Tuesday, August 24, 2010

a question for you about sharing Jesus with women from other cultures

We live in a very multicultural area. At school, there are families from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. There are Catholics, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. My son's friend is Indian, I chat with a Macedonian Muslim after school, and another mum, who's become a dear friend, is from an Orthodox Christian background. There are many wonderful opportunities for talking with people about Jesus - but I often feel out of my depth.

My friend Deb recently emailed me (and we'd both love your advice):

I have also been caught up reading Miniskirts, Motherhood and Muslims because my new neighbour (we moved house at the start of the year) is a Lebanese Muslim. Have had a sudden realization that she sees things very differently from me and found myself sweeping my front path and step this morning and scrubbing my kitchen chairs lest I give the gospel a bad name! The interesting thing is that she has made (to my shame) much more of an effort to be hospitable and welcoming than I have to her. She is always inviting me in for coffee (and I'm always rushing off with the kids and promising to do it some other time.....here's a problem) and bringing over leftovers. I want to reciprocate but of course find it more difficult when my food would probably not be acceptable. I've found sweets work a treat though as there are four children in the house. Anyway, that's all a very long aside....

Like Deb, I'm sure I've committed many faux pas when my son's Punjabi friend's mum invites me in and insists,"Sit down, sit down! I'll get you something to eat!". Too often, I respond with what I'm starting to realise is an unfriendly Australian, "No thanks, I'm in a hurry." I've thought about inviting her family for a meal; but what can I feed them when they may not like our food, I can't give them anything like the Indian delicacies she offers, and our house is scruffy and cluttered to her immaculate and clean?

I'd love to hear your ideas.

image is by Sailing "Footprints: Real to Reel"(Ross+ashore) from flickr


Suzie said...

I went to India in July with India Gospel League & was absolutely overwhelmed by their hospitality. I have to say I returned feeling somewhat sad about our Australian culture & lack of hospitality to others. We just seem to be too busy & it doesn't seem very christian to me. Suzie

Jean said...

I couldn't agree more. Is there also a sense there that it's impolite not to accept hospitality (or offer it)? I'd love to know what the ground rules are.

Jean said...

In India, I mean!

Catherine said...

Hi Jean,
I can really, REALLY relate to your post! We have recently moved to Sydney, where we live directly next to, and send our oldest child to, the local state school. The area we live in is comprised of 95% non-English speaking background - lots of Chinese, Indian, Sri-Lankan, & Korean families, and a growing number of Muslim families as well.
I am reading (slowly) Mothers, Miniskirts & Muslims and it has been a real help to me in understanding the Muslim community. I have also made a very dear Turkish muslim friend, whose hospitality and generousity blow me away.
I am really learning that my time is very much not my own at this season, since living so close to the school seems to mean that we are often asked for afternoon play dates, and women I am getting to know pop in often, since they walk right past my door.
I find this hard as, having 4 little ones, my house is always FAR from spic and span, and I feel like I am always struggling to keep up with the pace of life even without visits...
There is so much MORE I am learning - probably worth me finding the time to put pen to paper about it all sometime. But we are far more dominated by the clock than by community in Western culture - it isn't like this in other parts of the world and we have SO much to learn from these people. Also, there is so much to gain by 'doing as the Romans do' in this instance - perhaps reducing the amount of organised activities we do and be ready for, and pray for, these impromptu times of connecting. I really want to know more about how Christians can best share Christ with devout Hindus, who are quite happy to just see him as one of their Pantheon..
Anyway, enough from me! Look forward to hearing how your thought develops!

Footprints Australia said...

I am about to find out a lot more as a Muslim fellow has just started working in my section. I don't think I've ever met one before!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jean. I am an American that works (ministers) in a Muslim country. I can't remember how I found your blog, but have enjoyed reading it! I appreciate your heartfelt desire to love and relate to these women from other cultures. I can tell you that I have been amazed at what hospitality means in different cultures after living cross culturally.

That book Mothers, Mini Skirts and Muslims is a great resource!

Unhurried time in someone's home is so important. Overseas when I go visit a friend's home I have learned to not schedule anything afterwards and to be totally flexible if they want to take me to a relative's home (this is probably not as much an issue Australia). I think the more unhurried time we can give to women from other cultures, the more is speaks to them of our commitment to friendship.

I have also seen how blessed people are when we make the effort to *serve* their food to them when they come to our house. I wrote served versus cooked because sometimes for lack of time I have bought food from a restaurant and served it. In my context friends have been happy that I would eat their food with them regardless if I made it or not.

Anyway, hope you don't mind a stranger offering a few thoughts!

Anna said...

I was just thinking about this the other day when my Muslim friend (mum from school) and I started chatting about food and Ramadan. We agreed to get together and she would show me how to cook some of her favourite dishes (I'll bring the main ingredients). Perhaps spending time together making food breaks down more barriers than just serving up food that you are not sure if they will accept or like. However, it has not happened just yet- we will see.

Jean said...

Thanks so much for your helpful suggestions and observations (keep them coming!). I have read and benefited from them all, and will probably try to put some of this into a follow-up post. It has made me think and pray far more proactively about ministry and evangelism in the context we live in.

Being prepared to hang around at someone's house; serving their food; learning to cook their food together: what wonderful ideas!

Am I right in thinking, then (for those of you who know) that this is better than serving Western food? Or is there a place for this too?

And what about the clean vs. messy house issue? Is a clean house a good witness to women from cultures where this matters, and/or does it make them feel comfortable? Or is it better just to sit lightly to this and have people over regardless?

Any more ideas are welcome!

Rachael said...

yHi Jean, I don't live in Multi-cultural Australia but thought I might share some thoughts, some of which come from my experience of being a stranger in a foreign land.

(in no particular order)

I really agree with the point about unhurried time together. It may just mean having lunch together and then spending the whole afternoon together (!!). When back in Australia now we constantly overstay our welcome in "anglo" Australian homes because we've forgotten that they'll be rushing out somewhere...

Think of something to do together, e.g. ask her to show you how to cook one of those amazing dishes or how to weave those baskets (this is what I would ask women to show me... then they wouldn't be so nervous about having me around). I have always found that doing something together takes the pressure off conversation and puts differences in the background.

If English is a second language for her (or a new one), patiently persist in talking to her and listening to her... don't give up. It is very isolating not being able to talk to people because of difficulty with language.

Some advice that I was given when I first came was just to be with people... I didn't have to say anything, my presence would be enough to begin to establish relationships. This doesn't apply very well in the situations that you are describing (because I could go and hang out with a group of people), except perhaps to say, just start spending time together, and don't worry (just yet) about how to introduce them to Jesus. Sometimes that worry can be crippling.

I remember one missionary saying that in their first term they decided never to turn down an invitation because they knew that once they said "no" a few times, people would stop making the effort to befriend them. I have never forgotten this and I think it is a warning for us. If we keep saying no, eventually they will stop asking.

I have no wisdom about the immaculate home (because I don't know how to have one). Except to say that probably it's best to swallow pride and not worry about the mess. Just as there are things you admire about her, there are probably things she admires about you. If she didn't want to be friends, she wouldn't keep being friendly.

Anyway, just some thoughts to throw in the mix! Thanks for posting on this and keep thinking it through because bridging culture gaps is hard work and we need to encourage each other to persist. It's easier to stick with what we know and the people we know.

Jean said...

Thanks, Rachael, for the encouragement and great suggestions and observations. Very sobering words about turning down invitations - ones I'll remember. Thanks.

Deb L said...

My mum and dad work in northern India. I wish I had some specific Indian cultural tips for you but I know none. However, I don't think asking my mum would help much either. I'll tell you why: my mum just goes on being my mum wherever she is. She's a great adapter to places. She lands in a country, finds the local market and plunges in. It doesn't phase her that she can't speak the language or doesn't know all the customs: there's a pile of apples over there and she's going to buy some for tea and somehow she'll get that all sorted out. Mum lives with an open door to her home just about all the time. I rarely ring up and find her apartment empty. That would drive me insane but it doesn't seem to worry Mum much. I tried to convince her a while back to put a sign on the front door when they were eating dinner to say that she'd only accept emergencies between 6pm and 7pm (she's a college campus nurse) but she was not convinced. Students come and go at all hours, sometimes for medicine or sympathy after a heartbreak, sometimes to watch tv or use mum's kitchen to cook in.

In short, she lives WITH people and is marvellously good at getting her life tangled up with theirs. I like to arrange my time with people in advance and for small, well-defined segments. I don't think Mum could list too many cultural tips but she's called "my second mother" by quite a few of the students on campus. I'm actually quite jealous of some of her "other children" as they seem just as precious to her as I am.

I think I have to learn to say "yes" more often. And also plan to say "yes" more often. Because I know cleanliness will be very important to my muslim friend, I now try to remember to scrub up the kitchen just a bit after breakfast if I'm going to be home all day in case I get a knock at my front door. I can't keep the house spotless, but she has small kids too so I'm sure she's seen mess before. If I got invited into a friend's house when it was in a mess I would be pleased they considered me such a close friend. And I would relax. But another culture might wonder why we thought them so unimportant that we wouldn't care enough to straighten up the place for them. In that case, our messy house might say, "You don't really matter to me." So if we're serious about saying yes, we might need to prepare a little depending on the culture we are addressing.

I think most cultures understand a genuine desire to befriend. To share what we have and to help. If I make an effort and get it wrong, I think most of the time it will be seen for what it is rather than taken as an offence.

Deb L said...

I should add, I asked my middle-eastern friend for advice on what to cook for my Muslim friend. I was in rather a tizz about what to make that would be acceptable. Her advice was, "No, just make something you do well." That was extremely helpful. I stopped fussing and made a dish I was confident I could pull off.

Anonymous said...

i've found it helpful to sometimes just ask. i haven't had much time with muslims but in my experiences with many people from other cultures, mentioning that 'in australia this is a very special meal and I've cooked it for you' is handy. And other such comments to interpret what I'm doing as a host. Equally, asking the person what is important in their culture can be helpful, as it shows that I am interested but clueless, and could they educate me.
Other than that making a few mistakes and joking about them (or asking after something may have seemed a bit culturally odd to someone) can provide a good context for growing together. My Chinese background friends frequently tell me that serving them salad makes absolutely no sense as one would only ever cook vegetables in their homes, but having made that mistake a few times I can adapt to provide something they prefer.
I know this can backfire as some cultures don't like to shame the person by being honest about not liking something, but i've found it can work even with those cultures.