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!
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.
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. 😊)
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?