Hospitality is rooted in the word hospital, which comes from two Greek words meaning “loving the stranger.” It evolved to mean “house for strangers” and later came to be known as a place of healing. Eventually, hospitality meant connecting with strangers in such a way that healing took place. Therefore, when we show openness toward people who are different from us, welcome them into our presence, and make them feel safe, the relationship becomes a place of healing. As we welcome people just as they are and invited them to join us just as we are, it becomes a sacred event reflecting what Jesus did for us–providing us with a healing relationship.
–Cross-Cultural Servanthood, by Duane Elmer
I readily admit that it takes a great deal of courage at times for me to be open and welcoming to strangers. A few years ago, a friend of mine taught cross cultural principles to our Papua New Guinean staff here. The thing that stuck with me from that training was simple. “Smile,” they said, “and shake hands with us. You can even hug us!” (The Highlands culture tends to be much more affectionate than I had originally thought.) So, I started to intentionally smile when we passed people on the road, walk into the store or hardware center, and also to the people we buy veggies from at the market. Here in PNG, walking past people without looking at them communicates that we are busy and that the person we are passing isn’t important. (One person said “I feel like a dog or a pig if you don’t smile at me,” which to me conveyed, “I feel devalued as a person.”) I am not saying that smiling is appropriate in every culture everywhere, this is just something I’ve been conscious of here in PNG because I heard that it communicated value to my neighbors.
I know, I know, this sounds really simplistic. Aren’t I here to share and live out the gospel? If I am, as Elmer says above, “showing openness toward people who are different from us, welcome them into our presence, and make them feel safe,” then isn’t Jesus present there? I really don’t have to go out of my way to search for people to be friendly to since I live in a community full of people from a plethora of cultures and backgrounds. If you look at me, you’d likely think, “oh she’s an American.” However, if you start talking to me, you might realize that I’m a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and I am really quite odd/strange/unique. I might find something incredibly funny that other Americans wouldn’t, or I might not catch onto a joke that most people would normally get. It is rare for me to come across anyone who has lived where I lived and had the same experiences as me. It is more common for me to delve into friendships here with people who have had completely different experiences. But here’s the thing: we don’t have to be from the same cultural background to share an intimacy with Jesus. He links us together through love. As a student of culture and personality styles, I’m learning how to show love (appropriately) in relationships. In doing so, I feel like I’m holding a small piece of the colors and depths of beauty that I will be seeing more of in heaven.