Recently, my good friend Mehari (from Ethiopia, living in the States to encourage and mobilize other immigrants as well as locals) visited us for the Reaching the Nations Conference. Mehari is very wise and also has an interest in my blog–I consider that an excellent combination.
So I asked him, “Mehari, do you have any ideas for the blog? What should I write next?”
He didn’t hesitate: “You write a lot about hospitality, but only from the perspective of a Western person inviting an immigrant over to their house. You should write about how Westerners should be willing to welcome an immigrant by GOING to the immigrant’s house.”
We went on fleshing this out and eventually coined the phrase “the burden of discomfort.” As in, the burden of discomfort should be on the welcomer, not the welcomed. This is very similar to D.L. Mayfield’s quip that “showing up and sitting on couches” can also be a ministry (run, don’t walk, to get her book //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=lovingthestra-20&marketplace=amazon®ion=US&placement=0062388800&asins=0062388800&linkId=92be188d20dd38b4a26519ccb05a98fb&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Assimilate or Go Home).
As I often do, let me explain this from “the other side,” when I was an immigrant to East Africa. I liked going over to Ethiopian houses, but I’ll be honest–when I got an invitation, I didn’t just feel happy, I also felt really nervous.
What if I missed some social cue? What was I supposed to wear? What if I didn’t understand a key word in a thread of conversation that everyone else was following? What kind of food would there be? Should I bring something–if so, what? How would I know it was time to leave? Etc., etc., etc.
If, on the other hand, a local agreed to my invitation to come to my house, I was so much more at ease! I would be on my home turf, preparing my food, steering the conversation to topics I could understand, and setting the schedule. It felt so much more comfortable.
It’s scary going over to someone’s house when you don’t fully understand the culture. It might feel scary to you to go over to an immigrant’s house because you don’t understand the culture. I get it.
But since you’re part of the predominant culture, think of this as your gift to your immigrant friends, a gift that silently communicates, “You have to feel shaky and uncertain most of the time (i.e. doing daily life in a foreign culture), so I’m willing feel shaky and uncertain for a few hours while visiting you, because getting to know you better is worth it!”
If you’re contemplating getting together with your immigrant friend, let them decide where.
Say, “I would love to spend more time with you.” Most immigrants will then invite you to their home (if you don’t lead with an invitation to your own home, beating them to the punch!).
Does this feel uncomfortable to you–essentially inviting yourself over? It does to me too! BUT, I have been told time and time again by my Non-Western friends that this is “not a thing” to anyone except Westerners. If you are friends with someone, the understanding is that you are always welcome at their house!
So, long story short, if you want to be truly hospitable to immigrants, become their guest. You’ll learn more about them, get to experience some of their culture, and honor them in a way that’s hard to explain but powerfully felt–communicating the truth that they have the dignity to be a gracious host, even in a foreign land.
(P.S. I’m not saying you can NEVER invite an immigrant friend to your home. I’m just saying that you should be equally willing to go to theirs. For more on inviting immigrants to your own home, see “Entertaining Vs. Hospitality: Immigrant Edition” and “The Joy of Cooking for Immigrants.”