The Serviette encourages people to share their tables in a way that bridges cultural and religious gaps, shows creativity, and serves others. Julie’s vision both for her blog and for the conversations she initiates with followers from around the world have impacted many. I am one who has been blessed by Julie’s all-encompassing heart and her creative ideas, and was privileged to have this interview with her. Pull up a chair to Julie’s welcoming table and listen in on the conversation.
First, some background about Julie:
Julie grew up in Brazil, spent most of her twenties in Canada (her parents’ home country) and then ate daal and roti for a few years in India. Now she lives with her American husband in Germany—one of the most culturally diverse places she has ever lived. They’ve been married for just over two years and enjoy having guests from around the world around their table.
Julie started The Serviette a year ago to collect stories and thoughts about engaging people of other cultures, religions or backgrounds within the home environment. From her diverse experience of living with Hindus, hosting Muslims, and befriending people of other worldviews, she’s realized that hospitality plays a vital role in the development of real, meaningful relationships. She hopes you’ll find that hosting people who think differently than you is more possible than you expected, and more important than you realized.
What do you think it is about sharing food that builds bridges between people of different backgrounds and cultures?
Eating is something so basic, so necessary and so everyday. It’s something that people from every culture can relate to and need to do. But at the same time it’s somewhat intimate. When you invite someone of another culture to share a meal with you, especially if it is in your home, you are opening yourself up to be known by them as you really are. You’re expressing that even though you’re different, you still can find things in common and be friends. If you take care to accommodate particular needs or preferences they might have, you’re showing them that their comfort is more important than your own, and of course that builds a bridge.
Are there any verses that motivate you to focus on ministry through hospitality?
Interestingly, the ones that probably motivate me the most don’t necessarily mention hospitality. Because showing hospitality is an act of service, I often think about how “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Matt. 20:28). Because Biblical hospitality is more than just the sharing of a meal, I like Paul’s words to the Thessalonians as a model: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well,” (1 Thess. 2:8). Recently 1 Peter 4:9 stood out to me, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling,” because I realized that it comes in the middle of a letter about suffering. When we are suffering it’s easy to focus on ourselves, not on others, but God shows us that hospitality is to be offered even in times of personal hardship or loss.
What are some highlights of what you’ve learned this past year through The Serviette?
I have loved having a place where I can ask questions or share things I’ve discovered about cross-cultural hospitality. For example, we had a Chinese guest in the last few months who always seemed a bit awkward when he ate with us. I asked people to tell me about their experiences feeding Chinese people and they gave me ideas for how to serve meals that might appeal to him more. Or, before we took a long-term guest of another culture into our home, I got some helpful feedback from others about their experiences with having long-term guests in their homes. Getting to know people around the globe who have a similar heart for hospitality has encouraged me to keep pursuing the good work of opening our home to strangers of other cultures and religions.
What has been your biggest cross-cultural hospitality mistake?
Shortly after we were married, my husband and I had a Syrian Muslim family whom we did not know well over for a meal. I served a sort of unusual salad with blue cheese on it, which neither of their children would touch. I bought gummy animals for the kids, but the kids were not allowed to eat them in case there was non-halal gelatin in them. I made vegetarian pizza as the main dish, because I didn’t have halal meat, but the father of the family was obviously not impressed by the food and only ate one little slice.
A few weeks later, they had us over for a meal and it was a bit awkward again: I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to touch their Koran when they showed it to us, and they had to pull it away from me. Then the husband slighted the dessert I had brought along and told my husband that maybe once I had a few more years of practice, I could make desserts like his wife made. Due to some sickness and poor keeping in touch on our part (the language barrier was part of the problem), we did not get to see them again, I felt a bit sad about how that attempt at a relationship turned out. I suppose they maybe have been told that Westerners don’t really care about them, or that Christians don’t love Muslims, and I didn’t want them to think that the situation with us reinforced that stereotype.
What about your greatest joy in cross-cultural hospitality?
One of our biggest joys has been a friendship that developed with a single Syrian Muslim friend. He was suffering deeply when we met him, and was very open with us about his story, about his pain, and about his life. He had no family in Germany and he became like a brother to us here in Germany. After knowing us for a while, and eating with us once in a while, he started attending a weekly meal and Bible reading group at our house. The group was good about listening to his concerns and praying with him, and he made meaningful friendships with some of our other friends through that. We have since moved to another town, but when we go back to visit our last town, he often makes a special effort to come see us.
I love that story. It makes me think of the verse “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). What impacted you most from these examples of disappointment and blessing?
I think from these two very different situations, I learned that there is a bit of “chemistry” in cross-cultural hospitality and friendships, and sometimes you just don’t click well with certain people. The first Syrian man made me feel embarrassed, like I was a failure at hospitality, but our single Syrian friend treated us both with a lot of kindness and grace. That also reminds me that you never know, when you meet a new person, whether your relationship with them will be shallow or deep. We can’t be discouraged because one attempt at a cross-cultural friendship fails, or write people of a certain culture or religion off because of a bad experience with one or two people from that background.
Julie, thanks so much for sharing your heart. May your desire to impact all peoples through hospitality be multiplied across the globe.
Two of Julie’s posts to highlight: Intro to Feeding Foreign Friends about what she’s found works well across the board to feed people from most other cultures. Her most recent post is a compilation of her readers’ Top Ten Tips for Hospitality in 2017.
Do you have any questions for Julie or comments to share about your own experiences with cross-cultural hospitality?