7 Dos and Don'ts for New Cross-Cultural Hosts

Are you learning to extend cross-cultural hospitality? Are you feeling a bit nervous about having guests of other religions or backgrounds in your home? You’re in the right place — we can relate! We’ve been hosting guests of other cultures for quite a few years, but we still get a bit nervous about it sometimes, too! Here are seven dos and don’ts we’ve learned, that help us when we’re hosting guests from cultures different than our own. We hope these ideas give you, the new cross-cultural host, some direction!

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1. Do start with something simple. 

Too often, we don’t even get started with cross-cultural hospitality because we think it has to be complicated. Start with something simple — invite someone over for tea and a snack on a weekend or holiday afternoon, or just invite a neighbor to go on a walk with you in the neighborhood.

2. Do ask the person if they have any allergies or food restrictions before they come over for something to eat. 

As a general rule, Muslims cannot have alcohol or pork, and Hindus won’t eat beef, but many be completely vegetarian or also not drink alcohol. People vary a lot in their practices, so while you can do some Googling, it’s always good to inquire about food/drink restrictions before your guest comes.

3. Do ask lots of questions when your guest is visiting. 

Most people like to talk about themselves. Do a bit of research about the person’s culture or background before he or she visits. It might help to write down a few questions that might be interesting to ask him or her. If you’ve been to your guest’s country or known someone else from that part of the world, you can build some natural conversational bridges.

4. Don’t bring up sensitive subjects immediately or assume which views the person has without asking. 

Sometimes a person might be coming from a country which has experienced political tension with your country. Or, your guest might be less conservative than others from his or her homeland. For example, you don’t want to make a Muslim woman who does not cover her head feel like she’s a bad Muslim by asking too many questions about head covering on her first visit!

5. Don’t be discouraged if you just don’t click with a particular guest.

That’s normal even with people of your own culture, and if you keep inviting guests, you’ll find that some have lots in common with you, and some do not. We had a Middle Eastern guest over for cake one Sunday afternoon, and my husband pleasantly asked him if he and his new wife were planning to have children. He replied, “No! I hate children.” My husband didn’t really know what to say to that. He kept the conversation going, but we did not have that guest back again because it was a bit hard to keep a conversation going with him.

6. Do be prepared to be invited to your guest’s home. 

If you host someone from a traditional culture, often they will return the favor. People from traditional cultures tend to be much more hospitable than Westerners, although an exception to this might be when your guest is a student or is single and feels he or she doesn’t have a proper home in which to host you.

7. Do pray for your guest.

As God before, during and after your visit, that your guest would feel loved in your home. God loves your guest far more than you ever could, and wants to express His love through you.

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For more ideas for how to start a conversation with your cross-cultural friend or neighbour, check out this article: Making Conversation with Cross-Cultural Friends.

Planning for Spontaneous Hospitality

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We’ve all heard stories of the spontaneous hospitality practiced many in non-Western countries. Some of us have experienced it when travelling far from home and being welcomed into strangers’ homes. But when those warm people who’ve always opened their doors spontaneously come to the West, they too often don’t return home with stories of spontaneous hospitality. In fact, in our Western world they often experience a “hospitality culture shock” of sorts.

This difference in our hospitality styles can be attributed to our cultural differences - relationship-orientation verses task-orientation. I live in Germany, a very task-oriented nation…which is filling with immigrants from relationship-oriented nations. A North African student recently talked about his experiences in Germany with me. “Most of my friends here are also North African. We can drop in on each other at almost any time. But Germans, no. The Germans are busy and protective of their time.”

“Busy.” “Protective of their time.” Would our neighbours, coworkers and friends describe us in this way?

When I hear comments like these, I wonder: how can we mix more spontaneity into our well-planned Western lives? We appreciate it when someone offers it to us, but it’s hard to make time for it in our own busy lives. As I look at our African, Middle Eastern, or Asian friends here in Germany, I realize: spontaneity is their language of friendship. A true friend will be available to you when you need them. A true friend will let you drop in on or call without making an appointment ahead of time. How can we be true friends to our warm, relationally-oriented friends?

My husband and I are learning a few ways that we can plan to be spontaneous — is that an oxymoron? In our experience…

Spontaneity in cross-cultural hospitality means keeping our evenings relatively unscheduled. 

We don’t lock ourselves into a Monday night jogging group — we can jog on our own if Monday night is free. We have only one night and one morning a week that are virtually always booked, and a few days a month where we usually attend certain events. But otherwise, we keep a lot of our weeknights relatively open, which allows us to be free on short notice…because nothing says “I’m too busy” like having to book a simple dinner date six weeks ahead of time! In the past year, keeping our evenings relatively open has allowed us to be more spontaneous — to invite a friend who passed an important German exam out for dinner on the same night to celebrate, or to quickly find time for coffee with a friend going through a divorce.

Spontaneity in cross-cultural hospitality means limiting certain friendships.

We could hang out with our Christian friends or church groups almost every night of the week if we wanted to. But in order to build deep relationships with people of other religions and cultures, we have had to decide carefully how many church commitments or relationships to take on. We sometimes have to also limit the number of new relationships with cross-cultural friends we pursue, so we can be true, spontaneously-available friends to the foreign friends we already have. When we can, we try to plan events where friends of a variety of backgrounds can spend time with us together.

Spontaneity in cross-cultural hospitality often means setting counter-cultural priorities. 

One of the main reasons that spontaneous hospitality doesn’t happen much in the West is because we are so busy with our “paid work” that we don’t have time for “unpaid work” like hospitality. It is good to regularly evaluate our standard of living and priorities, or to be willing to be counter-cultural in some of our decisions in regard to money, time and work. I am a freelancer, and sometimes people ask me why I don’t get a regular 9 to 5 job. “Wouldn’t you get extra benefits by working for an established company?” they ask. It’s hard to explain to them all the benefits we gain because my work-from-home schedule keeps me much more flexible.

You can foster spontaneity in hospitality by learning to:

1. hold your plans and schedule loosely,
2. keep a relatively organized, clean-ish home,
3. let people see your home even when it’s not organized and clean-ish,
4. always have something simple on hand that you can feed to drop-in guests,
5. offer guests simple fare or accommodations and not have to put on a show,
6. say “no” to some good things so you can say “yes” to the best things…
7. and much, much more….

The North African student I mentioned at the beginning of this post mentioned that one German student and his family have given him the gift he cherishes most: their time. That German student keeps in contact with him virtually daily. He invited the North African student to spend time with his family in their home. The North African student, who is a self-described “moderate Muslim” mused, “I don’t know if it’s because of their Christian faith that this German guy and his family take time for me. But they are the only Germans who have been so friendly and generous with their time.”

“Friendly.” “Generous with their time.” Could our foreign neighbours, coworkers and friends describe us in this way? Or are we busy running from task to task? Do they make the connection between our openness and generosity and our faith? Know that spontaneity doesn’t have to be as spontaneous as it looks. You can intentionally plan cross-cultural hospitality into your life by making some counter-cultural decisions. Let’s be known for our love — not our schedules.

This article first appeared as a guest post at Scraping Raisins on August 2, 2018. Follow Leslie Verner, the hostess at Scraping Raisins, and watch for her book about Cross-Cultural Hospitality releasing in 2019!

Making Conversation with Cross-Cultural Friends

When you are wanting to make friends with someone of another culture and background, sometimes it can be hard to find commonalities with that person. So often our friendships are built around a common interest or a common history. These friendships come naturally—but sometimes a genuine friendship with someone so different than you seems like it will have to come supernaturally. (Not a problem, we believe in the supernatural at The Serviette! 😉) What about when your international neighbour or coworker seemingly has nothing in common with you?

When I lived in South Asia, it amazed me how my American neighbour Harold made natural small talk with anyone from the man who cleaned the building or the driver of his taxi, to multinational business managers. Harold is in his fifties, but he befriended people of a wide variety of ages—taking men in their twenties or thirties out for breakfast or supper and chatting about sports scores, or visiting an elderly man in his home and reading with him.  

Talking comfortably with people who seem very different than you may not be a skill that you yet have. But it's a skill you can develop. Harold grew up in a very white, very rural American community and has learned over the years to converse with people of any and every background. I asked him to contribute ideas for this post, on how to build intentional cross-cultural friendships — both the basic conversation stage and the going deeper stage. I picked his brain for some thoughts about topics that are better to avoid, too. As I was creating this post, I got some reader input from our Instagram, and have sprinkled a few of your ideas throughout as well. I hope you'll find this post helpful! 

(Note: At The Serviette, we recommend that one-on-one relationships be with friends of the same gender. This can be especially important when interacting with people from conservative cultures. If you meet an international individual of the opposite gender that is needing friends, consider how you can introduce him or her to friends of his or her own gender, or invite them to events or gatherings where both genders will be present. If you don't have a "team" you can work together with to reach out to others, or if you have already started a relationship that you need to step down a notch, pray about it and involve some wise Christians.)

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Ideas for making cross-cultural conversation

  • Ask good questions and find something you have in common: Harold finds a topic he can discuss with someone and uses it to build conversational bridges. Some of the topics he often talks about are: soccer, basketball, cars, politics, weather, physical fitness, family, travel, or languages.

  • Talk about current events: Read the news and talk with people about a headline you saw, whether funny or serious.

  • Talk about family: People are often happy to talk about their family background, especially if they come from a warm culture.

  • Ask about cultural similarities and differences as they come up: foods, gender roles, clothing, celebrations, parenting....

  • Take up a new hobby or do an activity together: Maybe you've never been a gym person, but going to the gym might help you connect with people with whom you'd never connect otherwise. Sometimes when it's hard to find things to talk about, it's best to plan to do activities (like cooking, biking, crafting or hiking) together. Start making memories together and you'll suddenly have more in common!

  • Find something you can do for your new friend: If you have a skill or ability that you could use to help your friend, offer to help them. Maybe your friend needs a ride to the airport, or needs to borrow a tire pump.

  • Find something your new friend can do for you: If you are living in another culture, often asking someone from that culture to help you with something that comes easily for them (like translating something or helping you with an errand) is a way to develop the relationship.

  • Learn to listen and show a genuine interest in people: Ask about something they mentioned the last time you talked. It may sound nerdy, but you can even take notes on what you discussed so that you can remember and bring it up another time. Remembering a comment from two months or two years before, or remembering a preference or allergy, shows that you are paying attention and care about the relationship.

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Ideas for transitioning to deeper conversation

Some people are great at small talk (here's looking at you, North Americans) but they have a hard time turning those conversations into more meaningful conversations. As Christians, we know that life is much deeper than talking about jobs, family or hobbies. What are some tips for taking an everyday interchange and making it more meaningful?

  • Pray before you meet your friends, and during your meetings with them, for opportunities to talk about deeper things. Sometimes these kind of conversations happen on the first meeting, sometimes they happen on the twentieth.

  • Pray before a meal. If a meal is at our house, we almost always pray before it. If it's at a friend's house, we don't (unless they ask us to). If we're eating out with friends, we feel out the situation and decide whether it seems appropriate to ask to pray before the meal. I often wonder what our guests think about us praying before meals, and one of the rare pieces of feedback we got was this — one of our international guests told me that her husband went home and said to her, "We could pray before our meals like they do, if you want." They both come from culturally Christian homes and don't pray before meals, but had seen it done before.

  • Post Truth on your walls or in conspicuous places. If it's appropriate, talk about it. Harold would often read verses he had posted on his walls with his guests. Recently we had a guest who kept turning his head to read a verse on our wall, and a few weeks later my husband had a great spiritual conversation with his girlfriend.

  • Begin a habit of reading the Bible after each meal. Some families or individuals have this as a built-in tradition, that after a meal they always read a passage together or pray together. If your guest doesn't feel comfortable with this aspect of being at your house, I suppose they can find excuses not to come again, but most people are respectful if this is your tradition.

  • Share answers to prayer or ask to pray with your friend. When someone asks about something that has happened in your life, don't be afraid to mention praying about it or seeing God answer prayer. Or at the end of your visit, ask if you can pray with your friend for something you've been discussing.

  • Learn to ask deeper questions. These kinds of questions might feel funny coming out of your mouth at first, if you're not used to asking them, but if you practice them, they'll start to come out more naturally. At our house we have a cup full of interesting questions and sometimes we ask a guest to pull out a question and we discuss it around the table. A couple of ideas for spiritual questions are:

    • What do you think is the purpose of life?

    • Do you believe in life after death?

    • Where do you get your ideas about life and death?

    • Have you ever read Jesus’ teachings?

  • Pull out your smartphone. Yeah, normally we don't recommend using your smartphone while visiting with friends. But if you have the Bible on your smartphone, Harold suggests that it can be an opportunity to share a verse or story that relates somehow to your conversation. In some apps you can even show your friend the verse in his or her own native language, or in two languages side-by-side.

  • Invite friends to celebrate Christian holidays with you: Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and other special holidays with Christian ties can be a great springboard into spiritual conversations through shared traditions like songs, readings, skits, or stories.

  • Share your personal spiritual journey: We have a friend who always encourages Christians to share with anyone about their own journey to faith in Christ. As he says, people don't ask for permission to share their story about how drunk they were last weekend or how fun their vacation was, so you don't have to ask permission to tell the story of how you found the One who gave your life purpose and meaning.

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Conversations to (perhaps) delay

There are some topics that are not usually best for a first conversation. Most of these will be obvious. However, take these thoughts with a grain of salt; they're not necessarily taboo topics, but perhaps areas in which to tread lightly until you see how your friend reacts. God has made people with such a wide variety of temperaments and interests — some talk about these sensitive topics from the first five minutes of the conversation, and some would never bring them up. 

  • Social status or finances: From your conversations and interactions, you will likely start to get a feel what financial or social level of society your friend comes from. But let them initiate any sharing of information about finances or social status. You'll usually start to get a feeling as you learn about the person, whether they're scraping pennies together for groceries and wearing the same two T-shirts, or talking about their private school education and flying to their home country several times a year. (I'm pretty sure I insulted a refugee friend by offering him some dishes we were getting rid of, because I eventually realized he is a wealthy man and hates receiving hand-outs!) But don't be too surprised if an international friend asks you direct financial questions; depending where they come from, they might think it's normal.

  • Religious background: It may be obvious right away which religion a new friend belongs to (hello, headscarf) but if it's not, you don't always need to ask. Sometimes I've found out after a few years that someone grew up in a Catholic or Buddhist home, that someone's mother was an angry ex-Jehovah's Witness, or that a person follows the Waldorf philosophy. Finding out these details often does help understand where they're coming from. But you might want to be cautious about how directly to ask about these topics. Harold suggested that a roundabout way of finding out what religion someone belongs to might be to ask what their favourite holidays or foods are, or what kinds of hobbies they have or clubs they belong to. (On the other hand, people from other non-Western cultures are often accustomed to discussing religion and it might be a topic that comes up in your first conversation — that is also OK.)

  • Political topics: People from Eastern cultures may be much more accustomed to talking about politics with new friends than we are. But sometimes even our different nationalities can make these topics sensitive, like when a Syrian hears that America bombed Syria last night, and is having supper with an American the next night. We have noticed that our Chinese friends have a wide variety of opinions about the Chinese government; the perspective you hear in Western news might be the opposite of what they're hearing from Chinese news sources. Be sensitive and tread carefully; don't burn relational bridges for the sake of a political opinion.

  • Dating / marriage / sexuality: In some conservative cultures, dating is not a thing, marriages are at least semi-arranged, and homosexuality is hidden. With anyone, these topics can be sensitive - maybe your new friend is divorced but many people don’t know about it, or maybe his family is pressuring him to marry and that’s why he moved abroad. We have an atheist friend who is probably involved in a homosexual lifestyle, but since he's never directly said so, we've never directly asked; it doesn't affect how we relate to him. Many of our friends or Harold's friends have shared really openly about these topics, but the conversation has usually started at the friend's initiative.

  • Children / fertility: In many cultures, a lot of pressure is put on couples to have children and to have no heir is virtually the worst possible fate. You know a person's ability to give birth is not what gives them value, so don't add to that pressure by asking too many related questions upon first meeting. Whether your friends have chosen not to have children, cannot have children, or have lost children, let them choose when or if they want to talk about it.

  • Weight: Did you know that in some cultures, your weight is a common topic of conversation? Not cool. Even if a friend is from a culture where weight is commonly commented on, I would not encourage you to comment on his or her weight. And please don't ask if a lady is pregnant unless she brings it up. I have one international friend with whom I talk about weight, and that's because he's been very open with us about his goal to lose weight, and I encourage him when I can see that he's slimming down. But that would never have been something we would have discussed at the beginning of our relationship.

Learning new styles of conversation

An interesting point that came up in the conversation on Instagram was that even the way we converse with our cross-cultural friends and what we consider "normal" in conversation may need to flex to accommodate our international friends' cultures. For example: 

  • What might seem to you like an awkward silence in the conversation might be completely normal to your new friend. Not everyone is accustomed to there being ongoing conversation for the whole visit.

  • If your new friend doesn't ask questions, this might also be a cultural difference. You can learn to share unprompted and not have to wait for a question to discuss a new topic.

Be aware that asking too many questions or talking too much might be overwhelming to your new friend. 

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Conversations with friends of other cultural backgrounds can be challenging. But not always! We have friends of completely different backgrounds who are much more comfortable to be around and talk with than people of very similar backgrounds. A kind and genuine way of living and speaking will be used of God as you begin to

  • make conversation,

  • go deeper in conversation,

  • avoid undue offence in conversation,

  • and learn new styles of conversation.

I hope you will find what Harold has found, what my husband and I have found, and what many others who have made friendships across cultural barriers have found: deep, supernatural conversations and friendships that transcend the boundaries of what seems naturally possible.

10 Things (about Cross-Cultural Hospitality) I Didn't Know Last Year - 2017 Edition

BBC News has an interesting column on their website called "10 Things We Didn't Know Last Week" where they feature some of the most interesting tidbits they learned in the last week. At the end of this second year at The Serviette, I wanted to do what I did last year on the same day — share ten things I didn't know last year, but that I learned this year through hospitality or through The Serviette. I hope you learn a few things from this list, too! 

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  1. Partnering with other Christians in your hospitality efforts is a thing. We're learning to invite others along to help us with a meal or party, if they're interested, or to accept offers of help. Just having one extra like-minded person along to assist with preparing, serving, or cleaning up after a meal can make such a difference. Sometimes partnering with others is almost a necessity, such as when singles want to reach out to entire families of Muslims, it's best to partner with a family or group where both genders are represented.

  2. Speaking of which, this year I noticed that the best way to teach cross-cultural hospitality is to invite others along to be part of what you're doing. That Christian friend who says, "I don't think I could ever host a Muslim for dinner" is (perhaps) a friend you can simply invite to the table with your Muslim friend. So much of what we learn about hospitality simply comes from being hosted. It's fun to think about how to "'pair" guests of different cultures who might otherwise never eat a meal together.

  3. Your international friends might not know the difference between Good Friday and Black Friday. Hosting someone at Easter can give you the opportunity to answer this question and others!

  4. Most people from other nations eat their potatoes peeled; they may not be big fans of eating the skin like we often do now in North America.

  5. Chinese guests often enjoy being asked to help with a meal. A Chinese reader of The Serviette offered this explanation to what I had observed about our Chinese guests: "Chinese people show affection primarily through actions. So preparing a meal together is one way to express that, especially given how central food is in relationship building. Preparing a meal, eating together, and pitching in to wash up is how you show care. It's how my grandma taught my mom, and how my mom taught me."

  6. Reverse hospitality, or offering to take a meal to someone else's house, might be just what a friend needs when it's harder for him or her to get out. This year a friend offered to bring over homemade pizza dough and toppings and make pizza at our place, and it hit the spot.

  7. Games that require knowledge of pop culture are usually not so fun for internationals.

  8. “God has made forks and spoons, pans, pots, and plates weapons of war against the darkness" - read more here.

  9. Having an outsider live in your home with you (for real life, not just vacation) is one of the best ways to go deeper with that person and have an impact with them for eternity. Having a full-time guest in your home can also be challenging, but I'd encourage you to consider it. The eternal pros often outweigh the temporary cons. For example, this year my husband met a German man who became a follower of Jesus through living with a Christian host family in America.

  10. Prayer about specific hospitality ventures works! Maybe I knew this before this year in theory, but in 2017, we saw several potentially-difficult situations resolved even better than we could have expected. God can work out the details of your hospitality ventures, if you pray about them.

Thanks for being part of this growing community of hosts and wannabe hosts who are learning to share our lives with people of other cultures, religions and backgrounds! Our ongoing conversation about the ins and outs of welcoming new and different people into our homes always encourages me. I look forward to continuing to learn along with you in 2018!

Showing Hospitality When You Can't Open Your Doors

Although I regularly advocate for opening our doors and practicing hospitality in our own homes, there are situations that make opening our doors impossible. You know the kind of stuff I'm talking about — illness or overtime, a busy stage with little children, a spouse who's not on the same page about hospitality, a home that's too small or inconveniently located to host guests — and the list could go on. Or maybe a person you're trying to love on is unable to come to your home due to his or her own challenges or location.

Here are 8 ideas for how you can practice heart-felt hospitality — every day, even — when you can't open your doors. When these kinds of activities come out of a caring, generous spirit, they are hospitality — just on different turf. 

(Keep in mind that depending on the culture of the friends to whom you are showing hospitality, some of these gestures might be more or less appreciated. But it usually doesn't hurt to ask if you can help your cross-cultural friend in one of these ways anyway, and see what kind of response you get.) 

1. Pray, and let your friend know you are praying. 

Maybe you feel like "all you can do is pray". Well, that's the best thing you could do for your friend anyway! Sometimes it's appropriate to tell your friend that you're praying for them, too, so they know that they're not far from your thoughts. Don't be too hesitant to tell a friend of another worldview or religious background that you're praying for them — even if they don't believe in prayer, they usually don't think it can hurt, either!

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2. Write a letter or a thoughtful email. Or call.

In this world of instant, brief and trivial communication, a kind and thoughtful letter in the mail or even a personal email means a lot. In the time it would take you to prepare your house and a meal for guests, you could probably write and send 4 or 5 letters to people who'd appreciate them. I know several elderly people who don't have guests into their homes very often, but write longhand letters faithfully and consistently — they are expressing a hospitable spirit! If you usually communicate by text or email, giving someone a call can also be a kind way to show you care.

3. Hang around longer than usual.

If you're a church-goer, you probably know that there are the attendees who always rush out the door as soon as the service is over, and the attendees whom you almost always have to kick out of the building because they stay so long. I am always happy when I see the latter — people wanting to linger and spend time with each other. It's a good sign. And in a culture where "time is money" or individuality is prized above community, your decision to stay a little longer at a gathering you're attending and simply chat with guests and make them feel welcome is a precious gift. Maybe you can't invite them to your house for a meal, but if possible, setting aside your rush or loosening up your tight schedule to give people time to share what's on their hearts — that's hospitality, no matter where it happens. 

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4. Offer to visit your friend at his or her house instead of yours.

This is not something that everyone will take you up on, but you might be surprised how many people prefer to have you visit their houses than not to see you at all! 😊 In many Eastern cultures, people are more honoured to host than to be hosted, so your visit is an honour to them! If you want to suggest to someone that you'd like to drop by, try asking if you can come at a time that is clearly between mealtimes, so they know they don't have to cook, and even say specifically that you don't need to be fed anything. Or tell them you'd like to bring food with you (see #8, below). I always remember a single friend of my mom's who cooked a meal and brought it to our house when we were kids — her out-of-the-ordinary gesture (because she lived in a small house) stood out to me because it was so kind but unusual.

If your friend is from a cold culture and you think he or she might be worried about how long you'll stay, you can even give a timeframe, like "Could I drop by for half an hour on my way to the store?" If your friend is from a warm culture, he or she might be happy to have you drop by spontaneously.

5. Send flowers or a surprise gift.

If your friend is local, you can drop off a gift at his or her door. But through the internet, you can usually easily get a gift to your friend's door, no matter where you or they live. This costs a bit more than sending a letter, but if you can afford it, it can be extra fun for the recipient. (This is just my weird sense of humour, but the idea of surprising someone a stuffed organ after a surgery makes me laugh. Warning: may not be considered funny in some cultures. 😊)

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6. Offer to help someone with tasks they need help doing, or to loan them objects they need so they don't have to buy them.

Internationals often need help with documents, finding housing,  or other various tasks before their language and cultural skills are up to par. People who are sick, elderly or particularly busy (like with small children) can often use help with a few random tasks around the house. Lots of people won't ask for help, but if you make a specific offer (like "Next week I have time to go the immigration office with you. Do you want me to help you?") they may take you up on it. Also, international students sometimes borrow odds and ends like tools or gadgets they don't have from us. A friend of mine has been cleaning her elderly neighbours' toilets regularly for years — a sort of reverse hospitality — and having occasional meaningful conversations with them as a result. This year, her neighbour started reading the Bible!  

7. Offer to drop off / pick up someone at the airport, or drive them somewhere they need to go.

Singles, internationals, or people without a vehicle — OK, or basically anyone — can be especially glad for this kind of hospitality. If you hear someone is coming or going and you have time to drop them off or pick them up, ask if they could use your help. It's always nicer to have someone ask if they can help, than to have to ask for the favour. And airport parking or taxis can be really expensive. 

8. Find creative ways to share or provide meals. 

Take someone out to eat, send food to them, or sign them up for a meal service for a few meals at your expense. I've seen people who don't like cooking or can't cook regularly due to their schedules offer to take their friends out on their own tab — always a kind gesture. You can help cook or serve a meal somewhere other than in your home: at a friend's house, at a soup kitchen, at church. Parents of young children have commented that it's a treat when friends bring food to them, and eat with them at their place, so that their children can be in their normal environment and/or have naps at the usual times.

These are just a few ways I've thought of to show the generous, giving spirit of hospitality even if it's not in our homes. Do you have any more ideas you can add to my list, especially of things that don't necessarily take a lot of time, but show that you care? 

Understanding Cultural Differences in Hospitality

In 2014, this Canadian/Brazilian moved from India to Germany. The extreme differences between Indian and German cultures was quite an adjustment for me! For example, in my apartment building in India, neighbours would meet me in the hall and invite me to come over for tea. But most of our German neighbours at our last apartment barely looked at us, let alone spoke with us. (One even reprimanded my friend for talking to her son when he was going out the front door. "I've taught him not to talk to strangers.") Indians expected a reply to text messages within minutes of sending the message; but Germans sometimes don't reply to a text message for a week. Indians would spontaneously ask me at 11pm if I wanted to go out for coffee, but if we invite Germans spontaneously to do something, 80% of the time they turn down the offer. Hosting and being hosted looks very different in Germany than it did in India. Cultural differences can range from entertaining to frustrating, but one thing I'm learning is that it helps to have a framework for understanding our differences.

After arriving in Germany, I finally read Foreign to Familiar, a book recommended to me by several people. The author, Sarah A. Lanier, has lived and worked cross-culturally for many years and in her book she lumps typical cultural traits into two categories: "hot culture" and "cold culture". I found her generalizations to be helpful in giving insight into relationships I have had or currently have with people of other cultures.  

Being able to identify which culture a guest (or potential guest) is from and adjust your hospitality accordingly can be very effective! For example, Foreign to Familiar encouraged me to drop in spontaneously on my friends of certain cultures, but to plan ahead with my friends of other cultures. This post will cover a few of the main ideas of her book, with the intention of applying it in the context of cross-cultural hospitality. I've broken up the post accordingly: 

  1. What are “hot” and “cold” cultures?

  2. What are the key differences between hot and cold cultures?

  3. Tips for people of cold cultures hosting people of hot cultures

  4. Tips for people of hot cultures hosting people of cold cultures

Of course, these cultural observations are not an excuse for getting to know your particular friend or neighbour and learning his or her preferences. People are unique! But if this article helps you to ask better questions sooner, and learn how to show love to your friend or acquaintance faster, I have accomplished my goal.

What are “hot” and “cold” cultures?

Lanier categorizes everyone into either "hot" or "cold" culture categories. The main difference is that for hot (sometimes rural/tribal) cultures the ruling value is relationships, while for cold (sometimes urban) cultures, the ruling value is efficiency. These cultural differences may have developed because of the weather and economies of various parts of the world. In areas where the weather was warm, people lived off the land and were very interdependent. In areas where the weather was colder, people developed a more task-oriented, independent nature and more industrialized economies. In any case, there are many distinct traits that bind these cultures together worldwide.

Hot cultures include:

People from the southern USA, South and Central/Latin Americans, Israelis with a Middle Eastern background, Russians, indigenous Alaskans, people of the Andes and Himalayas, Eastern Europeans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Africans, Mediterraneans (except Jewish Israelis), Middle Easterners and most of the rest of the world not included in the cold cultures list.

Cold cultures include:

People from the Northern USA and Canada, Israelis of European background, Swiss and Europeans living north of the Swiss, Caucasians from New Zealand, Australians, southern Brazilians, South Africans and areas largely settled by Europeans (like Argentina).

Are you from a hot or a cold culture?
Was your last international guest from a hot or a cold culture?

What are the key differences between people of hot cultures and people of cold cultures?

Relationship orientation vs. task orientation

People from hot cultures tend to build their lives around people and relationships, while people from cold cultures tend to plan in terms of tasks and timelines.

Indirect communication vs. direct communication

People from hot cultures tend to prefer indirect communication and don't want to harm a relationship by giving an answer someone does not want to hear. Cold cultures tend to prioritize direct communication because it "gets the job done"!

Group Identity vs. Individualism

Hot cultures raise children who see themselves  as a part of a larger group (family, school, church, etc. ) People from hot cultures will often maintain very close contact with their extended family, often living inter-generationally under the same roof throughout their adult lives. Cold cultures tend to think more individualistically—"I'll do it my way"—and raise their children to live on their own and make decisions more independently. 

Inclusion vs. Privacy

Because of the group mentality of people from hot cultures, they automatically expect to be included or include others in whatever is happening in their presence. People from cold cultures tend to be more individualistic, meaning that they expect to be given a measure of privacy or to be asked if someone else can join the group. 

Tips for people of cold cultures hosting people of hot cultures

If you're someone from a cold culture who's seeking to bridge gaps and make friendships with people of warm cultures, these ideas may help. 

  • Small talk is important in relationships with people of hot cultures. “Getting straight to business” is the cold-culture, task-oriented way of visiting with someone, but hot culture people prioritize a feel-good atmosphere.

  • Your hot culture friend will be willing to flex his schedule or time for your relationship, and will likely expect the same in return.

  • Good hospitality is best offered in your home, because a restaurant is impersonal (there may be some exceptions to this rule — Chinese people often take guests to a restaurant). An overnight guest from a warm culture may feel hurt if you put him or her up in a hotel instead of at your home.

  • Feel free to spontaneously drop in on your warm culture friend, but don’t expect that he will necessarily drop everything he is doing when you arrive. He may just invite you along to do what he was already doing (going to pick up the kids, watering the garden, cooking supper) when you dropped in.

  • Avoid yes/no questions to avoid embarrassing your warm culture friend in any way. Being friendly is essential, as is phrasing questions in a way that they don’t offend by their directness.

  • Hot culture guests may value making you feel good more than telling you the truth. It might be difficult to tell when someone of a hot culture needs to say “no” but is saying “yes” because he or she wants to preserve your relationship. People of hot cultures will almost always say “yes” to a direct question because they feel rude saying “no”. One way to overcome this and find out the truth about a situation may be to ask indirectly — go through another person to ask indirect questions around a topic that needs discussing. (See Lanier's book for more ideas on this subject.)

  • People from hot cultures often enjoy having someone with them at all times. Lanier wrote about being hosted in Africa, where the hostess purposely put another guest in the room “so you won’t have to be alone.” I have noticed this with Indian friends too, that eating meals on their own is very difficult for them — they would much rather eat with someone else. The loneliness of a hot culture person living in a cold culture can be overwhelming, because he or she is not used to living life and making so many decisions on his or her own. Being aware of this can help you to offer companionship or help in ways your hot culture friend really appreciates.

  • A longer-term guest from a hot culture who is staying with you may assume he or she is included in anything that is going on, and may expect that everything will be shared or done together. Be careful — your guest may feel slighted if you mention something you’ll be doing without intending to invite him or her along.

  • Food in particular is seen as something be shared. Taking food along to share with people of a hot culture (even if that is just taking food to share in the lunchroom with your Filipino or Indian coworkers) builds relationships. In a hot culture, Lanier generalizes that “no one is left out, no one is lonely.” Possessions are often shared in hot cultures; it’s not “my” bike, it’s “our” bike.

  • People of hot cultures may appreciate being included, even spontaneously and even by a stranger. The author wrote about how she was eating alone at a restaurant, saw a Mexican family eating at a nearby table, and asked if she could eat with them. They thought it was completely normal to eat together and were in fact happy that she had asked to eat with them. Asking someone of a warm culture for a ride if they are going where you are going is almost expected — they would think it strange for you to go somewhere on your own, anyway!

  • Usually in hot cultures, the host takes care of his overnight guest’s expenses, and the guest brings a gift. As a cold culture host of a warm culture guest, you might even consider giving your guest some spending money if he or she is coming from another country.

  • In most cultures, when you invite someone out to eat, it means you’re paying the bill.

  • Whole families are usually included in events outside of the workplace. People from warm cultures don’t really understand “adults only” events in the same way people of cold cultures would. When you invite your hot culture contacts to spend time with you outside of working hours, know that they might assume they can bring their families along.

Tips for people of hot cultures hosting people of cold cultures

Probably most of the readers of this blog are coming from cold (ie: Western European or North American) cultures rather than hot cultures. However, here are some points for you, the hot culture host, to consider when hosting someone from a cold culture.

  • Usually a friend from a cold culture feels respected when you honour his or her time by being punctual. Your friend probably thinks in terms of tasks to be completed that day, and may have other things on his or her schedule.

  • Cold culture guests appreciate planning and advance invitations. Their refusal of an invitation may not be because they don't want to come — it may simply be because your last-minute invitation for Saturday lunch interfered with their efficient Saturday plans prepared days in advance.

  • What your host or guest considers honest communication, you may consider too direct. Try not to take offence, and be grateful that your cold culture friend is telling you what he or she truly wants! If you ask a preference, you may not get the answer you hoped for, but you will usually find out the truth.

  • If your cold culture guest is staying with you overnight or for an extended period, he or she may enjoy having some time alone. People of cold cultures generally appreciate privacy and/or a private room to sleep in when possible. (I will always remember how a Brazilian friend asked me to stay with her while her husband was away, and then assumed I would sleep in her bed with her. I politely asked if I could stay in the guest room instead. She did not mind my request, but in her warm culture way, she had assumed we'd sleep in the same room and same bed.)

  • It’s good to preface any questions that might be taken as intrusions with words like “Do you have a minute?” or “Is this a good time for a question?”

  • People of cold cultures may or or may not include family members in invitations to socialize outside the workplace. Be sure to indicate whether spouses and children are also invited to parties you are hosting.

  • If you are staying with a cold culture hosts, be aware that in cold cultures, hospitality is often seen as something that takes the host’s full attention, whether it is for an afternoon or for days at at time. For this reason, asking to stay with a cold culture host for an extended period of time might sound overwhelming to him or her.

I hope that some of what you have found here will be helpful in your next encounter with a guest or host of a different culture. Even as I edited my notes again today, I thanked God again for His grace which can cover our cultural foibles. I realize how "cold" some of my attitudes must have seemed in warm India, and yet God allowed me to develop deep relationships with Indian friends even with little formal cross-cultural preparation. Tips like these can help, but when your heart is filled with God's love for bringing the stranger in, people will sense that no matter your level of cross-cultural savvy. I thought of Jodie's wise words when she shared about Hospitality to Chinese Muslims

"I think humility in cross-cultural relationships 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."

May these thoughts remind us to be humble and open to other cultures' ways of relating to one another. May they simply help us to express His love more clearly and more understandably to people who are on the outside needing love.

Four Ways to Make Serving Meals Easier

Last year I wrote a post about Showing Hospitality Without Cooking because serving meals is not the only form of hospitality. However, we do talk a lot on The Serviette about sharing meals because it is one of the most effective ways to get to know others and to let them get to know you. Plus, everyone has to eat each day—why not do so together? 

My husband and I have months when we have lots of guests, and then months when we find ourselves juggling more responsibilities than usual and have fewer guests over for meals than we'd like. It's easy for me to make excuses as to why we can't have guests on a particular evening. However, here are four ways I'm learning to make serving meals to guests more doable, even on a weeknight or with short notice.

Intentionally make a simple meal.

When it's just the two of us, sometimes I try time-consuming things like making my own tortillas or stuffing my own cannelloni or putting six bowls of toppings on the table. But when we're hosting more than a couple of people or when I don't have a lot of time, I try to choose one-dish meals or at least one-course meals which are easy to scale. You can buy canned (gasp!) instead of fresh, or buy ready-made instead of making your own, if it makes the difference between you having the energy to have guests or not. And am I the only one who thinks soup with a hearty bread and cheese side counts as a full meal? I even serve frozen or boxed pizza to guests once in a while. We often serve chocolate with coffee after the meal, which gives our guests something sweet without us having to plan a dessert. Fruit can be another easy "dessert". 

Let your guests help you.

Depending on the culture of your guest, he or she may offer to bring food along or to help you clean up after the meal. If you feel comfortable doing so, take your guest up on his offer! You can chat over vegetable chopping just as easily as you can chat over coffee in the living room. We had one friend in our last city who came over regularly and was particularly good about noticing what needed to be done. If she walked in and we hadn’t set the table yet, she started setting it. I tried to learn to make the best of her help by keeping the dishes or disposables consistently in the same places so that she felt comfortable opening the cupboards and lending a hand. And speaking of disposables...

Do what you can to reduce clean-up time.

Last year we started using disposable dishes for parties or large groups because we realized that some nights after guests left, we were spending over an hour cleaning up dishes. For us, going to bed an hour earlier was surely worth the extra cost of simple paper plates and cups. In Germany most everything can be recycled, which makes us feel better about using disposables from time to time. This year, we moved to a bigger apartment and were able to buy a dishwasher, and this has significantly shortened the clean-up time after guests and we buy way fewer disposables. Another way to save on clean-up time is to wash the dishes together while the guest is still with you. Sometimes if we have a guest who stays extra long, I get up and start cleaning while we're chatting. (I think sometimes it's OK to show your guest that it's getting late and you have things you need to do.)

Remember why you're serving the meal.

The true heart behind hospitality isn’t to impress your guests, it’s to love them. When you have the right heart attitude about what you’re doing, you’ll be surprised how much easier the rest gets.

Reader Tips for Hospitality in 2017

As part of our year-end giveaway at The Serviette, we asked our readers to give their best hospitality tips. Here are some of their top ideas on hospitality:

  1. Act now: If you keep telling God you're waiting until you have a bigger or nicer house to practice hospitality, it's not likely that you'll start hosting guests even when your physical circumstances have changed. Hospitality is a matter of the heart. What's most important is not your house or your cooking; it's your heart to obey God and love people. Don't wait until everything is perfect to show hospitality, because there will always be a reason to not have someone over.

  2. Be brave: Pick up the phone, send the email or text...do whatever it takes to conquer your fear and invite guests before you can change your mind. Hosting guests can take courage, but it's always worth it!

  3. Keep it simple. Simplify the menu while being respectful of cultural and food preferences. Simple is easier for you and makes people more relaxed! You don't have to have people over for a full meal; no one objects to being invited over for coffee or dessert. Use paper serviettes instead of cloth ones. You want your guests to feel loved and cozy, but that doesn't mean you have to make hosting complicated.

  4. Make it a group project: It's OK to have everyone bring some food to share. It's easier for you, and everyone sees at least one thing on the table that he or she likes to eat! Or, have everyone bring an ingredient and cook the meal together. One hostess wrote that she's been amazed at the conversations that develop and barriers that are removed by cooking together, as opposed to just eating together.

  5. Clean up ahead of time: Any extra preparation you can do before planned guests arrive, like washing up pots and pans, makes you freer to enjoy your time with your guests.

  6. Be culturally sensitive: When hosting people with little experience trying new foods, it's also OK to order food from a restaurant that serves food they are accustomed to eating. This shows honour, in that you thought about what your guests would like, and reduces potential stress, because you don't have to try to replicate a dish that you won't make as well as they do. If you live in a culture that is not your own, learn how locals show hospitality, but also consider adding your own twist when you host them. For example, one reader wrote that her neighbours always serve coffee, so when they come to her house, she serves them coffee from her home country—a little twist on what they're accustomed to.

  7. Watch your tongue. Be careful how you talk to your guests, or what you talk about with your guests. You can set a gracious atmosphere in your home by how you choose to use your tongue.

  8. Let your pretty be practical: Don't use anything tall in your table centrepieces, so your guests' view is not blocked. Making the house smell nice doesn't have to be expensive. One reader says she boils cinnamon sticks and cloves in water on top of the stove before a party, to fragrance the air!

  9. Have someone over at least once a week: it's an excellent motivator to clean the house every week and then to keep it neat and tidy! One hostess with three small children wrote that even though sometimes it feels like cleaning up and hosting once a week is a huge job, once it's done, she's never regretted hosting guests. Once the guests leave, she starts thinking about whom to invite the next week. That way the house never gets too disorganized before she has to tidy up again!

  10. Encourage drop-in guests: Have an open door policy, especially with your neighbours. The more chances you have to practice hospitality, the easier it becomes and the more you want to do it. Allowing drop-in guests helps you realize that it's OK if the house isn't spotless or if you don't have great food on hand. Spontaneous guests help you become more comfortable and allow to develop a more natural hospitality style.

What stood out to me the most about these hospitable people's responses is that they make opening their home to outsiders a regular part of their routine, but they know it doesn't have to be a grand affair every time. Many of them focused their tips on how to simplify hosting so it can happen more often. Remembering the heart and motivation behind hospitality makes all the difference, so you don't get overly distracted with the details of meal planning or clean-up. What worked well for you in your hospitality world in 2016? How will you change up your hospitality routines in 2017? Here's to a year full of open doors, which lead to open hearts!

10 Things (about Cross-Cultural Hospitality) I Didn't Know Last Year

BBC News has an interesting column on their website called "10 Things We Didn't Know Last Week" where they feature some of the most interesting tidbits they learned in the last week. As we wrap up the first year of The Serviette, I wanted to do something similar—I'm sharing ten things I didn't know last year, but that I learned this year through developing The Serviette. I hope you learn something new through this list, too!

  1. One creative way to make an international friend is to befriend one of the servers at your favourite Asian restaurant.

  2. Even though sometimes we think that speaking to international guests in their second or third language seems less than ideal for deep conversation, an American in Korea observed that Koreans often share more openly in English than in Korean. We've also met people this year who say they prefer to read the Bible in a language other than their first!

  3. Asking a Muslim friend the meaning of his or her name can be a meaningful conversation starter. Your friend might also want to know about the origin of your name or how you chose your children's names.

  4. Hosting Mormon missionaries for dinner can be a great opportunity for meaningful conversation around your table. I was even told that if you invite them over, they're not supposed to say "no"!

  5. A casual weekly supper club where different club members take turns hosting each other can be an interesting opportunity to eat communally regularly, and to see each other in various roles (sometimes as host, sometimes as guest).

  6. Desserts that can be cut into squares are great when you're feeding a crowd, because they're less tedious to put together and can be cut bigger or smaller depending how many guests appear on your doorstep!

  7. When you're hosting long-term overnight guests, it's important to get enough rest, so that you aren't cranky with your guests. Try to give yourself some margin if you're opening your home to someone who is not usually there.

  8. Lots of hosts and hostesses consider themselves introverts but still open their doors to strangers and guests regularly. (Here's one introvert hostess' story.)

  9. Sometimes foreign guests may bring you food gifts that you find hard to swallow. If you're fortunate, maybe you can eat the food after your guest leaves. One such food recipient's creative response was to ask her friend if she could take the gift of food home "to share with her children"—which saved her from having to choke down the whole dish of fermented rice right then and there.

  10. If you are living in a country which is not your own, offering hospitality to people from your host country (no matter how intimidating that might seem, since you're the outsider) can be one of the best ways to begin to integrate into your new homeland.

I learned so much this year about the power of hospitality this year, through interviews and interactions on social media with all of you. A personal lesson about hospitality that I learned is that the people who are in our home regularly will often become our closest and most reliable friends in that season of life. Hospitality based on truth and love gives an opportunity for unique, meaningful relationships to develop. While sometimes we avoid hospitality because we think we don't have time for it, often it is the people to whom we have gifted our time who end up graciously giving us their time and love back when we need it. 

Thanks for following us during this first year here at The Seviette—here's to many more years of serving others by sharing our tables, and creatively bridging cultural and religious gaps with grace and truth!

Remembering People's Names as an Expression of Hospitality

remember name.jpg

From the get-go, one of the most challenging things about befriending internationals is often learning their names. East Asian names seem particularly difficult for Westerners. It happened to us again today—a Chinese guy showed up at our new fellowship and sat behind us, looking timid but open. We found out it was his first Sunday at the church. My husband chatted him up and asked him his name and then tried multiple times (somewhat unsuccessfully) to pronounce it correctly. I heard the guest's name about 5 times, and within 10 minutes I had already forgotten it. But I need to work harder at remembering names, even Chinese names!

Not long ago I read a short piece by Mary Mohler on hospitality and she spoke of remembering people's names as a simple but important element of hospitality. I had never thought of it that way. She says,

"Can you associate with the common problem of being introduced to someone and immediately forgetting that person's name? Many people do not listen well when meeting someone new....and then feel reluctant to admit that [they] were not paying attention. The wrong assumption is commonly made that those who remember people's names are just 'great with names,' as if they have a genetic marker for that. The truth is that those who are adept at remembering names invest time and effort in learning them. Consider it an act of encouragement and yes, an expression of hospitality to call someone by name. Do you know anyone who is not pleased to be called by her name?"

"Consider it an expression of hospitality to call someone by name. — M. Mohler

Mohler suggested intentionally learning someone's name by listening carefully, saying the name to yourself or picturing the name, and taking notes that will jog your memory (if you are trying to remember several names). YouTube has lots of additional ideas for how to remember people's namesHowever, learning an international person's name can be especially difficult...although you may find that it gets a little easier as you meet more and more people of the same culture, because some names you will hear again. 

This is my favourite tool for learning a person's name: as long as the situation is appropriate, I ask for his or her phone number and in the process, get him or her to spell the name out. Sometimes I do this at the end of a conversation in which I have already forgotten the person's name. A simple, "Can you help me spell your name?" (and then letting that person type the name into your phone) can help overcome the awkwardness of already having forgotten the name, and give you a chance to learn the person's name before the next time you meet.

Try asking people of other cultures the meaning of their names.

Another name-related tip that I learned from Jodie, who shared with us about hospitality to Muslims, is to ask people of other cultures the meaning of their names. In many cultures the meaning of someone's name is significant. When you hear the name, it means nothing to you, but if you spoke the person's native language, it probably would. Lately I asked a few Muslims the meaning of their names, and this both provided a bit more connection with them and also served as an additional data point to associate with their foreign-sounding names. Knowing a person's name meaning can also provide an interesting conversation starter or a reminder of how to pray for your international friend. The two names I learned recently had something to do with "peace" and "star"—meanings that I can easily associate with a prayer I have for those people.

Mohler tells a story of how someone told her once that her simple act of remembering his name had brightened his mood and encouraged him in the midst of a gloomy time in his studies. Knowing that motivated her to keep learning names. You will also find, as you work at remembering stranger's names, people will feel God's love through this little act of love on your part. Something as simple (or not-so-simple) as learning an international acquaintance's name can build a foundation for a meaningful relationship, and express God's heart of hospitality.

Christian Hospitality to Mormon Missionaries

A few weeks ago, we had some American Mormon missionaries who work in our city over for supper. I met them on a train here here in Germany, and as North American expats here, we instantly had something in common. After chatting for half an hour on the train, we exchanged numbers and they texted us the next day to ask if we wanted to meet up. My husband and I asked what they like to eat and invited them to come over for a meal about a week later. During that week we took in a lot of information so that we could have an intelligent conversation with them.

We were not sure what their plan for the evening would be: would they want to discuss Mormonism the whole time, or would they be happy to spend the evening small talking with North Americans and not proselytizing? In the end, they did both. We had a nice conversation during supper about our backgrounds, our families, and life as expats in Germany. Around the end of the meal, we started talking about more spiritual topics and they even shared an introductory lesson about Mormonism with us. We read a few portions of the Bible and the Book of Mormon with them, and interacted with some of their ideas. The conversation was pleasant, but by the end of the evening they could see that we were not planning on giving Mormonism a try. 

Overall, we thought it was a really profitable evening, and would encourage well-prepared, prayerful Christians to consider the next Mormon missionaries they see as potential supper guests! After all, it's their job to hang out with people, right? Why not with you? 

I don't want to make this a "how-to" post because we've hosted Mormons only once. I just want to share some thoughts about why inviting Mormon missionaries into your home might be a valuable investment of your time. 

Here are a few things that make Mormon missionaries easy to have over for a meal:

They're young and unintimidating.

I knew that Mormon missionaries always look young, but I found out from our guests that people older than 27 can't "serve a mission" with the Mormon church. Many Mormon missionaries, like the ones who came here, go on their mission almost directly out of high school. Our guests were about 20 years old.

They're mannerly.

Our guests asked polite questions throughout the meal, had good table manners, offered to help clean up afterward, and didn't really force any of their "church talk" on us. I think this probably comes from their family upbringing but maybe also from training they receive before being sent out. Mormons are known for their good manners and our guests were no exception; I've had Christian guests who had much poorer manners than these two.

They're probably lonely.

While Mormons are serving their mission (two years for guys, one-and-a-half years for girls), they're only allowed two phone calls home...per year. They can email their families on Sundays only, and I think they have limited access to the internet. Not only are they moved far from home for the mission, often to a foreign country, but they may also be moved around to various cities during that time. Our guests had lived in a variety of places in Germany and every time they switch locations, their missionary partner changes, too. I'm sure their being cut off from their families and friends (not to mention being hassled by people who don't appreciate having their doors knocked on by Mormons) makes them sincerely glad when someone reaches out to them in friendship.

They're fairly genuine. 

We didn't find our Mormon missionaries hard to talk to. They had never met my husband until he let them in the door, but they laughed openly and told us about their siblings, vacations they had taken, what they like to cook, and more. They helped themselves to a third round of burgers. One in particular had such a sweet smile on his face when he talked about the privilege of serving the LDS church. I didn't sense that they were intentionally seeking to lure us into a religion that they know to be false. 

They're comfortable discussing spiritual topics.

We are always glad to have guests who want to discuss spiritual topics, and few are as eager for those conversations as Mormon missionaries! One of the missionaries offered a hearty "Amen!" to my husband's prayer before the meal, and after my husband asked a question or two that led in a slightly spiritual direction, they asked each of us our religious background and allowed us to share our individual stories of coming to know Jesus. They didn't interrupt us or look bored when we opened the Bible with them. They're trained to chat about religious topics all day—this is their thing!

They have a predictable worldview.

Most worldviews are not as easy to pin down as the Mormon worldview. There's no way to research "What does a Hindu believe?" and really have a handle on your particular Indian guest's beliefs. Likewise, it can take many conversations with your atheist coworker to find out what he or she believes on different topics. However, Mormons believe a specific set of doctrines and have been drilled in their basic tenants and how to share them. They have a particular routine and an entry-level conversation with a Mormon missionary will probably hit a certain range of topics which a Christian can be prepared to talk about. Their goal is to do an introductory lesson series with people whom they meet, and I'm sure you can find the lessons online if you want to prepare for a discussion.  

But here's what you need to watch out for when having Mormon missionaries in your home for a meal:

They're trained to make their gospel sound as similar as possible to yours. (Newsflash: it isn't.) They're also trained to handle any objections smoothly. 

Our guests were very smooth and approachable in the way that they shared their beliefs with us. They welcomed our questions and gave us well-prepared answers. We told them several times that the Bible contradicted things they shared with us in their introductory lesson, and we showed them verses or information that contradicted their words exactly, but it didn't seem to concern them (even though they claim to hold the Bible in high regard.) At the end of the evening, one of them was still smiling sweetly at us and telling us that "basically we believe the same thing".  You really must be careful entering into conversations with people who are preaching another gospel, to be sure you know how to explain the true gospel.

Because of the last point above, I suggest the following:

Christian hospitality to Mormons needs to be offered with wisdom. It should not be offered:

...alone, especially not with missionaries of the opposite gender.

Mormon missionaries come in pairs, and it only seems wise that they should not outnumber the hosts, if at all possible. Also, my husband and I hosted together, but I would not have invited the Mormon guys over if my husband were not home. As a single, if you want to invite Mormon missionaries over, ask a wise Christian friend to join you and host guests of your own gender. (I don't suggest the gender rule just because they're LDS; when I was single I didn't invite guys who were not related to me to come over for meals unless there was at least another girl present.)

...by new Christians (at least not on their own).

I heard the story of a young man who had become a genuine Christian, but almost "accidentally" became a Mormon because the Mormon missionaries whom he met were so kind and convincing, and he thought that they believed the same things as he did. It's dangerous to expose yourself to false teaching while you're still learning basic elements of the truth. We were politely asked if we would "pray and ask God if the Book of Mormon is true."  I told the guests that the Bible already has made it clear that it is not—no need to pray about it. Even when my husband disagreed with them, they had smooth wording to try to erase our differences. While we were not deceived by them, obviously many people are. Exposing yourself to teaching that twists the truth is not something to be careless about.

...without prayer and preparation.

If you are planning to invite Mormon missionaries over for a meal, pray before, during and after, and also ask friends who will not be present to be praying with you. 

As I mentioned, it's not hard to find resources about what Mormons believe or resources contrasting the Bible and the Book of Mormon, etc. There are hundreds of resources and testimonies online for a Christian who is preparing to talk with Mormons. One of our favourites was this one-hour video by Unveiling Grace. Micah, one of the guys who is interviewed in this video, had a life-changing encounter with a gracious Christian on his Mormon mission. This former Mormon also shares a few good points if you're interacting with Mormons. Many of the resources online will also point you to Bible passages which clearly differ with Mormon teaching, like the book of Galatians, or Romans 3-5.

...in a way that makes others think that you are endorsing the Mormon message.

If you have LDS missionary guests visiting your home more than once, especially if the guests are males wearing white shirts and name badges, neighbours who observe this may start to think that you are a Mormon. Be aware of this possibility, and if you know that someone else has seen (or will see) them coming or going from your home, you might want to talk to that neighbour about why the Mormons visited you. Bringing it up might even provide an opportunity to discuss with your neighbour why you are not LDS! Having Mormon missionaries in for tea or a meal a few times is different, too, than allowing them to stay in your home for an extended stay, which might look like you are supporting them. In our case, neighbours might have seen our guests come to the front of our apartment building, but it would be hard for others to know which home in the building they were visiting. 

If having Mormon missionaries in your home might be difficult due to extraordinary circumstances with your very-observant neighbours, meeting the missionaries at a coffee shop where acquaintances are less likely to spot you might also be an option, to engage them in meaningful conversation outside your home.

I hope this post encourages you to wisely consider opening to your home to Mormon missionaries. There are probably some in your area, as they are sent to most countries in the world. Because Mormons tend to spend a lot of time with other Mormons, your invitation might be be the first time your Mormon missionary has a meal with Bible-believing Christians. (One of our guest's ancestors have been Mormons since around the time of Joseph Smith.) What a great opportunity for true Christian hospitality!  Mormon missionaries in your home get to see that—contrary to what they have been taught—there are genuine believers outside the LDS church.

In the secular West, it's unique to have American strangers in our homes with whom we can so easily talk about the things that matter most to us. We thought it was important to make it clear to our guests that we did not agree with the gospel they were preaching, but in so doing we were able to explain how their teaching contradicts the Bible.

We are still praying for our Mormon neighbours, but I thought that our part in their story was otherwise over, since they knew we were not easy converts. However, today—about three weeks after our meal together—I got a text message asking if we want to get together again. Maybe another meal with the Mormon missionaries is in store for us? I'm not sure yet.

Edit: I forgot to mention their dietary restrictions in this post. As far as I know, Mormons are not supposed to drink anything with caffeine (mainly coffee and white, black or green tea) or any alcohol. 

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.