A few reflections post Quiñones visit to Holland, MI, October 2011
After a first guest experience and then host experience as part of the GDN, some reflections about unexpected challenges in trying to understand how to host well.
First, the relationship of guest-host is something we think is heavily conditioned by culture, and this relationship is one we don’t know enough about. May the guest help around the home? What may the guest ask for in terms of food or services? How should the guest express gratitude so that it is received well? When is it appropriate for the guest to participate in the host family’s “family time”? While I think I had some cues from my time as a guest in various homes of Central America, when William came, I realized I didn’t have a chosen reference point for how to host him. Do I host him in the same way he hosted me or do I try for a more “American” experience? And what expectations did we have of him as a guest? How much were those expectations colored by being Americans or by my experience abroad? How do the various aspects of the professional-personal-familial pastor-exchange relationship affect how the host and guest spend time together? For example, in the Quiñones home, their family has but one large bedroom to themselves, and so thinking in terms of (American?) privacy and pastors and families needing a space for themselves, I rarely approached that room, let alone entered it. I wonder if that affected how much time William spent in the upstairs of our duplex with our family, since he may have perceived our upstairs as our “family space,” as it is where we do everything. In any case, we were humbled by how much we don’t know and our difficult-to-fulfill desire to be good hosts.
Second, even though this is a cultural exchange that tries to put pastors on equal footing, with each pastor being the teacher in their own context, there is a third cultural context that complicates matters greatly: the in-between cultural context. This in-between culture is created when each guest and host tries to bend life a bit to accommodate the visitor and to operate in their role from a growing understanding of foreign cultures. While I was in Guatemala as The Foreigner, I was certain that others were making allowances for me since so many Americans had visited William’s church and school before. When William came to the States, I wanted to teach something about multi-ethnic ministry, and so that included some analysis of cultural factors that affect such ministry (like power distance, time orientation, uncertainty avoidance, and so on), and Guatemala was an obvious application. In my own estimation, I have a fair amount of knowledge about other cultures and how to think about them, and so in a certain way, I feel I can teach in the in-between third culture space. Yet, given our learning model, I felt conflicted about teaching about his context while in mine, even though such cross-cultural teaching is part of my context and ministry. For both William and I, we were trying to meet and function somewhere between cultures, being aware of the other’s presence and needs and expectations. It was much more complicated than I anticipated, and I am far less adept than I had hoped. Thus, despite knowledge, I am grateful for being humbled again.
Onward the GDN!
– Dan Roels, October 2011