When guests enter your home, what will they see? What will they experience? You can do much to make sure their stay in your home is good and reflects well on Jesus, our Lord!
Prayer: Preparing the Best Welcome
Whether you’re hosting for the first or 50th time, praying for your guests before they arrive is the best way to make your home a welcome place. Some suggestions: Ask God to lead you in all you do together and to prepare your guest’s heart to hear about Him. Many internationals who have no interest in God meet Him first through their host family! Ask God to help guests adjust to life in the U.S., protect them (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually), show them His love and help them experience it, and call them to Himself.
1. The Entrance
Let’s begin where guests enter—through the front door or the door between the house and garage. The most welcoming element at either entrance is some eager-to-know you faces, whether it’s you or your entire family, including pets. (If you have a pet, let your hosting coordinator know. Some internationals are afraid of cats, dogs, reptiles, and/or birds.) Provide a place to leave shoes and a pair of slippers to replace the shoes. If you and your family don’t remove shoes at the door, you can tell your guests, “You don’t need to take off your shoes unless you want to,” but if they do, offering slippers affirms their choice.
As you pull suitcase(s) toward the guest bedroom, your guest may look at your home with keen interest, especially if it’s the first American home he or she has visited. You don’t need to redecorate your home before you invite international guests! But you might try walking through your home, pretending you’ve never been in it before, and see what you notice!
Clear hallways and stairways are important for moving suitcases (no boots, shoes, school bags, or pet toys lying about). Furniture arranged for conversations, with a throw for extra warmth in winter or a fan in summer say, “We want you to be comfortable here.” Family photos and favorite reading materials on the coffee table or end tables invite others into your life and interests. Have a television? Turn it off so you and your family can focus on your guest. Quiet music in the background adds another warm touch.
2. The Guest Room
If you have only one bedroom, you needn’t let your guest know that you’ll be sleeping on the sofa that night! If your guest will share a room with one of your children, explain that in advance. If your child will sleep on the floor in your bedroom while your guest takes his bed, make it a fun adventure!
In preparing the guest room, you may put fresh sheets on the bed, vacuum and dust the room, and lay a bath towel, hand towel, and washcloth on the bed or side table. Consider turning back the blankets to reveal the sheets. Tell your guests that most Americans sleep between the sheets. Does this sound odd? When one guest asked for another blanket for her second night in my home, I learned she had slept under only the comforter on top of the rest of the bedding!
Family photos and some interesting reading materials in the guest room will tell your guest about you and your family. If you have Wi-Fi in your home, a bedside note with the passcode will be welcome.
3. The Bathroom
Your guest may use only the bath towel or hand towel that you’ve left in the guest bedroom and leave the rest neatly folded. Many internationals do not use washcloths; they use their hands or a loofa or scrubber that they’ve brought with them. To wash at the sink, they may scoop water in their hands and splash it on themselves, the more vigorously, the better! You may need to mop up the sink area and everything around it after your guest uses the bathroom! (To avoid this problem, show your guests what each towel and washcloth is for and ask him or her to use them accordingly in your home.)
You may need to do some mopping up after showers, too. Many internationals don’t have shower curtains in their bathroom at home; the concrete floor has a central drain, so curtains are not needed. Explain how to lay the bath mat (if you use one) outside the tub or shower and how to close the shower curtain so water doesn’t go outside the enclosure. Show your guest where to hang wet towels after bathing.
4. The Kitchen and Eating Area
The kitchen is the heart of most American homes, where family and guests gather and hang out. Your guest may be interested in how you prepare food and may want to watch or help. Choose simple foods that are learner friendly. If your guest will stay for several days and seems interested in cooking, ask him or her to show you how to prepare a dish from home and go with you to buy ingredients at an ethnic grocery.
Show your guest where you keep drinking glasses, plates, tableware, etc. and where to find beverages and snacks for late-night hunger attacks. When jet lag hits, your guest may waken hungry at 3 AM. Explain how to use the water filter, if you have one. If you don’t, assure your guest that the tap water is safe to drink. If your guest seems hesitant to drink tap water, offer bottled water.
Explain how you set plates, tableware and drinking glasses on the table and ask your guest how his/her family sets the table as home. Your guest may rinse plates, cups or tableware before using them. This is not a reflection of your housekeeping habits; it’s what everyone back home does because the air is so polluted. It’s a habit that likely won’t change here in the U.S.
Praying before meals can be a very significant part of your welcome. One young woman was captivated by her host’s prayer before the first meal they ate together. She had never heard anyone pray as her host father did, especially when he thanked God for bringing her to their home and for His purposes in bringing her to their university. As they ate, she asked what they believed. Her journey toward God began that night.
A good conversation starter is asking each person to relate a “high” and a “low” experience of that day or the preceding week. (Children often enjoy this, too.) Doing this helps your guests learn more about your family and tell about themselves without feeling interrogated!
After dinner, your guest may want to help with the dishes. If so, have him or her help you load the dishwasher (if that’s what you do) or dry dishes while you wash. This can help your guest feel more at home.
5. The Family Room
After dinner, include your guest in your usual routine, whether homework with children, games, or stories before bed. If your family likes to play board games, try games such as Rummikub, Blockus or Uno, which don’t require mastery of English but can be a backdrop for conversation. A table laid out with a jigsaw puzzle in the works is a great place to continue conversations.
Give your guest time alone to connect with family back home or prepare for the next day. Find out when your guest needs to be on campus. Say what time you’ll need to leave home, and promise you’ll make sure they’re up in time for breakfast! If you can, offer to pack them a lunch for the next day.
Ask God to give you grace to understand your guests and meet their needs. Ask Him to reveal Himself to your guests through you. And ask Him to help you enjoy your guests as unique expressions of Christ, for we are all made by Him, for Him, and in His image!