts, sharing meals in homes was a regular part of their practice. To this day, eating together remains an important part of fellowship in your local gathering. Sure, it's not a command, "Thou shalt eat together after worshiping together." But if it is something the church has done for thousands of years, there must be something to it. Besides...

...Sunday is a day when we see others at church anyway.

Sunday is the day when we usually meet with our local fellowship. We currently live within walking distance of the hall where our fellowship meets, but others ride or drive 30 minutes or more to meet us there. Inviting people over after church is often more convenient and natural than asking them to come to our home another day of the week.

...Sunday is a day when people often have spare time.

I asked my husband to help me with this list and he stated the obvious: for many of us, Sunday is a day off, which means that most people have a bit more time to enjoy a meal together. Also, for those who are struggling with temptation, loneliness or anything else that seems to be accentuated when he or she has hours alone with no plans, being invited to spend time with believers on Sunday can be a lifeline.

...it makes Sunday a distinct, fellowship-oriented day. 

Another thing we like about inviting someone to "come 'round" on Sunday (as our friends from New Zealand say it) is that it keeps church from becoming just one of many pitstops on a day that is like every other. Many churches feel like spiritual gas stations, where people drive into the pews for an hour or so, get a quick spiritual fill-up, and drive on to do the rest of their Sunday errands. But one hour of being preached or sung at doesn't top up a soul running on empty after a long week in the world. Sunday hospitality can make Sunday a uniquely edifying day, also because...

...spiritual conversation comes up naturally on Sundays. 

When you've just heard teaching or sung good songs together, it's natural to steer the conversation in a spiritual direction. It can be as simple as asking, "Did you learn anything new in the message?" or "What is something you heard that will help you this week?" Recently a friend joined us for Sunday lunch, and within minutes of arriving he was telling my husband about the sermon at his church that morning. The words he and we had just heard set the tone for our afternoon together. 

...it starts the week on a positive, encouraging note. 

The people in our German fellowship have faced many discouraging circumstances in the last year, and some Sundays our gathering is small. We haven't received a lot of invitations to Sunday lunch, and so we know that others probably haven't either. There are some kinds of ministry that we cannot have because German is not our native language, but inviting people over is something that doesn't take advanced German skills. Through sharing our Sunday afternoons, we can remind people that God is going with them into the new week, and that we are, too. Sunday hospitality encourages us and others.

 As I was preparing this post, I remembered these words from Rosaria Butterfield, one of my hospitality heroes. She says that Sunday is the perfect day to allow people into our lives, even uninvited.  "Why do we make certain days ‘family days’? Sunday is the Lord’s Day. It is not ‘family day.’ It is the day for God’s people to be in each other’s lives without invitation." Those of us who are Christians belong to a family much wider than our blood families, and our homes should be open to that wider family.

We're not Sunday hospitality heroes. Actually, we're just a few weeks into our goal of being more regular about Sunday hospitality in particular. I'm not sure how often we'll have guests on Sundays, but our goal is to make it happen more often than not, like the early church and many godly people before us. Articulating some of the reasons why hospitality is a worthwhile investment of our Sundays (which belong to God, after all) has been helpful to me. In the coming weeks I'm looking forward to sharing a few ideas about how to reclaim Sunday hospitality, with stories from people whose lives were changed—or are still being changed—through giving and receiving Sunday hospitality. But before we get to that, who will you have over this Sunday? 

New Year's with Yang Tao

Today is Chinese New Year, which makes it a good day to share this story from Theresa and her husband Craig in Florida. They are long-time friends of my husband's family, and started the A Candle in the Window Hospitality Network to help Christians show and receive hospitality. But their hospitality isn't limited only to Christians, and this story of how they invited a Chinese acquaintance to join them for their American New Year's celebration illustrates that. I love Theresa's emphasis on including your guests (whether they're Christians or not) in your everyday activities. —Julie

“How does one say ‘thank you’ in Chinese?” my husband Craig asked the Chinese waiter.
“Xie xie,” smiled the young man.
“Xie xie?” he attempted.
“No, xie xie,” the waiter said patiently.
Xie xie,” our daughters echoed. The waiter beamed!

From that moment on, a chorus of “xie xie” followed every movement he made toward our table. Thus began our friendship with Yang Tao.

It seems that wherever we have lived, we have chosen a restaurant or two as our “hang outs”, returning to them time and time again. In the process, we have gotten to know the waiters and waitresses. I suppose we're easy customers to remember. We were always a party of eight—my husband and me, five kids and Grandma, plus a wheelchair and for many years, a high chair. (I'm almost surprised any restaurant welcomed us back!)

Anyway, that was how we got to know Yang Tao. Soon he began to give little gifts to the children whenever we came in...handkerchiefs embroidered with panda bears or the Great Wall of China, little dangling Chinese thing-a-ma-bobs, or a piece of jade with engraving on it. Once when we came in, he slipped out the door for a few minutes and came back into the restaurant with M&M's for the kids.

Knowing that Chinese New Year is such a big celebration, we invited Yang Tao over for an American New Year’s Day. He arrived promptly at the time we had set, doling out little gifts for each child. We had a traditional Southern New Year’s meal of roast, mashed potatoes, greens and black-eyed peas. The girls asked him lots of questions about China, his family, and how he came to be here. A student at first, he was now only working and his return to China was imminent. We were amazed at his surprisingly broad knowledge of US History. (His favorite president? Richard Nixon and “that Bill Clinton, he been very good to us, too!”) 

After dinner, Craig got out the Bible and explained that in our family, it is our habit at meal’s end to read together from the Bible—and that we call it “family worship”. Yang Tao smiled and nodded eagerly.

I don’t remember exactly what we were reading at the time, but I do remember at the end, that Yang Tao took the Bible and fingered it. We told him he could keep it and take it back to China. He thanked us profusely.

Yang Tao came over a few times after that. He taught our daughters some Chinese calligraphy. Once, he brought a girlfriend along—a Chinese-American with whom he said  was "considering marriage". Craig took the opportunity to share with them the Biblical concept of Christian marriage—a covenant before God and not something to be entered into frivolously (or in hopes of remaining in America)!

And then he was gone.

About a year later we received a note from him, a New Year’s greeting: “...I always talking about you to my family...” he wrote. I pray that in our brief interactions, he experienced more than just a cultural exchange with an American family. I pray that he got a taste—as imperfect as it was—of God’s love for him, and that the Bible he took back continues to speak to his heart of the God who is there.

"Invite others in and just include them in what you’re already doing."

We never saw him again, but our friendship with Yang Tao encouraged us to reach out to others. You can do this, too! Invite others in and just include them in what you’re already doing. That’s what we did with Yang Tao. We read the Bible we always did. We asked if there was anything he wanted us to pray about, and prayed for him. 

Look around for those whom God has placed in your life—even a waiter at your favourite restaurant—who might have little or no interaction with the people of God. Your hospitality might be the conduit through which God chooses to reach into a heart with His love.

Interview #3B: Receiving Hospitality from Chinese Muslims

On Tuesday we started this interview with Jodie, an American who spent 4.5 years in a Muslim minority region of western China while her husband was doing ethnology research there. In Part A of this interview, Jodie talked about showing hospitality to Chinese Muslims, and we learned about some of the food preferences and customs of Muslims. In Part B, she's sharing about the hospitality they were shown by Muslims, and giving some ideas for having deeper conversations with Muslim friends. Thank you, Jodie, for sharing your story and pictures with us! —Julie

Jodie with two new friends at a wedding

Jodie with two new friends at a wedding

When we started talking about showing hospitality to Muslims, you told me that you were a guest of Chinese Muslim friends more often than you were a hostess. How would you describe the hospitality you were shown?

We felt very honoured as their guests. Whenever we visited someone, we were always served tea and something to eat, even if it wasn't a meal time. Sometimes I had to let my best friend in the village know that I would really rather talk with her than eat, as I would stop by to visit and she would spend most of the time in the kitchen cooking for me! They are very generous, servant-hearted people.

You talked about a large festival or group meal that was held in the village. Could you tell us more about that festival and the meal it involved?

Yes, that was the most interesting experience we had being hosted by Muslims! To give you some background, the population of the village where we were staying was about 2,000 and almost all of the residents are of the Bonan Muslim minority group. They are Sufis (Muslim mystics) and have a highly revered shiek for their spiritual leader. The current shiek is the fourth generation of shieks in that village, and the way people treated him reminded me of how people must have treated Jesus! The residents of the village believe the shieks have power to intercede on their behalf to Allah, and therefore the biggest events in the village each year are memorial festivals held on the anniversary of each of the previous shiek's deaths. Besides the 2,000 regular residents of the village, about 3,000 people from outside the village would attend the festivals, too—it was like the Chinese version of the feeding the 5,000!

Preparations for the festival would begin days before with the slaughtering of lambs and cows by the men, and the making of steamed buns by the women. It was amazing how everyone in the village knew what to do, without anyone clearly being in charge.

Preparing baozi buns for the festival

Preparing baozi buns for the festival

Stirring large pots of beef before the festival

Stirring large pots of beef before the festival

Women preparing meat for the festival

Women preparing meat for the festival

There seemed to be a general understanding and acceptance of each one's role in the festival. The young men prepared the first course of the meal (small plates of dried fruit and nuts) and they served all the courses of the meal. The older men served the tea and refilled the cups with hot water several times during the meal. We learned that keeping tea cups full is a very important part of taking care of guests! The next course was steamed buns with a sweet filling. Then plates with slices of tender cooked beef, and sausages made from lamb intestines. After that, steamed buns with beef and carrot filling. Then a bowl of beef noodle soup, followed by another bowl of soup made of miscellaneous lamb organs—nothing is wasted! After the meal every person recieved a plastic bag with a large round flat fried bread and a slice of beef to take home. 

Young men filling bowls of dates

Young men filling bowls of dates

Dried fruit and nuts 

Dried fruit and nuts 

The Feeding of the 5,000, western China style

The Feeding of the 5,000, western China style

Bread and meat to be taken home by each guest

Bread and meat to be taken home by each guest

Were you considered guests at the festivals or could you also get involved in preparations?

After attending several festivals and learning the routine, our family was able to participate in the various serving roles and then eat in the last meal, with the extended family of the shiek. It was nice to be able to serve them and not always be the foreigners receiving special treatment. 

Filling cups of tea to serve

Filling cups of tea to serve

You were also hosted various times by the revered shiek himself. Could you tell us a bit about that?

The shiek was a few years younger than my husband and me, and had three children almost the exact ages of our children. We connected with him right away and appreciated how welcoming he was to our family. He loved to laugh and we enjoyed both significant and lighthearted discussions with him. Sometimes he invited us to his “upper room” for tea, sunflower seeds, dried fruit and nuts and hand-pulled mutton. Once he invited us to a picnic that was definitely a big step up from our Western-style peanut butter and jelly picnics! A crew of five men accompanied us to do all the cooking, serving, and washing. We enjoyed large pieces of meat, noodle soup, fruit and steamed bread in a beautiful setting.

Picnic with the shiek

Picnic with the shiek

One of the cooks at our picnic

One of the cooks at our picnic

Did the shiek expect any particularly special treatment from you because of his position? 

Maybe other shieks would be different, but he always made us feel very at ease around him. One thing we noticed is that people in the village would never turn their backs on him. If they approached him to request a blessing for their children or to give him money, they would back away from him as they were leaving. We tried to be aware of that, too. The shiek told us that his job was to take care of us while we were in the village, and our job was to let people outside of China know about their village and their people. So thank you for giving me a chance to do that through this interview!

One of the things I've noticed is that you have the attitude of a learner. Were there any hospitality customs that you learned in China that you incorporated into your own practice of hospitality?

We noticed that the youngest son in the family had the responsibility of filling the tea cups of the guests. So that was a task our youngest son (before we adopted two more) took on and did very well. Younger people treated their elders with a lot of respect (both in Muslim Chinese and Han Chinese culture). At the festivals, children would run to find pieces of wood for their grandparents to sit on around the tables that were just a few inches off the ground, and the adults would put food on their parents' plates for them. When my dad came to visit us in the village, they made him feel like he was a king. We tried to incorporate that custom by honouring our elderly guests in a special way as well. 

Eating watermelon with our host in the courtyard of his home while Jodie's dad was visiting

Eating watermelon with our host in the courtyard of his home while Jodie's dad was visiting

How can humility make us better able to host and be hosted by people of other cultures? 

I think humility in cross-cultural reationships is realizing that we are always capable of making mistakes or being misunderstood, but refusing to let either of those concerns stop us from building relationships anyway.

Could you give an example of a time when you learned from a cultural mistake?

One time we were visiting some Muslim friends and the husband, who was an imam, beautifully recited the Koranic passage about Mary's virgin birth. When he was finished, I asked the wife if I could see the Koran. She held it, but I reached out and touched it. She was horrified and rushed out of the room with it. When she came back in, the Koran was carefully wrapped in a towel. I apologized and felt really bad about defiling their holy book. But at the same time, I believed that my friend could forgive my mistake. I have never made the same mistake again, and actually that incident helped me to appreciate how much they value the Koran. (In many homes it is displayed on a special stand.) I have become more aware of how I take care of the Bible. We don't have it on display in our home, but before Muslim friends come over, I make an effort  to be sure it isn't on the bottom shelf of our coffee table or underneath a stack of other books, so that they are not offended.

Boys in the village

Boys in the village

Have your Muslim friends been interested to talk about spiritual things? 

Just as our Muslim friends have a wide range of devoutness in following Muslim practices, so they also have a range of interest in talking about spiritual things. Some are interested, some are not, but you can't know unless you ask a few questions in that regard.

What might be some interesting ways to initiate deeper conversation with a Muslim friend?

Asking Muslims about the meaning of their names can be interesting. Many of them are named after prophets and they enjoy discussing that person, whom they may or may not know much about. We met people named Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Jonah, Zechariah,  John (the Baptist) and even Jesus. They might want to know about the origin of your name, too, or how you chose your children's names.

"Asking Muslims about the meaning of their names can be interesting."

Another conversation opener for us was simply discussing the topic of my husband's PhD—“people of faith together seeking the blessing of Allah.” Sharing this topic with friends and asking them what they consider to be His blessing and then how they believe they can receive it also led to interesting discussions. Maybe you have something similar in your life that is a simple lead-in to a deeper conversation.

We would share with friends stories of how Jesus related to people and parables that He told, and ask for their reactions. One time my husband shared the parable of the workers in the vineyard with the man who was overseeing the construction of the big prayer hall in the village. Every other time my husband had discussed this parable with people (in the USA or in China), the listeners identified with the early hired workers who felt cheated when the landowner paid all the workers the same wages. But this man in the village responded, “What a generous, compassionate landowner! He takes care of people according to their need, just like Allah takes care of us.” My husband was really surprised by this man's unusually insightful response to that parable.

Do you have any final encouragement you'd like to give to Christians with Muslims friends or acquaintances?

There is a strong message in our world right now that Muslims are our enemies. Our experience has proven that to be so untrue. I would encourage you to seek out and get to know some Muslims in your area. May God bless you as you step out in faith and build friendships with some of the most beautiful people we have come to know.

Interview #3A: Showing Hospitality to Chinese Muslims

Many people don't know that there are Muslims in China. Today's interviewee remembers a time when she didn't know that either. Jodie, who originally hails from North Carolina, learned a lot about Chinese Muslims when she lived in a Muslim minority area of China for 4.5 years with her family. I hope you'll enjoy reading about her adventures (and misadventures) eating with Muslims, and learn cultural cues that will help you when you host or are hosted by Muslim neighbours. —Julie

Jodie and her best friend in western China.

Jodie and her best friend in western China.

Could you tell us briefly how long you lived with Chinese Muslims, and why?

We had been living in eastern China for about 15 years before we moved to western China for 4.5 years while my husband worked on his PhD in Ethnology, with a specific focus on Chinese Muslims. During those 4.5 years we lived both in the Muslim district of a large city, and then in a much smaller Bonan minority village for shorter periods of time, for my husband's field research.

Jodie's husband looking over the village.

Jodie's husband looking over the village.

What foods are people from western China accustomed to eating? Were you ever fed something that you were unable to swallow?

Noodles were the staple in western China (instead of rice, like in eastern China). There are many different types of noodle dishes and noodle shops. Across the street from our apartment in the city there was a huge statue of a bowl of beef noodles, which is what our city was most famous for.

Once a friend treated me to a Muslim specialty dish of fermented rice when we were out shopping together. I was having a really hard time eating it, so I told her I wanted to take it home to share with my children. That got me out of having to eat all of it in front of her!

Noodle soup and a very tall stack of steamed buns!

Noodle soup and a very tall stack of steamed buns!

In this interview we want to focus on showing hospitality to Muslims. What kinds of guests did you have in your home while living in western China?

In the city we had the opportunity to host a variety of guests: some of my husband's classmates and professors and their families, imams (mosque leaders) and their families, neighbour kids, a Muslim friend I met while on a walk and her family, and a group of female Muslim college students I met when I was taking a Saturday women's class at the mosque on our street. In the village we were shown hospitality but were not able to extend it as much, as we were guests in a host family's home.

Was it hard for you to learn to extend hospitality to people with such different customs?

After being on the receiving end of Chinese Muslim hospitality it really was intimidating to try to extend it. I was always thinking that I needed to fill the table with a huge variety of dishes like they do. Cooking has never been my forte. But I came to realize that being present with my heart was more important to our guests than an impressive meal.  It also helped when I realized that our whole family could be involved in meal preparation, taking some of the pressure off me.

Hosting a Thanksgiving meal for Jodie's husband's classmates in the city.

Hosting a Thanksgiving meal for Jodie's husband's classmates in the city.

Most people know that Muslims don’t eat pork, but were there other restrictions affecting food or mealtimes that you learned about through interacting with Chinese Muslims?

There was quite a range of what our Muslim friends were comfortable with as far as food goes. We would always let them know before they came over that our home was Halal ("clean" - meaning that we never cooked pork in our house). Some friends had no problem eating the chicken that we served when we told them that it came from the grocery store with a Halal sticker on it. Others told us that they would only eat chicken that was bought from a Muslim butcher at the market, to give them confidence that the proper prayers had been said when the animal was killed.

We learned that Chinese Muslims distinguish themselves from Han Chinese (ie: non-Muslim Chinese) by not celebrating Chinese ("pagan") holidays like Chinese New Year. They also don't celebrate birthdays, like we had been used to doing with our Han Chinese friends. The Muslim holidays like Korban (commemorating Abraham's sacrifice) and Ramadan are their big events. When we were with Muslim friends during their holy month, we didn't eat or drink in front of them to honour their daytime fast.

We learned that in group settings, men and women often ate in different rooms. However, when just our family was invited to an imam's home, we ate all together. So, when that imam's family (in addition to other guests) came to our house for a meal, we set up a table for the women to eat in my daughter's bedroom so the imam's family would feel at ease.

"We learned that in group settings, Muslim men and women often ate in different rooms."

Sometimes guests wanted to say their prayers during the prayer time that occurs around dinnertime. We offered our daughter's bedroom for them to pray in, as it was in the best location facing Mecca. We offered blankets for the them to put down on the floor, or sometimes they used their own jackets. We also removed all pictures that would be between them and the window while they prayed, as that is forbidden.

Jodie and her family eating a meal with their Chinese Muslim hosts.

Jodie and her family eating a meal with their Chinese Muslim hosts.

Did you have any hospitality disasters or disappointments in trying to host Muslims?

Yes, a few! Once when my husband and sons were out of town, I invited a group of female Muslim college students over for lunch and my daughter prepared a Halal lunch, so we were very surprised when they politely refused to eat our food! They didn't even drink the tea we offered them, saying it was because we weren't clean. So, they had a spiritual discussion with us for about an hour, and then they said they needed to leave.

I had thought “being clean” meant the food we were offering them was clean, but I realized later that when we had entered our apartment together they did not see me wash my hands, and I didn't offer them a place to wash, either. A friend I consulted afterward helped me to understand the importance of washing my hands so guests could see, and the need for me to offer our guests a place to wash.

Another time, I cooked spaghetti for our host family in the village. It was a disaster because they really don't like tomato sauce! After that, they declined my offers to cook, saying that they “didn't have the same taste as we did”. My daughter enjoys cooking and learned from our friends how to make some noodle dishes that we served to neighbours. It helped when we learned to make things they were already accustomed to eating.

Jodie and her family with their Chinese Muslim host family in the village.

Jodie and her family with their Chinese Muslim host family in the village.

If someone in a Western context wants to invite a Muslim over, what should they know?

Well, the most helpful thing you can do is talk with your guests about food before they come over. Express a desire to honour their customs and make them feel most comfortable. If there is no Halal market in your area, they may not eat Halal. But two good questions to ask are:

  1. Is there a certain international market where you shop? (Then you can shop there for the food for them, too).
  2. Would you feel more comfortable with a vegetarian meal? (In this case you can avoid the Halal meat issue altogether).

"Generally speaking, Muslims tend to think of non-Muslims as immodest and unclean. This can make them hesitant to accept a meal invitation from us."

Generally speaking, Muslims tend to think of non-Muslims as immodest and unclean. This can make them hesitant to relate to us or accept a meal invitation from us. Show that you are clean not only by serving Halal food, but also by making the washing of your hands public if possible. Be modest in dress around your Muslim friends. In western China, I realized that women covered their arms and legs and avoided low cut shirts or tight fitting clothes, so I did the same. With Muslims friends in the West, perhaps you can take your modesty cues from how the friends of your gender typically dress. (For example, do you ever see your friend wearing shorts or sleeveless shirts? If not, perhaps it would be better not to wear shorts or sleeveless shirts around them, either.)

You might find that Muslim friends feel more comfortable having you over so they can cook what they know they can eat. We had that situation with a neighbour—they had us over several times, but politely refused our invitations to have them over. 

Jodie's family hosting and playing games with Chinese Muslim friends.

Jodie's family hosting and playing games with Chinese Muslim friends.

What should a person do if a Muslim refuses to come to their house? For example, should they stop trying to invite them, or should they talk about how they'll make sure the food is Halal? 

"Follow your Muslim friend's lead. Be open to new possibilities."

If the idea of coming over for a meal seems to make your Muslim friend uncomfortable, it could be that your friend is extremely devout and eating food that came from your kitchen (if pork has ever been cooked there) would violate his or her conscience. Suggest some alternatives, like coming over for an afternoon to play games (instead of coming at meal time), meeting at the park or eating out at a restaurant of your friend's choice. Don't take a refusal to your invitation personally. If someone is concerned about their conscience and what might make them unclean, honour that and follow his or her lead as to how they might want to develop the friendship. Be open to new possibilities.

Would you say that most Muslims you meet in the West are conservative?

"Making assumptions your friend's level of devotion might make your friend feel guilty, like he or she is not a good Muslim."

Some are, but you can't assume that. My husband once asked a Muslim friend who came over during Ramadan about the fast he assumed she was doing. She politely informed him that actually she doesn't practice Ramadan, and she would like a glass of water! That was an awkward situation, but we all laughed about it. It's good to be unassuming about new friends and sensitive to the range of devoutness that exists. Making assumptions about how devout someone might be can make your friend feel guilty, like he or she is not a good Muslim. Some of our Chinese Muslim friends were simply non-pork eating Muslims and that was the only thing that made them different from the Han Chinese. We can talk in generalizations about Muslims, but the most important thing is to get to know your particular Muslim friends and learn what suits them best.

What is the best lesson you'd pass on to people who are starting to share their table with people of other cultures and religions?

If we enter a new situation and are easily offended or quick to judge what we encounter as “wrong” instead of “different,” we'll end up building walls instead of bridges. Humility, a learner's heart, and the ability to laugh at yourself all really help in crossing cultures!

Read the second half of our interview with Jodie here.  She's talking about unique experiences she had while being hosted by Chinese Muslims. She also shares about how good questions can help your conversations with Muslim friends go deeper. 

Interview #2: A Canadian-Taiwanese Friendship

For this second interview in our series, I spoke with Marie. Marie is in her sixties and has always lived in the same city in Canada. During the past few years, she has built a good friendship with Lee, a forty-something Taiwanese neighbour. I asked Marie to share her story because it illustrates that anyone can cross cultures and share love—no special training or plane tickets needed. Marie met Lee as she was going about her regular life, and in befriending her, Marie found out that ordinary acts of kindness can make a big difference to a newcomer. —Julie
(Please note that we've changed the names in this story for privacy reasons.) 

I have heard you talk a bit about your friend from Taiwan. Could you explain how you met and became friends?

I met Lee at the elementary school where I have been working as a lunch aid for several years. Lee started working at the school as a lunch aid as well, in the classroom right next to mine. After talking to Lee, I found out that she lived close to us. Lee wanted to learn conversational English better. She asked if I would help her, and I said I would. I talked a lot to Lee at the school, and also invited her to our home for tea so we could talk more. She is an eager, quick learner, and very outgoing and friendly. 

I think it always helps a lot when a person lives or works near you! It’s so much harder to maintain regular contact if you don't see each other often. Have you gotten to know Lee's family as well? 

Yes, we've spent time with her whole family. I got my husband Ron involved, which made it easier for us to connect with both Lee and her husband Jack. We have had Lee and Jack and their two daughters (ages 11 and 13) over many times, and we've also taken them out for meals. They have adopted Ron and I as their grandparents! Jack and Lee like to try our Canadian food and learn about Canadian customs.  

Sometimes it is difficult to understand Taiwanese immigrants' English, and Jack has been extra challenging to get to know and understand because he has a severe stuttering problem. However, because my oldest brother had a stuttering problem, I was familiar with his situation. I didn't feel uncomfortable with his stuttering. 

How have you been able to help Lee and her family in practical ways?

From time to time, they ask for help with something. Maybe a plumber needs to be let into their house while they are both at work. We have a key to their house, and Ron will go over and let the plumber in. Often Lee will phone with questions about Canadian culture. 

Was it hard for you to find things in common with a friend from such a different culture? 

I have never lived in another country, but I found Lee easy to get to know because she was so friendly. Lee is very happy to teach us about her culture. She has us over for meals and even invites us to join them in their Chinese New Year celebrations. We have had endless Taiwanese dishes delivered to our house for us to try. (Admittedly, in some instances we were glad Lee was not present to see our reaction to the taste and unusual texture!) 

How long had Lee been living in Canada when you met her? Has she ever talked to you about her impression of Canadians or mentioned any difficulties with transition?

"Most Canadians give up on befriending Taiwanese immigrants because of the language barrier."

When I first met Lee, I think she had been living in our city for about one year. She and other friends of hers from Taiwan have found it very difficult to make Canadian friends. She said that most Canadians give up on befriending them because of the language barrier—as I mentioned before, their English can be difficult to understand! Lee said that most of her Taiwanese friends no longer make an effort to make Canadian friends; they just spend time with other Taiwanese friends. The hardest things about her transition have been the loneliness, having no caring Canadian friends, the cold weather, and learning both the language and culture.

Have you gone deeper with her, and gotten to talk about values, life, or God?

Lee is not a Christian and does not talk about spiritual things. However, we've been able to invite her and her daughters along to some things we were doing. For example, when our church has ladies’ events, I have sometimes taken Lee along and she always seems to enjoy that. We have driven her daughters out to a Christian day camp for one week in the summer for a couple of years. Recently Lee and Jack have been going through some serious marriage problems. Lee has felt comfortable enough to talk with us about her problems. She has spent many hours at our home crying and talking to us, and we've prayed with her.

What would you say to someone who isn’t sure about reaching out to an international neighbour?

You always take a chance when you reach out to someone from a different country and culture—there's a risk you'll be misunderstood. But I would encourage people to reach out to international neighbours and coworkers, you never know what good friends you will make!

Do you have anything else you want to add?

"This past Christmas Lee said, "Winter here is very cold, but without you both it would be a lot colder."

This past Christmas, Lee said, "Winter here is very cold but without you both it would be a lot colder."  We pray for Lee and we ask the Lord to be in this! Lee has become a very good friend!

Why we eat in, not out

Since this blog is in its early days and the lot of the conversation here will be about meals in our homes, I want to talk about why we believe opening our home is so valuable. I recently  heard  that  "43% of every dollar that [American] millennials spend on food is spent outside their home. Boomers spend between 37% and 38% of their food budget that way...." We don't live in America, but seeing those numbers reminded me that the culture my husband and I have chosen, of eating in much more than out, is unique. Of course, we eat out from time to time and taking people out can also show hospitality. But even as millennials ourselves, we believe that regularly inviting people in instead of out is even betterhere's why! 

 

1. It's almost always healthier.

When we prepare the food, we can control how the food is prepared and use reasonable amounts of salt, fat, etc. We're far less likely to get food poisoning. And if I do find a hair in my soup, at least it's my own. 

2. It's better stewardship of our money and possessions.

Here in Europe, eating out is particularly expensive, unless you want a Turkish wrap. Occasionally we choose to spend a bit more money rather than the time it takes to eat in, but in this season we usually eat in with our friends. It is good stewardship of the space God has given to us, too. Rent or mortgage is usually one of everyone's biggest monthly expenses. Whether or not we have guests, we would need a heated, furnished home. When we share that with guests, it is time and money doubly invested. 

3. It puts us in a position to control the atmosphere.

This is one of my favourite reasons to eat in. Restaurants are at best full of distractions. Who hasn't been interrupted by annoying music, a sleazy TV show playing nearby, or an immodest or crass server with more ice water? In our homes we can virtually eliminate these kinds of distractions and create a peaceful environment conducive to good conversation. 

4. It makes our home a teaching platform.

Our home teaches others about what we value—and hopefully, about what God values. Our home is full of words and pictures that are meaningful to us. But other things speak, too, like how my husband and I relate to each other, how clean or messy our home is, the kinds of foods we serve...and more. When I was single, I remember a friend telling another guest in our home, "This computer screen is the only screen you will find in this house! Julie doesn't have a TV!" I had to laugh at his gusto, but he and his friend were both learning about my values by seeing that I didn't own a TV. Obviously, we can teach with words, too, when we have opportunity to set the tone and guide the conversation. Sometimes we read the Bible and pray with our guests, or sometimes we just pursue good conversation. Hospitality teaches something; make that something worthwhile.

5. It's interesting and it expands my world without even leaving home.

You probably saw this one coming! Since being married, we've had guests from Syria, India, China, Pakistan, Brazil, Germany, Ukraine.... Their stories are each unique and teach us about the world. The news comes alive when a Ukrainian or a Syrian friend talks about how recent events have affected their families, and we often have conversations about values and morality.

6. It reminds everyone that eating is a community affair.

Eating is something we do together. This might be a minor point, but in a restaurant we usually order what we want individually and have our own personal food experience. At home, we eat what we are served and share the same eating experience. Homemade meals remind us, in our ultra-customized society, that the universe does not exist simply to please us individually; we are made to contribute unselfishly to community. 

7. It allows people to get to know the real us.

Our home puts us in a place of vulnerability, because it is a personal space. Sometimes I'm afraid my home is too grand for the guests we're inviting. Other times I've felt my home is far too simple. We know our guests may make value judgements after seeing us in our home. But it's a good reality check, to remind us to be our real selves—even if those real selves forgot to wipe out the sink or still haven't fixed the latch on the bathroom door. Our sincerity is much more important than our status, or lack thereof. 

8. It encourages us to keep our home clean.

I'm trying to be better about cleaning consistently, whether or not guests are coming through. But nothing makes me scramble for the vacuum or the mop like knowing that someone else will be seeing our space. (OK, who are we kidding, I only mop if I must. But the vacuum, that I use quite frequently). 

9. It's an outlet for creativity.

I believe the home is a perfect place to express creativity. I like to keep an arsenal of colourful serviettes, placemats and banners on hand. And I admit it, I do like theme parties, coordinating decorations....and (not surprisingly) cooking foods from around the world. 

10. It encourages others to do the same.

Lastly, hospitality is best taught by example. The easiest way to learn it is by watching others who do it well and sincerely. I've found that hospitality is a bit contagious, if I invite people over, they often do the same in return; sometimes it just takes one person to get the ball rolling. 

The Super Hostess I am Not

When it comes to hospitality, it is easy to think that's someone else's super power. We watch a grandma graciously feeding 30 people Thanksgiving dinner without breaking a sweat and we're sure she was born with those skills. We see a friend who engages guests of other religions in spiritual discussion and forget that he's spent years honing those conversational skills. If we want to sound spiritual, we excuse ourselves by saying that hospitality is a gift—a gift that we don't have. We make up reasons why hospitality is just something we can't do well.

"We excuse ourselves saying that hospitality is a super power or a gift that we don't have."

At one point in my life, the people around me who were hospitable all seemed to fit a particular genre: they were clean, organized, excellent cooks, lived in nice homes and possibly decorated with floral patterns before floral patterns came back into style. I don't fit that stereotype. Actually, a lot of my traits don't lend themselves well to being someone who opens her home regularly. Maybe you can relate.

I am not super clean.

I wish I were neater and probably my husband wishes that, too. But the natural me collects clutter, vacuums around but not under, and delays going to the laundromat as long as possible. Before guests come over, I often have some serious cleaning to do. While I'm learning to acknowledge laziness in my heart and develop systems to keep the house cleaner, I'm also realizing that the core of hospitality isn't about how clean I am. 

I am not super organized.

Sometimes people who don't know me too closely think I must be organized, because the final product I produce (a party, an event, a blog) can look well planned. However, when they work closely with me, they see what a tangled path I take to those organized-looking ends. I really have to force myself to do tasks in order and make lists. I'm the hostess who remembers one hour before the guests arrive that I wanted to make cold tea, but I haven't even steeped tea bags yet, let alone chilled them. 

I am not a super cook.

Well, you can taste my cooking and let me know what you think, but my cooking skills are a work in progress. No one is born knowing how to make the perfect pot roast or when to take cookies out of the oven to keep them chewy. Some people have a head start, because their parents were enthusiastic cooks or their grandmothers taught them all their best recipes. But as for me, sometimes I still take things to potlucks and—let's just say that they aren't crowd favourites. But ultimately, cooking well just takes practice. I'm acquiring more confidence with each meal cooked,  realizing that I can become a better cook than I'd imagined.

I don't live in a super house.

A friend from Canada visited us in Germany and when she walked into our dining room, she said, "This is small!" She was trying to understand how we could fit ten people around our dining room table, like in a picture I had sent her. Nothing about our 47 square meter (500 sq. ft.) fourth floor, no-elevator apartment with a tiny fridge and freezer makes it a super hospitality house by Western standards. But to most people, a real invitation into a real house matters much more than a future invitation into the super house that we don't have yet. 

I am not super girly.

Floral dishes, pearls, collector spoons, bone china? So not me. Pink? Please, no. But I've realized that being hospitable or being feminine are not the same as being girly. In fact, in the Bible one of the qualifications given for men who will lead in the church is that they must be hospitable, which means it's something men should pursue just as much as women. Hospitality is about meeting the needs of your guest, not about being girly. And besides, it's easier to host when I don't wear high heels.

"The more we have our international neighbours or lonely locals over, I realize they're just glad we invited them."

I could have used any or all of these reasons to decide that hospitality is not for me. I could have started a blog about why I don't show hospitality, instead. But the more we practice hospitality, we realize that our guests aren't running their fingers along the countertops to see if I wiped them down, or questioning the size of our dining room. They're just glad we showed some un-super hospitality and invited them in. 

Hospitality isn't for supers, it's for servants.

Hello World!

Hello world! This is the first post at The Serviette. I am well aware that in 2016, if you start a blog, it had better be unique. So, this is a blog I've never seen before: a space dedicated to encouraging people to make intentional, cross-cultural hospitality a regular part of their lives. 

The Serviette exists to provide ideas for opening our doors to people who think differently than we do, through stories from people who are doing or have done exactly that. Whether those "different" people are Muslims, Hindus, refugees, atheists, members of the LGBT community....or even just someone of a different age or status, The Serviette wants to explore what it looks like to serve them through hospitality. The Bible provides a robust theology of hospitality, and in church history there is a strong tradition of hospitality, but we could probably all use help knowing what being hospitable can look like in today's pluralistic West.

The Serviette exists to encourage people of every culture to open their doors and engage the world in purposeful conversations.

For all of us, serving close friends is easier than inviting in someone who seems very different than us. I want you to picture your most intimidating possible guest in your mind. For me it might be our tattooed European neighbour who is friendly but informed us upon first meeting that he hates religion and has nothing to do with the church. For you it might be inviting over the Syrian family that moved into your neighbourhood or having coffee with a Buddhist coworker. I hope through your readings here, you'll be encouraged to open your doors and engage the people in your world in purposeful, valuable conversations—conversations that can change lives and bring hope. Hello world!