We have invited some 20 internationals over to celebrate an “American Fourth of July” picnic. The work of all this is being shared with some neighbors, Bruce and Judy Duncan. I am bringing some of the food. The Duncans are opening their large and welcoming house. My husband is doing the inviting because he is the one who is cultivates friendships with tellers at the bank, with gas station and UPS store managers, and with our Korean cleaning folk. He learns names, countries of birth and creates daily friendships with each one.
Today, as we were picking up senior coffees from McDonald’s, we drove past the pay window. David laughed and said, “Oh, this is my favorite person at McDonald’s—Norita. Norita also works at the other McDonald’s in town.” During this explanation, Norita was occupied with taking another drive-up order and counting out our change. Nevertheless, she warmed immediately and flashed my husband a great big smile.
“Papa, everyone knows you,” said our grandson, Nathanael, who was running errands with his grandfather. They had walked into the bank and someone had called out, “Hi! Dr. Mains!”
“Don’t you know a lot of people like that?” David asked Nathanael. Our grandson said that he didn’t. His grandfather’s response: “Then, Nathanael, you’re not being friendly enough. People are all around us.”
So, Sandip and his family from India; Marie and her son from Mexico; Rahila, who is from Kenya with her husband, an African-American; David and Cecilia from Nigeria—20 of us in all—will be mixing the varied experiences of our birth nationalities to celebrate what is a uniquely American experience—the Fourth of July. We are, apart from the Indian Nations, a country of immigrants.
Through the years these are some of the things we have learned about the first-generation immigrants among us:
- Amazingly, most of them have never been invited into an American home.
- They are puzzled by the apparent insincerity of American greetings, such as “How are you?” In most of the countries from which these people come, that inquiry, which is casual to us, instead invites sincere information. “How are you? How is your mother? How is your father? Are your children doing well?” People stop and talk—they don’t hurry by each other, driven by intractable daily schedules.
- Many Americans say, “We’ll have to get together sometime—” but never do. Hopes for social connection are raised but never met.
- Meals for internationals are considered “events” with lots of food spread on large tables, hours spent with each other, a community of people invited who laugh, tell stories, dialogue and specialize in enjoying the occasion. Many internationals are puzzled, if not offended, by the American custom of eating and running.
The book of Romans, written when hospitality was a sacred act, understood to be so across most cultures at the time, says this: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.” Romans 15:7, RSV.
It is interesting to me that in the New International Version, this is also translated, “Accept one another, then just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” In the New King James Version, the same verse reads, “Therefore, receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.”
Welcome, accept, receive—these are the essential attitudes we must have if we are to practice Christian hospitality.
Henri Nouwen writes in Reaching Out, “Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become friend instead of enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. … The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free, free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances, free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.” What an appropriate prescription for extending hospitality to internationals.
So. Sandip, Mari, Rahila, Cecelia and David (and their families) are joining with the Mainses and the Duncans to share a quintessential American celebration—an Independence Day backyard picnic. This also seems to me to be a quintessential act of hospitality in which welcome, acceptance and reception are being extended to people of different nations. What a joyful event to look forward to!
Happy Fourth of July!
Other projects involving Karen right now are: Working with teams of Christian women to design Retreats of Silence, in both 24-hours and three-days formats, through the aegis of Hungry Souls. Developing hospitality initiatives that train Christian men and women how to use their own homes in caring outreaches through the Open Heart, Open Home ministries. Launching the Global Bag Project, a worldwide effort that markets sustainable cloth shopping bags to provide sustainable incomes for bag-makers in developing nations. Researching the impact of listening groups while overseeing some 240 small groups over the last three years. Experimenting with teleconference mentoring for Wannabe (Better) Writers. Designing the Tales of the Kingdom Web site.