Hospitality and Diversity

This post is a bit different than most of my other posts, but I hope you will read all of it. I pray it sparks conversations and thoughts. I hope it encourages you to celebrate the differences of those with different cultural backgrounds or experiences and find common ground as you practice hospitality.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a remarkable man. He promoted equality while endorsing peace. He fought for civil rights while demonstrating civility. Monday is a day set aside to honor him. For many, this day has become just a day off from school or work. We post a social media post with a quote from this great leader and go on about our day not thinking of the impact of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, I think that is such an injustice to the cause that Mr. King fought so hard against. Embracing diversity and equality is not to “be color-blind.” What we, as Caucasians, often mean when we say this is that people of other ethnicities and races are equal with us. However, this language instead tends to dilute the severity of injustice our Black and Brown friends are still experiencing daily that we cannot begin to fathom. When we say we are color-blind, we ignore the deep cultural value other ethnicities and skin tones bring to the proverbial table. Instead, we ought to look closely at the differences and celebrate them! We must find common ground and stand united on them!

With that being said, I had a conversation/interview of sorts with two of my friends. Jasmine Luter is an African-American woman who is both a friend and fellow pastor’s wife at our church, Idlewild, in Tampa, FL. Her husband, Chip, leads our Sulphur Springs campus. Yerusha Bunag is also a friend and member of Idlewild. She is Brazilian-American and is married to a Filipino-American. I am, if you didn’t figure it out already, a Caucasian American. I wanted to find out how our cultures and families view hospitality, the differences between cultures, and to talk about the commonality of how we all practice hospitality within our families. Here goes…

Where did you grow up? 

Jasmine: Atlanta/ New Orleans

Yerusha: I was born I Dallas, TX during the time my father was attending Dallas Theological Seminary. After his master’s degree my family moved back to Brazil. From age 2-10 we lived in a city called Atibaia in Brazil, where my parents were Word of Life missionaries. When I was almost 11 we moved back to Dallas while my dad was working on his doctorate degree from DTS. We returned to Brazil when I was 14. I finished high school, and graduated from college. I returned to the States when I was 26 to pursue a Master’s degree at Southeastern Theological Seminary and have stayed in the States ever since. 

Me: I was born in Alabama, but was raised in Memphis, TN.

How would you define hospitality?

Yerusha: I would define hospitality as doing everything in one’s power to make another person feel welcomed, comfortable, loved, and valued. You are willing to sacrifice your own comfort for the sake of another’s comfort.

Jasmine: The opening up of ones home and life for sharing/ doing life with others as Jesus modeled.

Growing up, was hospitality every explicitly taught or talked about? If yes, how so?

Me: For me, I only experienced hospitality as the group of ladies who served in the “Hospitality Ministry” at church. They were basically greeters for special events. The concept of hospitality as loving other intentionally, wasn’t something I ever remember being clearly taught.

Yerusha: It wasn’t taught; it was practiced.

Jasmine: No, not really. It was just done. It wasn’t until I got older that I learned that it’s actually one of the spiritual gifts and learned more about what hospitality is and how to go about doing it.

How was hospitality modeled for you growing up?

Jasmine: It was more shown than talked about. We would have family over for the holidays and one year, the year that one of our babysitters mom died actually, we had her over to have dinner with us for Christmas since it was the first Christmas for her without her mother. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but once I was older I realized what an impact that made on her that non-family welcomed her in at a time where spending time with family is such a high priority during the holiday season. We became her family and were there for her at a time she really needed. I remember her crying at the dinner table because she missed her mom but felt like she still had family with us.

Yerusha: Totally! It wasn’t taught it was practiced. Our house was a revolving door of guests and families. Because my parents were missionaries at a Bible Institute we constantly had young people in our house. We also always had visiting pastors/teachers/missionaries and their families staying with us. It was a way of life. Whenever we travelled and stayed with host families, my folks would help clean, cook a meal for the family, help around the house. Even when they were guests, they did things to help the hosts feel comfortable and at ease. They made lasting friendships that way. 

Me: I saw hospitality modeled really well in my Sunday School teachers and leaders in upper high school and college. I didn’t recognize it as hospitality at the time, but just saw their willingness to “do life” with me. They would meet me for lunch or have me over to their home. I’m not sure they even knew how much it ministered to me, but they were willing to intentionally love me and point me to Jesus.

What is a difference you see in the way most Caucasian-American families respond to the idea of hospitality versus your culture?

Yerusha: In general there’s a formality about coming to someone’s home or staying at someone’s home that doesn’t occur in Brazil. In Brazil people drop by and visit. Most of the time now they will call and ask, “can I swing over later?” And they come and don’t feel rushed out the door. They actually come to visit. The hosts makes coffee and a snack, or asks them to stay for the next meal. It’s just easy. American families don’t really visit. They plan a meal or activity with beginning and end. I think American families are so busy that they don’t have time to visit.

Jasmine: In my experience, in Caucasian-American culture there is more preparation that goes into hospitality than in the African-American culture. I have a friend that has people over for play dates every so often. It’s simple, but she goes out of her way to make you feel she has prepared for you which is not something I always see in the African-American culture. Also I see Bible study home groups more in the Caucasian-American culture than in African-American culture. In the African-American culture we will have people into our homes, but only if we know them. We’re less likely to invite or welcome people into our homes that we just met or don’t really know that well ( unless they are a friend of someone else that we know and came with that person).

How do you practice hospitality in your home/family?

Me: We regularly have people in our home; sometimes its neighbors, friends, or co-workers. We include our kids in the process by having them be the door greeters as people arrive. I also take food once a month to a foster family, and my kids often tag along. Additionally, we take food to people when they have a baby or have been ill. We talk to our kids about what hospitality is and why it matters.

Jasmine: We try to bring a meal or help around the house when church members need it. One of our church members was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and we sent a meal to her family when they returned home from the hospital after the surgery. I also watch my friend’s foster daughter from time to time when she needs to attend court sessions. My own daughter is always with me when we do have to keep her and sometimes my son is as well. They are learning through watching how to be there for others. Jesus modeled hospitality for all of us and it’s important to our family that we model that as we serve those with needs no matter how great or small. It wasn’t until moving to Florida and coming to idlewild that I realized the simplicity and impact of hospitality in the manner of bringing meals when someone needs it. Our church family brought us meals for an entire month after I had my daughter. I was blown away!!! It was simple but so needed at that time with adjusting to life with two small children and recently moving. Ever since then whenever a friend is sick or has a baby, my first go-to hospitality moment is to bring a meal. It’s so simple but so impactful.

Yerusha: We adapted a Brazilian-Filipino-American model:

  • Brazilian - make you feel at home, 

  • Filipino - there will be food,

  • American -  let’s schedule it

Did you see the similarities? None of us were really verbally taught what hospitality was. Instead, we saw it modeled by people close to us. We all are striving to implement hospitality regularly and including our kiddos in the process. (Side note: don’t miss that we all lived in the South at some point growing up - it’s irrelevant but a fun fact nonetheless)

Do you see the differences? Jasmine said her African-American culture isn’t as welcoming to fringe friends in the same way Caucasians seem to be. Caucasians are more structured and scheduled in our hospitality resulting in less spontaneity than our Brazilian friends. Is one way better than another? Not one bit! There is no recipe or rulebook for hospitality. It is simply meeting people where they are & loving them in a way that points them to Christ. It can be through scheduled playdates, a dinner with good friends, or simply welcoming the unexpected friend who just needs some extra love on a tough day.

As a nation we have let our differences become a negative connotation. We want people to look and act like us. I think we too often praise the idea of diversity and neglect to be a part of diversity. Our differences are what make us incredible though! Our different life experiences create opportunities to encourage and love others in unique ways!! We ought to extend hospitality to everyone we meet. We need to learn from each other. Ask questions. Get to know those who look or act different than what is familiar to us. For those of us who have, we can assure you that you walk away changed for the better. None of us have everything perfect. We are all imperfect people trying to love others well. But as we, Believers in Jesus, link arms and extend hospitality to whoever God places in our path, we will see God move in mighty ways! You or I may never have the impact that Martin Luther King, Jr. has had, but as we practice hospitality, we can still make a difference and be one step closer to unity.