Interview #8: Vulnerable, Intentional Hospitality in Germany

In October of last year, we were visiting a new friend, when he told me about Claire. He said, “Claire is crazy.” I asked him, “What do you mean, she’s crazy?” and he replied, “Well, she has tons of contacts, she has all kinds of people over, she has theme parties and she hosts big Thanksgiving dinners....” Our friend didn't know about The Serviette, and didn't happen to know that the “crazy” that he was describing was the kind of crazy I write about. I got in touch with Claire, who is an American living with her (also American) husband in Germany. Her husband co-pastors a church plant made up of people from a wide variety of different backgrounds and cultures. Claire kindly agreed to share some of her experiences with this “crazy” life of hospitality to strangers.

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Claire, from the first moment that I heard about you, I heard how hospitable you are. Is this something you learned from your parents?

No, not at all. My parents divorced when I was two and I grew up in an all-girl household, with my mom and my two sisters. I did not learn about hospitality from my mother—I only ever remember us having guests over for a meal one time when I was a child. My mom worked all the time and did not have time for company.

I do remember a situation impacting me when I was a little older, though. We had a family reunion weekend every year which brought 50 or 60 people together. One year, my aunt and uncle's sun room was being installed, and the crew kept working through the weekend of the reunion. My aunt just included them in the family reunion, like “Y'all want something to drink? You get yourself some corn on the cob....” I had never seen someone show spontaneous hospitality like that before, and it made such an impression on me. I remember telling myself, “I want to have company even if the whole house is pulled apart....”

My own first experience with reaching out to foreigners with hospitality happened when I was 22. My sister and I couldn't go home for Christmas, so I invited all the foreign students I knew to come over for Christmas. I didn't know anything about halal cooking (cooking foods that Muslims are permitted to eat). I think I served pigs in a blanket, and wondered why my guests didn't eat any. I also learned about hospitality when I later taught English in Pakistan.

That's a funny story about the pigs in a blanket—live and learn. Would you say that hospitality is a big part of how you reach out to others as a pastor's wife in your international setting?

We used to have tons of guests in, until I realized that it was stressful for my sons. Now I still have company over, but I do it more in the morning when my boys are at school. At that time of day I can focus on friendships with other moms, who tend to be freer during the daytime. Then on the weekends when the dads are freer, sometimes we still have groups over.

We've also switched over to having a few big parties, like 90-person Thanksgiving gatherings, as some of our main hospitality endeavours. Because Thanksgiving is an American holiday and something that most have not celebrated before, it's a perfect opportunity to reach out. We've also done similar things at Christmas and Easter. This year we have quite a few people helping us throw our Thanksgiving Dinner for our community.

Did you manage to buy a halal turkey last year? This is something I've wondered about.

For last Thanksgiving, I didn't need to. There were only two Muslims in attendance and there were lots of vegetarian dishes for them to choose from.

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Is there anything in particular about cross-cultural hospitality that you want to be sure to share with our readers?

Yes. When I was preparing for this interview, I looked at your interview with Elizabeth, who hosts Muslims in her home in the States, and I basically agreed with everything she said. When I lived in Pakistan before I was married, I learned about hosting Muslims, too. As I was preparing to talk to you, I was thinking, what else could I share with your readers? I thought we could talk about “What if you want to be hospitable and your kids don’t like you being so hospitable? What do you do then?”

First, I should tell you a bit more about our family dynamics. I’m 48, and we’ve been living abroad as a family for 13 years. Our oldest son was four when we moved here, and now he is 17 and away at boarding school. Our younger son is 12 and lives at home. I am an extreme extrovert; I got a 98% on the Myers Briggs test, and my husband is not my complete opposite, but he has worked really hard to be more sociable and I pull him along. [Smile.] But our oldest son is an introvert and I've had to learn some lessons the hard way with him. Maybe I can share some things I wish I had done differently with him.

In preparing to talk to you, I sent a message to my 17-year-old and asked him “What did you think about us hosting people in the past?” I kept the question kind of vague, so he could answer however he wanted to. He told me: “It was annoying. I hated it.” I texted him back: “Was it hard for you because of how stressful it got when we had to clean up the house before the company arrived?” We can talk about this too, but my house is usually messy. And most of the time, if I knew guests were coming, I would become a crazy woman that morning, yelling at everyone that we had to clean up "because we are going to serve people for Jesus!” My son replied, “Yes, your stress before the company would come was bad, but mostly I just didn’t like having other people in our house.”

You are brave, to ask your son those direct questions, and listen and learn from his answers.

Another problem arose partly because we started our church in our dining room. My oldest son's computer was in the living room and on Sundays he just wanted everyone to go home as soon as possible after “church” was over, so he could do stuff on his computer. By the time our formal meeting was over, he had had enough, but of course others wanted to stay and talk.

Worse than that was probably that I often had ladies’ Bible studies, tea parties, etc. at our house, and if the children started getting loud or we wanted to get them out of the room, I would just encourage the kids to go up to one of my son’s rooms and play. I didn’t realize how awful my kids felt that was. Basically, there were no boundaries—I encouraged my friends' unruly kids to invade my sons' rooms and my sons felt totally violated. The visiting children would do things like ruin my sons' Lego constructions—my younger son's Chinese Lego warlord was stolen or lost and five years later, he still brings it up occasionally.

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What have you learned through all this, that you can tell other parents, about setting boundaries with your hospitality endeavours?

I tell other young moms that their kids need to have spaces and times that they can be sure will be theirs, without invasion from outsiders. They also need to have some place where they can keep their precious objects safe from guests. Maybe you can have a big box or special cabinet where your kids’ favourite toys can be stowed before company comes. I could have had a corner in my bedroom, maybe, where the guest’s children could have played, instead of encouraging them to go into my boys' rooms.

What do you think the balance is between telling your kids that you believe that God has called you to share your home with these strangers, and realizing that your children aren’t necessarily going to be into the same things you’re into? 

I think it depends on the phase of life your kids are in and on your kids’ individual situations, too. When I had small children, I needed an older woman to come along and tell me to just slow down on the others-centred events and give my kids a break. An older lady once suggested that I should  be involved in no more than two “ministry” type events per week when I had a baby at home. I really needed mentoring as a young mom; getting her feedback was the beginning of me learning to cut down on the outreach stuff when my kids needed me. It was hard, because I’ve always been the extrovert who meets the people and helps us to make contacts, which in turn has brought new people into our church family. So, I try to pass this message along to other young moms who mean well but are taking on too much for their children's stage of life.

I hope that your honesty here about what you learned will encourage our readers, many of whom also have young children. Let's go back to your messy home and the effects of it on your family and hospitality, as I know that's something you wanted to share about. The weird thing is, I was just at your house last week and it didn't look messy to me at all.

Well, here's the back-story. I’ve never had new furniture; our furniture has always been embarrassingly old. I actually hated the furniture in our home. In one of our early homes, no one wanted to sit on my couch because they couldn’t get out of it. It was that bad. 

But five weeks ago, I got new living room furniture. My husband had inherited some money and we decided that we wanted to invest some of it in furniture that we actually liked. One of my girlfriends from America came over specifically to help me buy new furniture. When she was leaving, she said “Maybe when you get new furniture, it will be easier for you to keep your living room clean.” My first thought was, “How rude of her to say that!”

But probably she realized that when you have something you’ve spent a lot of money on and really like, you'll probably care for it better.

Exactly. And that's why, when you were at our house the other day, and the living room was not messy at all. I do feel much more peaceful and joyful with my living room the way it is now. Or when I've paid friends to come help me clean or throw things out, it has been worth every penny. But I just have never been a clean and neat person; it's been a life-long struggle. However, my messiness has also forced me to be more vulnerable with my friends and acquaintances. Honestly, my messy house is my biggest shame, and letting people know that about me—letting them see my messy house—is about as vulnerable as I can get.

Sometimes when a surprise guest drops by, I greet them with “Come in if you can get in” or “If you won't judge me harshly, I'll let you in.” I've had several too-honest Germans say, “Aww, I feel better about myself after seeing your messy apartment.” Or I found out once that my Austrian neighbour had told her coworkers about me, because it was so unusual to her that I would allow people to see my home when it wasn't perfectly clean.

In a way, maybe my openness about my messy house almost sifts some people out of my life. I have noticed that for example, Turkish women believe that a messy house is a sign of a problem in your relationship with God. I've had Turkish women talk harshly to me or gossip about me because I haven't cleaned well enough or because I sometimes feed my family frozen foods or something from a can. However, I've had other Turkish single friends who just loved that they should stop at my house at any time, because they knew I would just stop whatever I was doing and invite them to sit down. Tea time could be anytime; I would just wash the mugs for them if they were dirty.

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I suppose that in a way, it's a measure of how superficial your relationship is, if your acquaintances can't look beyond a messy kitchen and see into your heart.

Yes. Maybe subconsciously I sometimes let people see my home in it's normal state because I want them to decide from the beginning if they like me or not. I have dealt with a lot of shame in my own life, and I've learned that people appreciate vulnerability. I'm not the greatest cook or housekeeper. I've served guests frozen pizza. I've literally had parties where the ironing board was in the living room because I didn't get it put away in time. But despite my vulnerability and messiness—or maybe sometimes, because of it—God has given me countless meaningful relationships over the years. 

What you're describing reminds me of a lady I knew when I was a teenager — she was so warm and laid-back and friendly that her home was still somewhere guests loved to be, even when it was messy.

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As someone who hosts guests regularly, what do you think keeps others from hosting guests?

I would say that people are too busy. Or they're apathetic. One time, I asked some friends in the USA, “How many friends do you have that speak bad English?” They had none. I think that shows that they just aren't trying to befriend foreigners. 

An expat here in Germany recently told me that she has no friends, and she said she cannot be friends with people who are not Christians—that someone who is not a Christian cannot know her heart. That was hard for me to understand, because my two closest friends here are a German Catholic woman (who is more Buddhist than she is Catholic) and a 30-year-old Syrian woman who is a Muslim. My Syrian friend wears a headscarf, has four kids, didn’t finish tenth grade, and lives on public assistance. We have virtually nothing in common. But we love each other, and help each other. She's funny, a fantastic mother and she's a great friend.

I have experienced the same thing, of having deep and meaningful friendships with people who are not Christians. What keeps your friend from making friends with people of other faiths?

I don't think she is being intentional. She has never had many friends; she just had one or two friends as a child, and one or two friends in college. She doesn’t feel she needs more friends. After our last conversation, we concluded that I need to spend less time with people and clean my house more, and she needs to clean her house less, and go out and meet people. 

People might say it’s your personality that makes you able to make friends with people who aren’t Christians or people who are different than you. Someone just recently said to me, “Maybe hosting people of other faiths or backgrounds just comes more naturally to you because of the way you grew up....” For one thing, there were never Muslims or Hindus in my home when I was growing up. But I also felt like asking, “Have you ever tried to have a Muslim over?” I was nervous the first time—actually still am, sometimes. It's not that we just do this because it's a ton of fun every time, we do it because we believe what the Bible says. How can people be more intentional about practicing hospitality?

My best solution for practicing intentionality with hospitality is to carry your calendar with you. Take it with you to church or school or wherever you’re going, and make it a goal to set one or two appointments to see people. For example, right now I know there’s an Afghan student in my son’s class. I want to reach out to that student's mother. I knew Afghan people in Pakistan, there are Afghans in our church — it would be a good connection. The best way to do this is to get out my calendar, walk up to her, and make a meet up with her.

So that’s what you mean when you say intentionality, is not just saying, “Wouldn't that be nice if we could help an Afghan family someday?” but physically getting out your calendar, walking up to the Afghan mother, and inviting her to come for coffee.

Yes, that's exactly it.

When I was in college, I sold books door to door to pay my tuition. I knocked on over 10,000 doors…and I paid cash for my bachelor's degree. Even though I'm an extrovert, I hated knocking on doors. I was scared before every single one of those doors. I thought I was going to throw up, but I did it anyway. What I learned was that when people would say they didn’t have time, I would make an appointment with them to come back at a time that was convenient for them. That helped me to get out of bed in the morning, and made me feel good that the person I was going to try to sell to that day was expecting me. That’s when I learned the benefits of being proactive and intentional by putting something on my calendar.

When I taught English in Pakistan, I did the same thing. I would take my calendar to class and make plans with my students to do things with them outside of class. It helped me get over depression; it helped me get out of my apartment. Having a calendar and a plan has helped me so much to be intentional about relationships.

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What do you think of picking regular dates on your calendar when you will have guests, like every Tuesday, or every Wednesday and Sunday, and regularly filling those nights with guests?

Yes, absolutely. And you can get your kids involved by asking them to contribute their skills in areas they are interested in. We've seen this lately with our older son who likes technology and computers. When our church moved out of our house and into a building, our son got involved in doing the PowerPoint presentations. He had access to my Amazon account and ordered whatever he needed for the church sound board through my account. That gave him a sense of responsibility and a feeling that he was part of things.

There are probably lots of ways in which you could also incorporate your kids' interest in cooking, or crafts, or kids into your family's practice of regular hospitality. Could you share a bit more about the combination of you and your different personalities? How does that work with your hospitality?

My husband is a pastor and his work in Europe has been with starting new churches. He needs me, the extrovert, to help him with making contacts with people. Earlier in our marriage, I was the one who was making friends and bringing them home, but I was also the most responsible for the kids, the meals, and the house. My husband had to learn that in order for us to sustainably host guests and maintain relationships, he needed to help more around the house. I don't mean that he would stay home and take care of the house while I was out socializing, but just that he needed to learn to do tasks that might usually have been mine, so that I could have time, as an extrovert, for those relationships. This is something that has gotten a lot better over the years, and he is super thankful because he has seen over the years that I connect with women, I get to know them and their kids, and then through the connections I make, he gets to know their husbands, too.

My husband and I had never lived in the same time zone before our wedding, we had to learn after we were married how to serve others together. We made a deal that if we were in a situation where were were talking to man about faith, he would do most of the talking and I would pray. If we were talking with a woman, vice versa - I would do most of the talking and he would pray. But the longer I have been married to my husband, I have realized what a deep thinker he is, and how great he is at sharing Bible truths with people who may not know much about the Bible. He’s so calm, thinks linearly, and answers people’s questions without getting distracted. Now, I get people in the door, and “pass them off” to him or to others who can talk about deeper things well with them. When we are sitting around the dinner table with people, I’m happy to make sure everyone has food and drinks, and to let my husband steer the conversation. But my husband is also really good at asking me to give my perspective.

I think it’s admirable how you have each learned to respect each others' differences, and draw out each others' strengths. Thank you for sharing that.

I think we have learned to complement each other in that way, and I think I’ve also learned to see my husband’s gifting and appreciate it. It’s taken years, but I think we work really well together now. It took me a long time to learn that we are on the same team, and that I am different than him, and I don’t need to overcompensate because I feel he's being to quiet or too slow to speak. I finally realized that he's going to get the job done, and get it done much better than I would, if I will just shut up and get out of the way.

Sounds a lot like my husband too. I joke that he can do everything better than I can. But if it needs to be done quickly, that's where I shine. [Laughs.]

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Do you pray with your friends of other religions or cultures? How does that go over?

I do pray with people. At the beginning in Germany it was always hard for me; I was ashamed to pray in German because the grammar structure is different and difficult. But I think it's worth doing, even if it's not in our mother tongue. Non-Christians are often surprised to hear how personal a Christian's prayers are. My Austrian neighbour cried when I prayed with her for her sister who was struggling with alcoholism. She said, “No one has ever prayed for my sister before.”

As far as praying before a meal, if we are eating at our house, we usually just introduce the prayer by saying something like, “Usually before a meal, we pray.” We’ve never had anyone say they don’t want us to pray, but we also don’t ask their permission. Sometimes one of our boys will pray before the meal, if he wants to. If we are eating on our friends' turf, of course, we don't force our prayer tradition on them.

I think that most people think that at least there’s no harm in having you pray, or if they’re lucky, it will do something for them. Other than asking someone if you can pray for them, do you any typical approaches you use to turn conversations to spiritual topics? Some people are good with having guests over for a meal, but then they don’t know how to change the tone to anything spiritual. I heard someone recently say that the very things that we North Americans are told to not to talk about with people we don't know very well — religion and politics — are the very things that many of our Eastern friends are accustomed to discussing.

I often tell a friend that something she just said reminds me of a Bible story. For example, some Syrians believe that if something bad happens to you, you must deserve it. One day when my Syrian friend mentioned this, I told her the story of the man born blind. She called her kids into the room to make sure they heard the story, too.

Or a lot of topics come up situationally. One of the best conversations I ever had with my Syrian friend was when we saw some drunkenness at a Christmas market here in Germany. Those types of moral problems are often great bridges for discussion with friends from conservative cultures, because we share some common values. We had a long conversation about how Germans are not just Christians because it says so on their birth certificates.

Do you have any relationships with people who are so secular that you feel awkward to bring up religious topics? I notice that I’m a lot more comfortable talking about God or prayer with a Syrian friend, but when it’s with a well-to-do, atheistic German friend, I feel more intimidated.

In my case, because my husband is a pastor, people almost expect me to be “religious.” But I do think it's important to be open about what we believe and why we believe it, from early on in our relationships. If we are friends for long periods of time without ever talking about our faith with them, someday they might ask us, “If what you believe is so important to you, why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

Is there anything else you'd like to share that is directly related to cross-cultural hospitality, as we wrap this up?

Yes! It has been very important to my Syrian friend that I cook “halal” for her children. Some Muslims will eat anything, as long as it's not pork. But that's not true “halal”. Halal meat (such as chicken or beef) has to be slaughtered in a particular way for it to really be halal. Regular marshmallows and gummy bears are also not halal.

Yeah, I found that out the hard way. 

I make sure that anything I serve to my Syrian friend and her kids is truly halal, which means I buy meat or gummy bears and marshmallows from the Turkish grocery store and don't use bouillon cubes that might have non-halal meat in them (I use vegetarian bouillon instead). The other day my German friend told me that it didn't matter if we just used non-halal bouillon, because our Muslim friends would never be able to tell.

But it's really important that a Christian keep his or her Muslim friends' trust, that the food we feed to them is what we say it is. I feel honoured that they trust us when we say the food we are serving is halal.

My Syrian friend tells all her friends, “Claire knows what halal is and always makes halal food for us.”

Obviously, it means a lot to her. I've also realized Arabic men usually like their meat. They don't really want to be fed vegetarian food; they want meat, but they want it to be halal. But vegetarian food could work, in a pinch.

Yes, and in the West you usually do not have to go so far as to separate your pots and pans and have pots and pans that have not touched pork or non-halal foods. I know some people who have done that, to be able to feed conservative Muslims, but I haven't run into it in Germany. But if I had a friend who wouldn't eat with me unless I cooked out of a pot that had never touched non-halal meat, I would buy a new pot.

It really has been wonderful talking to you and hearing your enthusiasm for sharing meals and hope with people of any culture and any background. Thank you, Claire.

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I think Claire's comments on halal cooking are a good note to end on, because they summarize what we try to focus on here at The Serviette: extending God's welcome to friends of other cultures and religions, and learning to accommodate their needs and preferences so that they can truly feel welcomed — even when it comes down to little details, like which kinds of bouillon to use in our cooking. God went to great lengths to reach out to us and welcome us, and we reflect Him when we go out of our way to welcome others, too. I hope Claire's insights give you new ideas as you love the stranger in this new year.

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!

Table Games that Work Well Cross-Culturally

Hey, you! The one who likes to play table or board games. Have you ever thought about which games are best suited for friends who don't share the same mother tongue or culture as you? As we've played games with people of other cultures over the years, a few themes have stood out as far as games that are or are not fun for international guests. 

For example, some time ago, a kind, well-meaning German friend invited us for supper. We were having a nice evening — that is, until he pulled out Agricola, a German agriculture game that resembles Settlers of Catan, and asked us if we wanted to play it together. 😉 We knew he liked the game, so of course we agreed to play it with him. I'm already bad at these kinds of games in English (how should I know whether it's time to fell some trees or buy a new cow or make clay bricks?) But playing it in German just added another level of difficulty; I definitely lost.

Below you'll find a list that should help your guests have more fun than I had playing Agricola. I've played most of the games you'll see mentioned below, but a few I have not — those were suggestions from The Serviette readers (#crossculturalgames on Instagram). You'll also see a few quotes from the readers throughout, sharing how they've used these games. This list assumes that either you or your international friends are not yet fluent in your common language, and that you don't want to spend upwards of 20 minutes explaining the instructions! Please feel free to leave other ideas in the comments. Happy gaming! 

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Games that don't work well cross-culturally

  • Games requiring a lot of talking, reading, or advanced vocabulary, like Taboo or Malarky. 

  • Games with complex rules...like Agricola, Settlers of Catan, etc.

  • Games that require pop culture knowledge.

  • Games that might relate to taboo or mature themes: such as war or gambling-related games. Traditional playing cards can sometimes be offensive to people from conservative backgrounds because of their association with gambling. Or a game that involves hunting could be offensive to people in the New Age / Hindu / vegetarian crowd.

But the good news is, there are lots of games that work great in cross-cultural settings, you just have to remember to choose them!

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Games that do work well cross-culturally

First, as a general principle, the best cross-cultural table games have simple rules, because the rules can be one of the hardest things to communicate. As one of The Serviette readers told me, "Games that don't require tons of strategy or concentration, and have fast rounds are great with new friends." A bonus is that many of these games work well for kids as well as adults.

Number-based games

Some of these games are quite simple to begin with, but they can be made more exciting or challenging, as required. 

  • UNO - "I love teaching someone new how to play UNO and then letting him or her take that deck home."
  • Phase 10
  • SkipBo / SkipBo Jr.
  • Dutch Blitz / Ligretto
  • Rummikub
  • Yahtzee
  • Spoons

Image-, colour- or shape-based games

  • Set
  • Spot It - "While travelling through Sri Lanka, we were playing Spot It with our kiddos and the Japanese ladies sitting next to us — who spoke no English — picked up on the concept quickly and played with us. It was fun to hear them gasp and giggle when they found a match."
  • Go Fish
  • Jenga
  • Quirkle - "I played Quirkle the other week with a Japanese exchange student whose English was very limited, but she won! The game is just based on colours and shapes, in a similar game play to Scrabble."
  • Blokus 
  • Farkle 

Classic games

  • Checkers
  • Chess
  • Chinese checkers
  • Dominoes
  • Memory
  • Sorry
  • Jigsaw puzzles
which games work well for english learners

Language-learning games

As nerdy as this sounds, in the last year we started playing a German grammar game with some of our guests. We've played it both with German and international guests. Whether you and your guests are trying to learn the same language, or one of you is trying to learn the other's language, you can use:

1. Specialized grammar or language-learning games

  • Games like "Name that Word" - search your favourite online store or Google for "ESL games" or "language learning games" and you'll see some more ideas of this nature.
  • "Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod" is the game we use for learning German

2. Regular table games that help build language skills or vocabulary

  • Memory
  • Go Fish
  • Pictionary / Telephone Pictionary
  • Charades / Fish Bowl
  • Quiddler
  • Headbanz Jr. 
  • Scattergories
  • Apples to Apples Jr

Playing a language-learning game might sound more like work than fun to you, but students or foreigners who are actively trying to learn the language of their host culture are often delighted to play these kinds of games, especially with native speakers. 

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    I hope this list helps you find games that both you and your international friends can enjoy together!

    Ideas: 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? 

    Hospitality Without Complaining

    Recently some acquaintances had us over for the first time. As we settled into the living room, my husband kindly remarked that our hosts have a cozy apartment. The hostess’ instant response was to tell us why they don’t really like their apartment. Apparently the heating system is weird and the apartment is sometimes too cold, sometimes too hot. Later we also heard that the roof is not insulated. So much for cozy, I guess.⠀ ⠀

    It struck me as unfortunate that instead of just responding with a “Thanks, I’m thankful for what God has provided for us! We do have a cozy apartment!” our hostess, whom we hardly knew, started off by telling us the problems with the apartment. ⠀ ⠀

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    But then I realized that too often I do the same thing. When someone tells me they like the older style of our apartment, with its high ceilings, more often than not I tell them how expensive it is to heat in the winter or how chilly it is in December and January. Instead, I could just say, “Thank you! We like the high ceilings too - they make the apartment feel so much bigger! God saved this apartment just for us. We wanted something with a big common room and in the middle of the city, and when we saw this, we thought it was a great fit. And somehow the landlord picked us as his new tenants, even though he got about 100 responses to the ad.“ (True story.) ⠀ ⠀

    After all, my guests aren’t usually asking me for a heating estimate for an old apartment, or wanting to hear complaints. They’re just trying to pay a compliment. I’m not sure if I somehow feel that I am being “down-to-earth” or “humble” by complaining about what I have when I receive a compliment?⠀ ⠀

    If your first response to a compliment is also to complain about problems in your house or neighbourhood, maybe you can challenge yourself with me to stop complaining about your home's quirks to your guests. Instead mention to them how thankful you are for your nest! Thankfulness sets a much better atmosphere, and gives us a natural opportunity to praise God for His goodness!

    As Paul wrote, "But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that!"

    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.

    Ideas: 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.

    Interview #7: Showing Hospitality to Muslims in the United States

    Last year when I heard about Elizabeth, a Christian who lives in the USA and regularly hosts Muslims in her home, I immediately hoped I could talk to her and learn more about her experiences. I was pleased to be able to connect with her, and have her graciously share about her experiences being a friend to Muslims in the USA. I hope you are as encouraged as I was by Elizabeth and her husband's love for people who are culturally and religiously different than them.

    Elizabeth, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your family?

    Sure. I am a follower of Jesus and love to teach the Bible. I have an international background: I was born in Canada, lived in the States, moved to Singapore for my middle and high school years and then returned to the States for university. My husband and I have been married for ten years and have three sweet, bright kiddos ages eight, six and three. Before our kiddos were born, I taught ESL for adult refugees with a refugee resettlement agency. Now I homeschool our little people and as of last fall, I’m teaching ESL on the weekends—now, for Muslim women fleeing political persecution.

    From hearing a bit about your background, I can imagine that you probably met people of other cultures as a child and developed a natural curiosity about other religions. But I still don’t hear every day about Christians who regularly have Muslims in their homes. Is this something both you and your husband have an interest in? How did you get started hosting Muslims?

    Before we met, my husband and I each came to know and love Muslims. My husband spent a year studying in a Muslim country. During college, I went to Paris, France for part of one summer where we gave away French-Arabic Bibles and films about Jesus in Muslim immigrant quarters of the city. The diverse reactions of people to Scripture struck me: some women eagerly tucked copies of the Bible into their flowing robes, one man angrily threw it into the gutter, some children’s eyes glowed while holding onto a Jesus movie. God used these interactions to make my heart eager to provide folks in communities like these with an opportunity to learn what the Bible says about Jesus.

    My husband and I met while doing our master's degrees and we soon realized we shared a similar passion for loving folks from other cultures. One of the ways my husband and I got to know each other was by attending the parties we each threw as single people! We loved people, we loved providing spaces for folks to get to know one another, we loved celebrating life—we loved parties! So, it was natural when we married for us to host Muslims in our new home. 

    For our first Christmas after we were married, we hosted a large dinner with Muslim and Christian friends. We learned a lot that season—about providing separate spaces for men and women, about different cultural views of time, about making preparations, and about the stress hosting puts on a marriage! Since that first Christmas party, we’ve developed family rhythms that have reduced our stress and blessed our times hosting Muslim friends.

    When you were living abroad in Muslim countries or Muslim neighbourhoods, I can see that you would naturally meet Muslims. But now that you live in the USA, how do you meet Muslims? Have you intentionally chosen to live in a Muslim-dense neighbourhood or city for this reason? 

    We do live in a part of the States with large communities of Muslims. Our neighborhood, however, is primarily African American and Latino. My husband and I have met Muslims in many ways: at the library, at swim lessons, visiting Muslim-owned businesses, attending events, inter-faith gatherings and classes at mosques or Muslim community centers. In addition, I taught English for a refugee resettlement agency and many of my students were Muslim. Both my husband and I partnered with a friendship center in a South Asian part of our city before we married. At the friendship center, we helped tutor Muslims in English; my husband also led the kid’s summer program. 

    "Our genuine interest in our friends’ cultures and backgrounds opens doors for us to invite them into experiencing our holidays and beliefs."

    We always are eager to attend community events that our Muslim friends host—Ramadan dinners and other holiday celebrations, henna parties, cooking classes, plays, etc. Our genuine interest in our friends’ cultures and backgrounds opens doors for us to invite them into experiencing our holidays and beliefs. We know of some churches who discourage their members from attending events at Muslim centers. However, we believe all humans are created in God’s image and therefore every culture has parts that reflect this beauty of God’s image. Delighting in those beautiful parts of our Muslim friends’ cultures has been an important way to develop mutual trust.

    As Westerners in our home country, we have a unique opportunity to welcome Muslims who are immigrants or refugees. As one of my Muslim friends said, “When you come to a new country, you can figure out where to get food and shelter, you can figure out how to speak the language; what you can’t get by yourself is welcome.” 

    Is it ever hard for you to find something in common with your Muslim neighbours or guests? Do you have to kind of “work at” having things in common, or does it come fairly naturally? 

    Yes, there have been times when conversations have been awkward. But that’s ok! People can tell whether we’re treating them with kindness and respect. Even if there are challenges in communicating, they can tell if we’re interacting out of love. In those awkward times, I often talk about food and ask how to cook something from my new friend’s culture. [Laughs.] 

    "In most cases, I find I have a great deal in common with Muslim women."

    In most cases, however, I find I have a great deal in common with Muslim women. My Muslim friends are very concerned about the moral environment in which their children are growing up. They feel the press of the Western culture around them, pushing their children towards choices against God’s ways. I feel that same concern and have many opportunities to share about how our family intentionally seeks to build wisdom and love for God into our children. Muslim friends are interested to hear how we teach our kiddos the Bible, to pray, sing and memorize Scripture. Our Muslim friends intentionally invest time teaching their children to read the Qur’an and pray. This concern we share for our children has been the catalyst for many significant conversations. 

    Other good conversations can arise from talking about holidays—either explaining my Christian holidays or asking questions about my Muslim friends’ holidays. Listening well to my friends and asking good questions about their traditions and beliefs can lead to excellent conversations in which I am able to contribute truth.

    This is a wonderful website with helpful conversation ideas for speaking in particular to Muslim women.  The author, Joy, is a wise, loving woman—I recommend everything she writes!

    I love the thought and planning Joy puts into conversational topics, to try to lead regular conversations in a more meaningful direction. Thank you for sharing this resource! Would you say that you have close Muslim friends? How is a friendship with a Muslim different than other friendships that you have?

    I have one particularly close Muslim friend among some warm friendships in a Muslim community. This woman is a thoughtful, bright, hospitable, accomplished woman who is zealous for justice. She is a leader in her community who spurs others to action. She loves her family and community. We have much in common. We both have voiced how precious and important our friendship is to one another. 

    "I do not criticize my Muslim friend's religion. I do, however, ask lots of questions. And, I always try to offer her beautiful truths about Jesus."

    Because we share similar passions, in many ways I am just as at home with this Muslim woman as I am with close Christian friends. A difference would be that I long for her to know the freedom and joy of trusting Jesus with her life. I long for her to be sure of her place in Heaven by asking Jesus to make the way for her. Whenever we are together, I am listening for places in which I can share encouragement, comfort and truth with her from God’s Word. As I do with my other friends, I listen carefully to her burdens and tell her I’m praying for her. I share with her the ways that God is working in my life, guiding me and answering my prayers.

    I do not criticize her religion. I do, however, ask lots of questions. And, I always try to offer her beautiful truths about Jesus. 

    christian meals for muslims

    How often do you have Muslims in your home? What do these occasions look like? What’s your preferred situation or ideal size of group for hosting? 

    We generally have Muslims in our home for holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, July 4th. We’ve also hosted baby showers, tea parties and birthday parties. Occasionally we’ll have one Muslim family over for dinner. 

    The sizes of these events have varied widely. We’ve had small gatherings, we’ve had over 40 of my refugee students and their family members packed into our townhome for holidays. Most often, our gatherings will range from 10 to 20 guests including kiddos. 

    I think because of the importance of community for most Muslims, it is most comfortable for everyone if there are three or four families present. However, some of my most tender moments with Muslim women have been when we are alone together—perhaps the other guests have left or we’ve intentionally met one-on-one. Therefore, I think that there isn’t necessarily an “ideal” group size. 

    Are you usually the only Christians at these gatherings, or do you invite a mixture of Muslim and Christian guests?

    We like to have a mix of Muslim and Christian guests. We are careful to invite Christians who are sensitive to folks from other cultures and love Muslims. It is important for Muslims to not only experience Christian hospitality, but also to see how people in the Christian community interact with one another in unity and love.

    I spoke with someone recently who said that he knows some Westerners who are afraid of having a Muslim in their home. Do ever think there is reason for fear? How would you encourage someone who has never hosted a Muslim before and is feeling a little uncertain about doing so? 

    As a fellow follower of Jesus once said to me, “We have a choice; we can choose to have fear or to have faith.” Our Western cultures shout at us to fear Muslims. Yet, the Bible is clear: “Perfect love casts out fear.” We must choose: will we go on the path of fear or will we go on the path of faith that the Bible is telling us the truth and Jesus really meant for us to love our neighbors as ourselves? 

    I love hearing about how you and your husband love your Muslim neighbours together, but many Christians don’t have a spouse or at least don’t have a spouse who wants to host people of other religions with them. What are your suggestions for people in these situations?

    One important aspect of loving Muslims is understanding gender relations. When we are seeking to befriend Muslims, it’s really important to remember that men befriend men and women befriend women. A Western woman who pursues friendship with a Muslim man will be viewed as promiscuous. A Western man who pursues friendship with a Muslim woman will be viewed as dishonorable. There really is no gray area here.

    Therefore, if a husband is not interested in hosting Muslims, it would be very natural for the wife to host Muslim ladies in her home. The ladies could have afternoon tea parties or a mid-morning cooking exchange together. This single-gender invitation is very natural to Muslims. For a husband who does not have a wife who is interested in hosting Muslims, his best choice would be to find a “third space”—a restaurant or coffee shop—to meet with his male Muslim friend. 

    For singles who would like to reach entire families who are Muslim, it is important that they partner with other Christians—ideally families. For example, we have had single friends partner with our family in hosting Muslims. They have helped in significant ways to prepare for dinners or events by bringing food, providing rides to Muslim friends or helping our kiddos. Once our Muslim guests arrive, these single Christians have spent time with Muslims of their respective gender in our home. Partnering with a Christian family protects the honor of the single Christian people by preventing any miscommunication about their intentions. Since our Western culture is so saturated with promiscuity, it is imperative that Christians demonstrate great modesty and care when interacting with Muslims of the opposite gender.

    Can you talk a bit about your children’s involvement in your hospitality?  How much do you involve or not involve them in events you host in your home?

    Our kiddos have played different roles at different times in extending hospitality. Since our children are generally outgoing, they usually are enthused to have folks over—especially if the families have children their ages. At our parties, we like to have activities that children enjoy, so our kids are simply having fun alongside the Muslim kiddos. Decorating Christmas cookies, sharing our family Advent calendar, opening a present, having an Easter egg hunt, distributing Easter baskets, singing a Thanksgiving song—all of these things are parts of parties that our children love and share with Muslim kiddos. 

    When my daughter was four, she wanted to share the Christmas story with some Muslim guests. With my help, she cut out Christmas card pictures and wrote out the Christmas story for our guests. They were delighted to hear her telling the story and we were thrilled that she was so eager to share the amazing miracle of Jesus coming to earth! 

    "We encourage our kids to join us in hospitality to Muslims, but we do not require their enthusiastic presence."

    That said, we do not force our kids’ participation. Another year at Thanksgiving, one of my sons was feeling bashful. When guests arrived, he hovered at the top of the stairs. By the time appetizers were finished, he had made his way to the bottom of the stairs; and by the time guests left, he was giving out hugs. We encouraged him to join us, but we did not require his enthusiastic presence. 

    We want our hosting times to be delightful to our children, not a burden. We invite them to be our partners in hospitality and encourage them with how important their role is, but we do not try to force them to be involved.

    An important way we help our children is by having another Christian family or couple present with whom they feel comfortable. There are times during a dinner or party when my husband or I are in deep conversation or busily slicing pie and cannot be as accessible to our children as usual. Having another set of loving Christian adults present for them gives them safety and comfort (and gives me peace of mind!) while simultaneously allowing my husband and me to invest in Muslim guests.  

    You often invite Muslim guests to your home for Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas and explain to the group the deeper meaning of the holiday, through a reading or a song or a short talk. I think that some Christians might not even be aware that Muslims would be open to these kinds of conversations or presentations. Have you ever had guests who were not willing to listen?

    We have learned that inviting our Muslim friends into our holiday celebrations provides very natural pathways to sharing truths from the Bible. We simply are sharing our traditions with our friends and this does not offend them. They know it is just part of what our family does and that we are opening our home to share it with them. 

    For example, my husband always reads a passage of Scripture and prays in the name of Jesus before the meal. Of the many, many Muslim guests in our home over the years, only one woman felt nervous about this until her husband told her he didn’t mind. Then this woman was happy for my husband to read from the Bible and pray. 

    At Christmas parties and teas, I have taken one symbol from our Advent calendar and explained its significance in the Old Testament and how it points to Jesus. (I created an Advent calendar for our family that is very intentional in tracing how events in the Old Testament were teaching important truths about Jesus.) Even when we haven’t shared an explicit devotional from our Advent calendar, it has sparked excellent conversations since it hangs prominently in our living room. As Muslim friends have asked about its significance and what the different symbols mean, we have been able to explain beautiful truths about Jesus. 

    Another tradition we have at Christmas parties is to give gifts. This provides a lovely opportunity to explain (often to an eager group of children with parents looking on) about the wise men visiting Jesus as the reason we give gifts. Hearing about the wise men can be very precious to some Muslims since the magi may have come from their home country. 

    At a couple of our Easter parties, we have shared from the “Resurrection eggs”—a tradition we sometimes use with our children to retell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Again, we are opening our home to invite our friends into our traditions and they are interested to hear. At one Easter party for my refugee students, we invited an African Christian friend to share the story of Easter in a language spoken by many of the refugees. When our friend began, one Muslim man and woman left the room because they did not want to hear. However, they were not rude nor did they try to stop anyone else from listening. They simply left for a few minutes and then returned to enjoy the rest of the party when the Easter story concluded.

    "Our experience has been that most Muslims respect Christians who take their faith seriously."

    Our experience has been that most Muslims respect Christians who take their faith seriously. They see a commonality between us. They hold their holy book in high esteem and try to learn to read it in Arabic. We hold the Holy Bible in high esteem and diligently study it. They strive to pray five times a day. We pray many times a day. They are deeply concerned that their children stay on the straight path. We are deeply invested in guiding our children on the path of blessing through introducing them to Jesus, teaching them the Bible and how to pray. Our Muslim friends are concerned to give gifts to the poor. We serve and love our neighbors and those in need. Our Muslim friends see something of their religious concern in how we live and rather than our different religions driving us apart, it gives us a deeper understanding and empathy for one another. 

    Have you ever been turned down when you offered to pray with a Muslim friend?

    One of the most beautiful ways we can show our relationship with God is by praying for our Muslim friends. One of my favorite memories with Muslim friends was at a baby shower for two beloved Muslim mommies. I shared a devotional with the ladies about love from I Corinthians 13. It was such a joy to share these amazing truths with these ladies—many of whom had never heard how God loved them this way and could give them power to love their children this way. At the end of the devotional, I prayed a special blessing over the guest-of-honor mommies. The Muslim women were able to hear how I talked with my loving Father in Heaven; how I was able to come to him without fear, full of confidence that he was listening to my requests. By praying for my friends in their presence, they heard first-hand what my relationship with God was like. This is a wonderful way to bless our Muslim friends. Over the years my husband and I have only been rejected a handful of times when we’ve offered to pray for our Muslim friends. 

    I love hearing how God has given you such great opportunities to love Muslims right in your own city in the States. To conclude, what’s your favourite memory of opening your home to Muslims?

    There have been many memorable times—like the July 4th party water fight my husband and a Muslim daddy had with all of the kiddos in the backyard, or the Christmas party when we discovered our guests’ children trying to sled down our stairs on our snow disc or when one of our guest kiddos sneezed on most of the Christmas cookies while decorating. Besides fun (and funny) times, we’ve seen times when God has opened the way for deep conversation, prayer and blessing. One of my most precious memories is of a Muslim friend who was struggling with her identity and in her marriage. When other guests had left, she poured out her heart to me. With tears in our eyes, I was able to share with her from Scripture how God viewed her—that she was created in His image, that she was intentionally knit together by His hand, that He loved her. This is what we live for—to be channels of God’s love to those around us. It is a beautiful privilege when God allows us to be his hands, his feet, his voice to share this love with others. 

    I'm so glad Elizabeth was willing to take the time to share with us on The Serviette. Hearing her stories and insights taught me new things about purposefully, intentionally opening our homes to people of other faiths. Whether you're married with small children like Elizabeth, or in a totally different season of life, I hope you can pull relevant ideas and truths from her experiences and reach out to Muslims with a spirit of love, not fear. I hope you're inspired and see that God can give you, too, deep friendships and meaningful conversations with Muslim neighbors, coworkers and friends as you show them hospitality. 

    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!

    Interview #6: Hospitality for Introverts

    Today's interview is with a dear friend of mine, Esther. We met in 2004 and in the years since, Esther and her family have often given me and many others a place to belong in their home. Theirs is a home that is routinely—sometimes even daily—"given to hospitality." But it was only after I had known Esther for many years that I realized that she considers herself an introvert. Since introverts usually talk about needing alone time, I asked Esther if she would talk with us about why she has chosen a lifestyle of lots of others time and not so much alone time. Here's an excerpt from our conversation.

    Esther, first could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

    I am a wife (to a farmer / financial consultant), a mom (to three daughters and one son) and grandma (to two, soon to be three, little boys). I'm a Canadian with German roots, and we live in Alberta. I enjoy cooking, baking, and quilting. I've always considered my children and grandchildren to be my main focus of ministry. I enjoy both studying the Bible and getting others interested in studying the Bible for themselves. Growing up, I was extremely shy and uncomfortable around other people. It was hard for me not only to interact in large groups but even to carry on one-on-one conversations. God has helped me to grow a lot in that area, and I guess that's why we're having this conversation today!

    You told me once that you consider yourself an introvert. So, why do you have guests in your house almost all the time?

    Really, it started with the man I married. God is all wise, and He gave me a husband who is super extroverted. Since the beginning of our marriage it was this way: my husband would go out and invite people in, and because of this, I needed to learn to welcome those people into our home. 

    "As much as I didn’t like opening our home at first, after the fact I was always really glad that I had."

    We have been married for 32 years now, but for probably the first half of our married life, I somewhat resented his bringing home so many guests. I was always nervous and self-conscious. I was a very independent person and I didn’t want people to get close to me. In fact, sometimes I would feel like people didn’t even want to get close to me. Looking back, I can see that as an introvert, I needed that push from my husband to learn to have more and deeper relationships. 

    God used my husband's open door policy to help me realize that I need other people much more than I realized when I was younger! Instead of focusing on myself (and my discomfort in being a hostess) I have tried to focus on others (and how I could encourage them). I've learned that some guests want to have a meaningful conversation, and others want to just lie on the couch and rest. We want our house to be a place where both types of guests can come; where people can just hang out and be themselves. 

    As much as I didn’t like opening our home at first, after I did it I was always really glad that I had. Through hospitality I’ve gotten to know people on another level. Even people who used to seem aloof or distant have somehow become closer after coming into our home. They've opened up and shared their struggles. Hospitality makes strangers into friends. 

    Do you remember a distinct time when your attitude about having guests changed, or do you think your heart about having guests has just grown as you've grown in understanding and obeying God?

    I think it was the latter. Sometimes I was very selfish with my own time. I have become more aware of my own selfishness and God's desire for me to be a servant. It wasn't a sudden change so much as growth in this area over time.

    I remember a conversation at your house in which one of the other guests said that he doesn’t like to call himself an introvert because he doesn’t want to make excuses for being rude or avoiding people. Do you think there’s something to that—does avoiding labeling yourself help?

    God doesn’t operate based on the labels we assign. God definitely does give us different personalities and strengths, but all of life is about balance. There’s a danger in swinging too far in either the typical extrovert or the typical introvert direction. People time and quiet reflective time are both important to all people. An extrovert’s spiritual life can suffer when he or she doesn’t take time away from people, just as an introvert’s spiritual life can suffer when he or she isolates himself too often from other people. Christ wants to pour into us during those moments we have alone, so that we can outflow to others when we spend time with them. But we need to balance alone time and time with others. The important thing is that we not use our labels as an excuse for sin. 

    How do you think regular hospitality has affected your marriage?

    It has been good for us because it’s something we can do to serve others together. However, early in our marriage we had a lot of overnight guests and I realize that was not healthy; we did need some time just as a couple. It’s possible to do too much. 

    My husband and I have such different strengths and have learned to work together in hospitality situations. My husband’s strength is meeting lots of people, but connecting with people on a deeper level is more my strength. My husband can work a crowd and seems to talk to everyone in the room, whereas I just talk to the person next to me. I have to remind myself that whoever God puts next to me is the person He wants me to connect with, and I can't worry that I’m not connecting with everyone in the room like my husband is. 

    What would you say to someone who says, “I’m an introvert and therefore I just can’t have people over because it’s too stressful. When I’m at home, I need my me time”?

    Well, it's important to remember that hospitality looks different for different people. It’s not necessarily about having big groups of people over. It could just be inviting one person over, and just serving them tea. 

    Again, there is a time to be alone, but we have to be careful that we don’t use excuses to cover selfishness. The Christian’s life is about giving of oneself and making sacrifices. As an introvert, maybe Christ is asking me to sacrifice my “me time.” 

    God knows that I am an introvert type, but in the last five years, I’ve had no “me time” to speak of. It’s just the way my life has been orchestrated and I can’t really change that unless God changes it. But He does give the strength for each task He puts in front of me, and He can do the same thing for others as well.

    Your story shows how our personalities should always be conforming more to Christ’s personality as we grow in Him. For a Christian, the goal should not be to do things the way an introvert would do them, but to do them the way Christ would do them. 

    "I've definitely seen a lot of growth in what I can handle hospitality-wise. Having 'extra' people in our home doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to."

    Yes, and I've definitely seen a lot of growth in what I can handle hospitality-wise. Having "extra" people in our home doesn’t bother me as much as it would have when I was younger. Last year from July until September, we had overnight guests in our home every day except for about four. We were joking about our house being a hotel, but I was able to just wash that morning’s bedding because tonight someone else would be needing it, and roll with whatever came. I was tired, but I didn’t resent the guests or get upset about having to think about cooking for six or eight or ten people day after day like I might have when I was younger. 

    What are a few pointers that might be helpful to people who are trying to learn to have guests, but don’t feel confident hosting yet? 

    • Don’t worry about having everything picture perfect. People don’t expect that and they don't expect a big, fancy meal. They just want to feel at home. 
    • However, if the house is messy, chaotic or disorderly, guests feel uncomfortable and have a hard time relaxing. Establish some routines to keep things generally clean and in order so that it's not hard to spontaneously invite someone in, but don’t be a neat freak. Again, balance is key.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask guests to help you clean up. By letting people help you in your kitchen, you make them feel like you’re equals. There’s also something about working together that opens up a different depth of relationship. When working side by side, like washing dishes together, people tend to move into deeper conversation than if they're looking at each other face to face. 
    • As an introvert, I find it helpful not to think too far ahead, but just to live in the moment and do what God has put before me that day. That way, I can enjoy some alone time when I get it, but I don't get upset if another guest arrives and I don't get my evening to myself. 
    • Lastly, my daughter says that she learned from me to always keep cookies—or some kind of dessert—in the freezer. [Smile.]

    How has having an open home affected your kids?

    Our four kids grew up with many godly people coming through our home, and this had a huge impact both on them and on us. They have always said that they loved growing up with so many people around. It was essential for our kids to see older Christians (other than their own parents or relatives) who loved God but were also normal, balanced people who enjoyed life. Their friendships with our guests were a huge part of their spiritual formation and influenced a lot of the decisions they made. We are close to our blood family, but through hospitality we have acquired this other "family" made up of many people who are near and dear to us.

    What I see in your story is the blessing of obeying God. As an introvert, you may never have wanted this life of having so many guests, but you did it out of obedience to God. And you’re reaping the benefits.... 

    Perhaps that is a good summary of our conversation. As an introvert, I would not have naturally opened my home. I was full of fears and tiredness and lack of desire. But God knew that I needed those people in my life, and that my children needed them, too. Seeing my children choose to follow Jesus in their adulthood, partly through the influence of guests in our home, far outweighs the uncomfortableness and the loss of “me time.” Having kids who walk in the Truth is much more important to me than a quiet, predictable home and schedule. 

    Obedience to God through hospitality has so many good ripple effects. When I host guests, I am just passing on what I have received from Christ, from you, and from others who showed me what it was to establish a home which is open to outsiders. 

    It's so true. Sometimes I think, “I'm just here in my home in the country and I’ve never done anything for the rest of the world.” But it’s beautiful to think that when someone is refreshed in our home and is then able to turn around and host someone else in his or her home, in a sense God is using us to bless their friends and acquaintances too, whom we have never met. I hope my story shows that God is so good, and knows what is best for us—even when He commands introverts to show hospitality! The blessings of obeying God's command to hospitality flow much farther than we will ever realize in this life. 

    Remembering People's Names as an Expression of Hospitality

    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.

    Ideas: 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. 

    Essay: Of Pie and Pain

    Last summer in the middle of blackberry season, a Syrian friend came over to help us eat pie. My husband phrased the invitation as a cry for help, "We have too much pie and need someone to eat it with us." Our friend came to our assistance and I teased him when he arrived, "If the pie is good, I made it. If it's not, my husband made it." But actually, my husband and I made it together. Those are his handsome hands rolling the dough below.

    When our friend stepped into the kitchen, he saw the pie sitting on the table, with its woven lattice top and blackberry-apple goodness oozing from inside. He said, 
    "It has been a long time since I have seen a dessert like this." 

    When I piled vanilla ice cream on top of his slice, he said, 
    "It makes me happy even to look at this." 

    When he drank homemade iced green tea, he said, 
    "My mother always made drinks like this."

    Maybe these phrases just sound like those of a mama's boy who is far from home. But when he asked for photos from the day we met on a lovely hike, he said, 
    "Sometimes when I feel like dying, 
    I like to look at pictures from happy times."

    "Sometimes when I feel like dying..."?
    These are the real emotions of a man escaping war.

    In the past year, I have heard too many painful stories. Breast cancer, marriage problems, financial crises, a flood of refugees...hurt after hurt. Not to mention the sorrow of our friend who came for pie. His family is still in Syria, in danger, and every day he knows pain like I have never known.

    "There is no glue-on patch that we can offer to friends in pain. In fact, what we can do seems so basic."

    There is no quick fix or glue-on patch that we can offer to friends in pain. In fact, what we can do seems so basic. We pick berries and make pie and send invitations and light candles and eat together and wipe the table again and and wash dishes. We pray and share hope as we are able. Then we go to bed and another day, we do it all again. Sometimes our efforts seem so simple and small, in the face of huge suffering.

    After all, doesn't faith do big things? I grew up on stories of great men and women of faith.
    "By faith Abraham went out, not knowing where he was going..."
    "By faith Sarah bore a child when she was past the age..."
    "By faith Moses refused to be call the son of Pharaoh's daughter..."
    "By faith we...made pie?"
    One of these things is not like the others.

    "By faith we do the small things set before us, asking Him to do the big things."

    But it takes faith to believe that God is powerful enough to take earthly elements like flour and shortening mixed with prayer and conversation, and somehow weave them into His eternal plan. It takes faith to believe that He was "acquainted with grief" so that we would not need to be grieved eternally. Isaiah's "Man of Sorrows" went through those sorrows so that He could transform wounded people into whole ones, hurt people into healed ones. "By His stripes we are healed." In this world bowed down with troubles, it takes faith to believe in and to point others to the only One who can bind up their wounds.

    By faith we do the small things set before us, asking Him to do the big thing: to take this pie, and use it for the pain.

    Recipe: Butter Chicken for a Crowd

    In our last interview, Karen shared some of her best tips for feeding big groups. I asked her to also share her recipe for Butter Chicken, since this is one of her favourite recipes too cook for a crowd. This recipe serves 30 people, but if you're serving fewer people, part of the sauce can be frozen before the chicken is added and used later. Please note that the chicken tastes best when marinated in the sauce overnight, so this is a great recipe to prep one day ahead.

    I made this a few weeks ago and I served it with rice as well as this Super Easy Naan Bread (it was as simple as the title makes it sound) and Cucumber Raita (a no-fail cucumber and plain yogurt side dish). The naan would be hard to make for 30 guests (we just had 2) but the raita could easily be made on a bigger scale. I also used a mixture of chicken breasts and bone-in chicken, since chicken breasts are quite expensive here. Our guests thought it was great—and so did we! Thanks, Karen!

    Image by Peppergarlickitchen 

    Image by Peppergarlickitchen 

    Butter Chicken for a Crowd

    Serves 30

    2 medium onions, diced
    10 cloves of garlic, minced
    vegetable oil

    1/8 cup cumin
    1/4 cup corriander
    1/4 cup curry

    1.42 litres (50 oz.) of diced tomatoes
    1 cup of butter

    1/2 litre (17 oz.) cream
    1/4 cup paprika
    1/4 cup lemon juice
    1/2 cup cornstarch
    1/8 cup chili flakes
    1/8 cup dry chicken soup base
    salt and pepper, to taste

    8 kg chicken breasts, diced

    cilantro, for garnish
    red chili powder or hot sauce (optional, on the side)

    In a heavy-bottomed pot, sauté the onions and garlic in a bit of vegetable oil. Meanwhile in a small cast iron skillet, toast the cumin, coriander and curry (do not use any oil or liquid). Once the spices are toasted, add them to the onions and garlic mixture so that they don't burn in the skillet. Then add the diced tomatoes and butter to the mixture and simmer.

    In the empty tomato can, combine: cream, paprika, lemon juice, cornstarch, chili flakes and dry chicken soup base. Mix and then add to the pot of tomatoes, spices, onions and garlic. Bring to a low boil and simmer, stirring often. Taste add salt and pepper as needed.

    Now, dice the chicken breasts and marinate them overnight or as long as possible in the sauce. Saute the chicken on medium-high heat, and then add the remaining sauce. Put the mixture of chicken and sauce into the oven and cooking for about one hour. Right before serving, sprinkle with cilantro. Serve with rice—to a crowd!

    Interview #5: Tips for Feeding Big Groups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Ideas: 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. 

    Essay: Safe Sundays in Korea - Sharing Hope through Hospitality

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

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

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

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

    Peter, Kara and their children

    Peter, Kara and their children

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

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

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

    A Korean church building

    A Korean church building

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

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

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

    A Korean church steeple

    A Korean church steeple

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

    Peter and Kara's entryway on a Sunday afternoon

    Peter and Kara's entryway on a Sunday afternoon

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

    A Sunday afternoon gathering at Peter and Kara's apartment

    A Sunday afternoon gathering at Peter and Kara's apartment

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

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

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

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