the weblog of Alan Knox

Learning how to love your neighbors in a new culture

Posted by on Oct 11, 2012 in blog links, hospitality, love, service | 10 comments

Learning how to love your neighbors in a new culture

My friends Paul and Laurel moved to the Congo a few months ago. If you’ve heard anything about the Congo in the news lately, they’re in the area of that country that has experienced an ebola outbreak recently.

Recently, they wrote about learning how to love their neighbors in that new culture. They published their thoughts on their blog in a post called “Building relationships in a new culture: Freely go and visit.”

Responding to something they read in a book, they write:

He said that for Westerners, we usually seek to build relationships by inviting people over for a set date and time. We do this a few times and feel like we’re getting to know someone. However, he explains, that in an African culture, that would be out of place for us to do as the visitor. Good to know! Instead, he says it is totally appropriate to drop in, unannounced at someone’s house to spend an undetermined amount of time with a person and their family. If it’s around a mealtime then you would just share in that meal with them. If they had other plans then they would just cancel them! This is how the author encourages Westerners to pursue relationship building in an African cultural context. It’s hard to imagine from my Western point of view because we would usually feel so put out if someone stopped by, especially at a mealtime!

They have made it a personal goal to go against their own inclinations and tendencies and to drop in on their neighbors occasionally.

Now, I realize that most of my readers do not live in Africa. But, do you know your neighbors well enough to know how to show God’s love to them? Have you ever thought that your tendencies may seem rude to your neighbors? And, what they do that seems rude to you may not seem rude to them?

Have you ever gone against your own tendencies or habits in order to show someone that you cared about them?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-11-2012

    It would seem really weird, and I dare say off-putting, if we turned up at our neighbour’s house and expected to step past the front door even after a lengthy conversation. We’ve tried making friends by droppping off a plate of biscuits at Christmas, bringing their bins back from the end of our shared drive, that sort of thing, but it seems hard to break through our nation’s middle class “a man’s home is his castle” private mindset.

    The description of African hospitality strikes me as being very similar to chapters in the gospels describing how Jesus sent out the 12 and 72 disciples telling them to travel lightly, invite themselves round people’s houses for tea, heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God near (Matthew 10 & Luke 9 & 10).

    I’ve heard it said that “bad people make good soil” and I think my experiences with our rich and private neighbours prove this- I expect ‘less comfortable’ people may be more culturally open to the seed of the gospel being planted.

    I long for more opportunities.

  2. 10-11-2012

    I grew up doing this with my family, dropping by friends’ houses unannounced and staying for coffee and sometimes even a meal. I am still in the habit of doing this with close friends. I learned early on that you have to gauge whether or not certain people have an open-door policy. There are some who have the “castle” mentality. We have an open-door policy that i make sure to tell all my friends. Sadly only a few take this to heart.
    My husband did not grow up this way, it is something we have learned to do together as a family.
    It is sad that as believers we use, “well, it’s not like that in America.” or “I didn’t grow up that way.” as excuse as if America sets the standard for etiquette. Shouldn’t we, as Celestial Citizenship, be living according to the culture of the Kingdom? Shouldn’t THAT culture be universal?

  3. 10-11-2012

    My wife and I have joined a couple neighbors a few times when they get together at the end of the day for a cocktail. They let us in their house and we talk about stuff. One of the neighbors, an 81-year-old woman confided to me at one of these times that she wakes up every morning wondering “if today is the day I’m going to die.” We’ve stocked up our liquor cabinet and plan on having them over for a cocktail to reciprocate.

    We’ve also foudn that a neighbor of ours goes to a restaurant we sometimes go to. They told us to let them know next time we go. So we will.

    Finally, we did a neighborhood food drive this summer for the local food pantry (they said donations drop in the summer so we thought that would be a good time; doing so made us some friends at the pantry) and met 8 neighbors on our block we had never met before. We’re going to do another one this fall leading up to the holidays. In doing so we also found out we have neighbors from Lithuania, Bosnia, Turkmenistan, Vietnam, Czech Republic and Australia. We’re thinking of a neighborhood food exchange or block party and have everybody bring something from their country.

    We’ve pulled back from church activity and the holy huddle and are trying out best to be “friends of sinners,” like Jesus.

  4. 10-12-2012


    I don’t think most of our neighbors would appreciate us dropping by unannounced (and uninvited) either. There may be some, however, who appreciate it. I’ve noticed this specially with older neighbors. I think we have to get to know our neighbors to learn how to show them the love of God.


    Yes, there are some neighbors and friends who feel comfortable dropping by our house unannounced, and we will likewise pop in to visit them. But, again, some would not appreciate that. We need to get to know people so that we know what they expect.


    Thanks for the examples! I love the way that you are spending time getting to know your neighbors in various ways. You’ve actually given me a few ideas. :)


  5. 10-13-2012

    I read that blog by Laurel also and thought it so interesting!!

    We are definitely learning how to meet people where they are and not expect them to be where WE are (as far as community/relationships). :)

    So far my takeaway is that it takes a lot of time to build relationships! BUT being a stay at home mom gives me all kinds of time, sort of….and I love what God is up to with that time!! :)

  6. 10-14-2012

    We in the west have made an idol of our western culture, and in my life far more than I care to admit.

    The antidote, Life “in” Christ, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, American, nor African, male nor female, Eastern or Western, but Oneness in Christ.

    In Christ all the disjointed communities of man will and are being brought together.

    This even includes our own neighborhood, yep I got some stuff to do.

  7. 10-14-2012

    Tim Chester’s book “A Meal With Jesus” digs into Jesus’ practice and lessons for us.

    Here’s a good review of it:

  8. 10-14-2012

    So here is a specific example of a dilemma I come across often that I could use some insight on.

    Since I really am part of a different ‘culture’ / ‘community’ than the majority of my neighbors…. I often am trying to figure out how/when to adapt to them & where to stick to my beliefs.

    For example: I organized a block party for the weekend before Halloween. To celebrate community, get to know new people & help connect the people I already have met that did not know each other. Basically just trying to spur people out of their homes. So the 2 people I asked to help me organize have decided it should be a “halloween party” since it’s the weekend before Halloween. I don’t “celebrate halloween”. I let my kids dress up and visit our neighbors but for some many reasons – that’s the extend of it. It is my own personal convictions not to “celebrate”, promote, focus on Halloween.

    Soooo do I make it known I really don’t want it to be a “halloween” party?? After I’ve given my own personal convictions (if I feel called to) – do I really press them to keep it a “street party” and leave out any “themes”???

    This is just a small simple example of what I deal with regularly. When/how do I stick to what I believe – when/how do I just “go with it”…and take the bad (in my opinion – halloween celebration) with the good (community, connection)

    i don’t know.

  9. 10-15-2012


    Thanks for asking about a specific example. It would be difficult to answer without knowing all the details. But, I would start by asking myself if I thought taking part in the Halloween party would cause me or another Christian to sin. If so, then don’t take part in it, even if others want to. (You could also ask if you thought it be sin to do something at the Halloween party not directly associated with Halloween: a cake walk?) If you do not think it’s sin, but just personally prefer not to do it, then you might decide that it would be better to take part in order build better relationships with your neighbors.


    Yes. Those of us who are part of God’s community still must interact with those who are not part of God’s community, but are part of many different types of societies and cultures. Even within God’s community there will be different habits and concerns and displays of love. Like you said, I also have got some stuff to do.


    Thanks. I think I’ve read that book. I typically enjoy Chester’s books.


  10. 10-15-2012