FIRST-PERSON: Open your home, open your heart
BENTONVILLE, Ark. (BP) -- People gathering together is a universal activity throughout the world. And there's nothing quite like a room full of women bringing international food!
The air quickly fills with smells of curry and sounds of repetitive conversations. We each have to restate words several times to comprehend what is being said through thick accents. (Or a southern accent in my case.)
Learning to love people from other cultures is a process. It's not something we automatically do. Have you noticed that? Yet, Scripture says, "The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself …" (Leviticus 19:34).
Opening your home is one way to create space in your heart for learning to love cross-culturally while also communicating favor and friendship.
Here are some steps I've learned:
1. Learn to dissolve presuppositions.
They came in wearing black burqas, they took off their robes and shoes and went to the bathroom to fix their hair. All of sudden these women who crowded around a mirror, chatting and laughing, seemed like, well, normal women.
Did I really think they weren't normal because they wore a burqas? They were women, like me. I'm the one who mentally put them into a different category. We often make assumptions about someone's life based on a news clip we saw on TV. We must work at seeing people as people, no matter their culture or beliefs.
2. Learn to be comfortable with being present.
Americans have watches, but other cultures have time. We are fast-paced Americans who feel awkward with silence. When building a cross-cultural friendship, there will be quiet moments where you'll feel uncomfortable. They probably don't. In many cultures, presence communicates friendship even in silence. Work at not rushing and just being present.
3. Learn their religion and culture.
Learning about another religion is not denying your own. Asking questions communicates a posture of being interested and often gives insight into why they believe what they do. Ask questions -- Why do women cover their head? Have you been to Mecca? What does the red dot (called a bindi) on your forehead mean?
These are not offensive questions. You're learning. They want to learn too. By learning about them, you've created a safe place for them to ask you questions. And they will -- Why do you put ice in your tea? Why do you baptize? Why do you teach people to drink Jesus' blood?
4. Learn to be confident in the power of the Gospel.
Love the Gospel, but lose the sales pitch. We don't have to convince someone that the Gospel is true. It is true. And it is the power that brings "salvation to anyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). And we need to lose the fear that we might have to defend our faith. There is a place for apologetics, but often these casual conversations are not it. Ask them to tell a story about their beliefs, and you will eventually have an opportunity to story the Gospel.
5. Learn to contextualize.
Don't alter who you are, but learn to do things acceptable in their culture. I've so messed this up. The first time I had Hindus in my house I cooked chicken! They were vegetarian.
Develop a keen awareness to cultural cues and implement them. I've learned to eat rice with my hands and I've learned to "bobble" my head side to side. They want to learn American culture, too, and they feel a mutual friendship when you learn theirs.
6. Learn to create margin to live life with them.
Our lives are so busy that we schedule ourselves right out of a life on mission. After you've had them in your home, what's your next missional step to connecting with them? Many internationals living in the States want an American friend. Statistically, few have found them. Let us work at loving foreigners, from our prayers to our daily lifestyle.