Loving people involves opening our hearts and homes to them. God commands hospitality, both to Christians and to “strangers.” (Rm. 12:13; Heb. 13:2) By being hospitable, we welcome people into our inner circle and offer friendship, care, and affirmation. Similarly, by accepting others’ hospitality, we affirm them. But different cultures do hospitality differently, so in order to love effectively, we must learn the differences.
I had an interesting conversation with a tentmaking couple working in the Middle East. The husband had connected with someone at work and invited him and his wife to dinner. When the evening came, they had a wonderful time together. Their new friends expressed how much they had enjoyed themselves and that the tentmaker couple should visit them sometime.
So they waited for an invitation, but none ever came. They wondered, “Maybe we misunderstood them. Maybe they didn’t really like us and were just being polite.” They did not know what to think. So they finally decided to try again. They had another great evening, perhaps even better than they first. Again the couple invited them to drop by. The tentmaker couple felt even more confident that they really enjoyed and wanted their friendship.
So they waited, and waited, and… No invitation came. They were baffled, thinking they had surely heard their friends clearly and wanted to be friends. Eventually, they asked for some advice from another person in the culture. They learned that when people really like you and think you like them, they expect you to drop by. That’s what good friends do—they just drop by.
They realized that the other couple must have wondered, “Why didn’t our friends ever come by to visit? We thought they really liked us. But they never dropped by. Maybe they are just too polite to even hint that they don’t like us.” Both parties totally misunderstood the other because of their culture. But finally, the American tentmakers understood and dropped by to visit.
Loving people and doing hospitality requires learning how the culture works. This is why it is so valuable to develop a good friend who will tell us honestly how the culture works. So pray for a good cultural informant friend, enjoy learning the culture, and love the people.