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Hospitality Lessons from Refugees

refugees and hospitality

Does anyone else hate hospitality? Or at least feel completely lacking when it comes to serving guests well? I’ve never been someone given to entertaining. Some people have a wonderful knack for making you feel right at home, their house all spic and span, serving fresh baked goods on a china platter. That’s definitely not me. I often even forget to offer my guests a cup of water! Even though it’s been several years since I made a conscious decision to become more hospitable, I still get quite nervous when I think about the details.

In recent years, I’ve discovered a wonderful mentor in the art of hospitality. Refugee moms from around the world have consistently shown me lessons in generosity and hospitality when I go to visit them. And I’ve learned from them that there’s so much more to welcoming people into your home than just good food and a clean house. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned that have inspired me to see hospitality in a new light:

First, it’s about the welcome. So my house can be spotless with nary Lego or Shopkins in sight, but if I’m stressed out and focused on being perfect, I’m not going to provide true hospitality. The refugee moms I know are gracious, excited to see me (versus stressed) and look for ways to make me as comfortable as possible. Their houses aren’t perfect. The food isn’t a three-star meal. But I always feel genuinely welcomed.

Christian hospitality for moms

Second, food is food.  Let’s not overthink it. If you love to cook and make goodies, fine! Then do it. But if it’s hard to whip up a batch of scones in the morning, don’t worry about it. A bowl of goldfish, cheese and crackers, fruit and tea/coffee/water are all viable options.

I recently had a friend from the Middle East over to my house. I realized in horror a few minutes before she came that I didn’t have any appropriate snacks. I’d been so focused on getting other things ready for her visit, that I totally overlooked food. So in desperation, I found all the random packaged things in my pantry, arranged them in bowls and put them on the table. And guess what? Her kids loved my snacks. They ate a lot!

I think the key here is to show care for our guests and yes, that involves refreshments in almost all cultures. But don’t be like me and avoid entertaining because the food portion of it seems overwhelming.

One caveat: when having friends from other cultures over, it IS good to know at least some of the foods that they can’t/don’t eat. Don’t be afraid to ask. They’ll gladly share. 

Third, make your goal to refresh and encourage your visitor. It’s not about impressing them. It’s not about showing off your spotless house. It’s about them. Take time to listen well, learn about what’s going on in their lives, and find out how you can build them up. Because at the end of the day, that’s the heart of hospitality.

This is also an opportunity to teach your kids how to put others first. Some ground rules at our house include: play what the guest wants even if it’s not your favorite activity, take the smallest portion of the popular snack, share your toys freely. We’ll often have a debrief afterwards to talk through what went well and what didn’t, and how they could improve. GREAT training!

Finally, hold on to your possessions very lightly. It doesn’t matter if something gets broken, stained, used up. Share freely. We’re only stewards of everything that God has given us. When we are miserly with our possessions (or even our time), we’ll miss the joys of hospitality.

Showing welcome

One of our artisans, Ann, has had times in their household where they were very short on food and were conserving what they ate. Yet, she told me later about how kids from their apartment complex would come hang out at their house after school…and she would feed them all. “This makes me happy,” she shared.

So what’s it matter if the neighbor kid walks through the mud and then on to my white carpet before I could stop him? Take it in stride and grab some rug cleaner! What’s it matter if my favorite vase gets knocked over and shatters? It’s not worth half as much as the life of the people that I’m with. Who cares if all of those expensive gluten-free crackers disappear (why’d I buy them anyway…)? Be thankful to nourish and bless your company. I see this open-hand principle often with my refugee friends as they share freely of what they have, even when it’s only a little.

So are there any other hospitality “haters” out there? What tips would you add to this list? 

“Welcome” photo by Nathan, used under a Creative Commons license

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