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! 

hosting guests of other religions and cultures
  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!

New Year's with Yang Tao

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then he was gone.

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

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

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

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

Interview #3B: Receiving Hospitality from Chinese Muslims

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

 Jodie with two new friends at a wedding

Jodie with two new friends at a wedding

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

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

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

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

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

 Preparing baozi buns for the festival

Preparing baozi buns for the festival

 Stirring large pots of beef before the festival

Stirring large pots of beef before the festival

 Women preparing meat for the festival

Women preparing meat for the festival

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

 Young men filling bowls of dates

Young men filling bowls of dates

 Dried fruit and nuts

Dried fruit and nuts

 The Feeding of the 5,000, western China style

The Feeding of the 5,000, western China style

 Bread and meat to be taken home by each guest

Bread and meat to be taken home by each guest

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

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

 Filling cups of tea to serve

Filling cups of tea to serve

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

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

 Picnic with the shiek

Picnic with the shiek

 One of the cooks at our picnic

One of the cooks at our picnic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Boys in the village

Boys in the village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview #3A: Showing Hospitality to Chinese Muslims

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

 Jodie and her best friend in western China.

Jodie and her best friend in western China.

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

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

 Jodie's husband looking over the village.

Jodie's husband looking over the village.

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

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

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

 Noodle soup and a very tall stack of steamed buns!

Noodle soup and a very tall stack of steamed buns!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Is there a certain international market where you shop? (Then you can shop there for the food for them, too).

  2. Would you feel more comfortable with a vegetarian meal? (In this case you can avoid the Halal meat issue altogether).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview #2: A Canadian-Taiwanese Friendship

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

befriending an international immigrant.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have anything else you want to add?

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

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