The Practice of Cross-Cultural Hospitality

When God’s children are in need, be the one to help them out. And get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night. 
Romans 12:13

Photo credit: Kate Ambrose Pollard

Reading this verse during the I Was A Stranger Challenge, I was reminded of something else I've read. “According to the Billy Graham Center, less than one in ten immigrants will ever be welcomed into the home of an American.” This startling fact that has been haunting me for months.

In conversation with a friend, she made a comment that has also stuck with me. She wondered how many Christians have actually been inside the home of anyone of a different race… immigrant or not.

I can’t stop thinking about these observations.

And then part of the verse jumped out at me: get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner.

I started thinking about how we may quietly steer clear of cross-cultural relationships because we’re afraid, nervousness of doing “the wrong thing,” or it just seems more complicated. What if they don’t like my food? What if they judge my lifestyle or it makes them uncomfortable? What if… What if… What if…

It may seem easier to simply extend our invitations to people who we understand… who are like us.

I was reminded of one of my first summers living in an urban, African American neighborhood. At a barbeque, a little girl asked me to help her with her hair. I treated it like I do my own. When a big clump of hair fell out of her ponytail onto the ground, I panicked!

She assured me, “It’s just weave!” But I really didn’t know exactly what that meant. And I didn’t know if weave was re-useable… So I made this little girl stuff it in the pocket of her shorts to take home to her mom.

Now I laugh at the ridiculousness of this encounter because I’m pretty sure  I should have just thrown it away. Although if I’m honest, I still don’t really know. However, this incident would not be my last encounter with weave.

A couple years later, I entered my friend’s dorm room and found her mom taking out microbraids. I offered to help in the painstakingly tedious process. As I combed out the first miniature braid, I was left holding a handful of weave. This time, I did not panic. (I may have asked tentatively… “This is not your hair… right?”)

Experience. Practice. Get into the habit of.

I’m not suggesting that you experiment with cross-cultural relationships, treating people like projects or asking a bunch of cultural questions that you’ve been wondering to someone who is basically a complete stranger. No.

Rather, I’m saying get into the habit of initiating relationships with people that are different than you. Treat them with respect. Listen to what they say. And you will naturally learn so much.

I think for me language has been the biggest challenge. As you might expect, I find myself in all-Spanish environments semi-regularly. Whether its with family, Billy’s co-workers or at the soccer field, I hate feeling like I’m perceived as quiet and serious because I don’t talk much and just nod and smile.

At the same time, the more often this scenario has happened, the less awkward I feel. I have become more relaxed and can rest in the moment, allowing language to swirl around me. I don’t need to know what’s happening every moment. I can just enjoying being with others. (And when I feel brave, I can bust out my español.)

I know these relationships have brought me more new experiences and laughter than discomfort. I refused to eat guacamole due to texture until Billy made some at home and begged me to try… game changer! I was told how to properly eat with my hands by a woman from India. And I even sang the national anthem of France (in French) with Billy’s Guatemalan grandmother…

It may not become habit right away. But with practice, you will grow in your understanding of cultures and in your depth of relationships. It is well worth any initial nervousness or misunderstanding or confusion.

And eventually, whatever is your equivalent of “stray weave” won’t cause you to panic.

Have you been in the home of someone of a different background? Have you invited someone into your home? Have you found cross-cultural relationships becoming easier with practice?

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  1. I love this. What a good reminder. Hospitality is such a good way to interact with others who are different from us. And I totally get you on the language thing. :)


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