I’ve had guests arrive in the middle of the night, before dawn in the morning, and at the least opportune times, but hosting is just something global workers do, whether they like it or not. In many places where they work, there are not easy-to-use hotels, and furthermore, those coming to visit may not have the money to spend on a hotel. So every global worker should keep in mind these ten hosting basics.
1. Give guests space to settle
Travel is hard. International travel is especially hard. Your guest needs a place to lay a suitcase, some drawer or closet space to unpack, and a flat surface that can be used as a desk. If you have a real guest room, make sure you include all these accommodations. If you don’t, make space by hauling some things to another place.
2. Make room
Square footage can be pretty tight in many global workers’ homes. What if you don’t have space for a dedicated guest room? Well, you remove one of your kids from the “guest” room to bunk with their sister/brother for the duration. When our children wanted their own bedrooms, they knew that privilege came with a price – removal without much notice. If this is known ahead of time, the kids deal with it. They need to know that keeping their rooms in reasonable shape is also part of the deal so that there is not major cleanup each time someone comes to visit. Teach them to knock and ask permission to enter their own room when it’s been turned over to a visitor.
3. Always be ready
Have a “guest room in a box.” Keep all the extras you need for a guest in a box or bag, so you can pull them out and pop them in place when needed. This might include a nicer bed cover, a set of adult sheets (instead of Frozen or Sponge Bob), an extra pillow (all good hotels have two pillows), a set of towels, a fresh bar of soap, a small shampoo bottle, a tissue box, etc. Keeping all these goodies in one place will save you time.
4. Explain oddities
Anticipate what will not be familiar. Do you drink the water? How does the shower work? Do you leave shoes on or take them off? The routines that are totally familiar to you will be unfamiliar to your guests, even if they also are global workers. If in doubt, leave little signs like, “Water’s OK for teeth but use water in pitcher for drinking.” As much as possible, prepare your guests for cultural differences that they might encounter outside of your house, too.
5. Schedule showers
Figure out the bathroom. One shower is the norm in many parts of the world and hot water might not be in plentiful supply. Are there times that your kids absolutely have to be in the bathroom in order to get to school on time? Tell your guests ahead of time so that you don’t have a conflict around the commode. Also, clean the bathroom really well. There is nothing more disgusting than a messy, dirty bathroom. Remove any nasty shampoo or soap. Make sure the guests have a place to hang their towels – either in their room or in the bathroom.
6. Fill your fridge
Plan your meals ahead of time. Hopefully your guests will have told you if they have diet issues but even if not, plan some simple, easy-to-fix meals that would please almost anyone. If you have a “plan” in mind, you will save yourself hassle, and if it changes (like, they take you out to dinner), you are ahead of the game and can serve what was planned at a later time. As much as possible, keep foods separate: Let people build their own salads or choose whether to add sauce to their pasta.
7. Set them free
Don’t over entertain. Allow your guests mental space. They may need study time, a jet-lag-induced nap, or just some quiet moments with a book or on email. The very best hosts are not the ones who do everything, but the ones who allow their guests some freedom. If it is safe to go out for a walk, encourage them to explore. (I have a fond memory of being handed a motor scooter and the 6-year-old son of our hosts for a trip to the market. He spoke the language and was a great guide and we felt like kids on vacation with our “own” scooter, little guy tucked in front of us. Yeah, probably not safe, but we never got over 15 mph.)
8. Give them what they want
Clarify your guests’ expectations. Are they visiting to see your ministry? Make sure ministry is planned. Are they there to understand the country or place where you work? Plan some cultural outings. Are they using your B&B to get some corporate work done? Give them peace, quiet and an open schedule. Expectations can kill or make a visit.
9. Don’t be bossy
Guests can feel overwhelmed when they’re immersed in another culture. Give them opportunities to set boundaries. If they offer to help, give them a job, but give them a choice. I don’t want to watch your kids but I can clean up a kitchen in any language while you get your kids ready for bed. You might always walk to the market, but your guests might be worn out from all the walking. Ask if they’d prefer to take a taxi, even if it seems extravagant to you. Some guests would love to go to small group, even if they won’t understand a word and will have to eat unfamiliar foods; others would rather you go while they enjoy a quiet evening at home with their book.
10. Embrace the unexpected
Don’t try to be perfect. Sometimes the unexpected is worth celebrating. One night, eight short-term workers were delayed on their flight out because of storms. Every sleeping surface in my house had a sheet and a body on it. Another time, I got a call about midnight from a co-worker coming in for meetings whose ride from the airport never showed. Could we get him? My husband was traveling, I had two other guests snoozing in a back bedroom, my mom was visiting and sharing space with two kids, and a friend’s toddler was sleeping over. I left Mom in charge, got the guy, fed him hot soup out of the freezer, and then shifted bodies of sleeping children around so that he got a room. I’d warned him the sheets were pre-warmed, but he was too tired to care. He still talks about “the night you rescued me.”
Hosting others is simply part of the job description of every global worker on the planet. Hospitality speaks volumes in the Kingdom.
Have you ever visited a global worker? What did they do to make you feel comfortable? Or what do you wish they had done differently?
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How to be a good missionary houseguest: Eight ways to bless your hosts and avoid cultural pitfalls.