Hospitality: Following the Unwritten Rules

Hospitality: Following the Unwritten Rules

 This blog is the first of a series that will come out over the next months looking at hospitality. Jesus gives us an invitation to come and dine with him, prepares a banquet for us, and scripture is full of images and stories of hospitality given, accepted and even rejected. Cathy Ross has written: ‘Hospitality is both an ancient virtue and a prophetic practice, as it crosses boundaries, welcomes all, and involves taking risks. It is also dialogical, as it requires listening and learning. It practices attentiveness and encourages spaciousness. It requires relationship, receiving, community, and change. Our God embodies hospitality in the Trinity. Hospitality is at the heart of God’s reign and is essential for the practice and meaning of the kerygma. Hospitality is an ongoing practice that will be modified and negotiated as we interact and engage with one another.’ (

Here in our first post, Natalie offers some practical lessons from her context.


Within our first few months of arriving here in Turkey a women’s bible study group needed a new host for their study. With little language, hosting the study in my home seemed a simple way in which I could serve. I thought this would be easy! From this came many valuable lessons in hospitality; learnt through both laughter and tears.

Here hospitality is key to showing people that you value them and their presence in your home. For us to be effective witnesses and to disciple new believers we need to do hospitality well…even if it is hard work! Just thinking people should adopt the happy-go-lucky (laid back) Australian way of doing things can have big consequences here. For example, if locals don’t believe your house is clean enough they may not eat your food. Or if the room is too cold and the women feel they could become sick they may not feel comfortable returning.

So these are a few of unwritten ‘rules’ I have gleaned from welcoming women into my home.

  1. Take your shoes off at the door. Really, this is just common sense when you think about it. Outside is dusty and dirty. Why would we want shoes that have been walking in this filth in our homes? Having a nice stash of ‘terlik’ (house slippers) is also essential, some suitable for summer and some for winter.
  2. Tea must be served in abundance. You would think putting tea leaves in boiling water is simple! However, there is an art to mastering tea making. I have been told that my tea had too many bubbles on the top, was too dark, too light, too hot, too cold, too bitter… It is said that it should be the colour of rabbits blood, which apparently is a nice reddish colour. And it is important that the host acquires a certain level of indigestion from jumping up every few minutes to ensure the tea glasses are topped up.
  3. An abundance of food: Thankfully at this study everyone brought something to share, so that took the pressure off. Food needs to be primarily Turkish. Just throwing a packed of Tim-Tam (Australian chocolate biscuits) biscuits on the table just won’t cut it. Food needs to be home made. I have found some foreigner sweets are a winner, but my savoury options, such as zucchini slice certainly didn’t receive the thumbs up.
  4. Do not take your left-overs: If you bring something to someone’s home you must leave the entire dish. One foreigner who comes along often brings a large tray of a popular local pastry and then takes the left-overs home to her family. I didn’t think twice about it, but the first time my neighbour attended she was horrified to see these left-overs walk out the door. And ever since then, whenever this foreigner comes up in conversation my friend once again mentions how she takes her left-overs home. Unfortunately, this small act has really affected what my friend thinks of this foreigner. Not following these unwritten rules can really impact locals’ perception of us.
  5. The house must be clean: This includes windows. Which I wouldn’t really give a second thought to in Australia. I was once told my windows had lots of fly poop on them! Check out your windows for little white dots, apparently it’s fly poop. I spend the best part of a day cleaning my house in preparation for the study (whilst my three children kindly ensure true cleanliness is never attained). An older lady arrived a little early to the study one time, she inspected my table and when I walked into the room she was busily wiping all of my plates with a paper-towel.
  6. Greet & farewell everyone: It is important to greet and farewell everyone at the door. Pre-COVID 19 it was customary to do the double check kiss. A general group ‘good-bye everyone’ as people walk out the door does not suffice.
  7. Give lots of time to talk and eat: In Australia, the study is the central element. But here being together, drinking tea, sharing food and talking key, without these elements the study is meaningless. Relationships are foundational for meaningful conversations to emerge during the study time.
  8. Serve everyone their food: It’s not an all-in, serve-yourself-until-it’s-all-gone Aussie kind of event. The host should serve out the food, placing on people’s plates, making sure everyone has lots of food on their plates.
  9. Togetherness is most important: Being together is more important than having the perfect study. To kick off the study we begin with a few local worship songs. This has us foreigners scrambling for the portable speaker for backing music and opening the track on our phones, but locals just jump right in, out of tune, acapella, all singing at different times. This is beautiful and gets to the heart of worship. God. The sound quality isn’t important, being together worshiping God is.
  10. Stories & testimonies

Turkey is a modern country and in some parts it is more of an oral story telling culture than in the big cities. This means a typical question-answer style study does not always result in lives transformed. Furthermore, I have found that my friends usually won’t ‘Google it’ but rather ask Selin down the road whose cousin’s sister is a doctor and trust whatever they say. At one study a local woman shared her testimony. An incredible story of searching for life’s meaning, reading the different books, suffering, visions and finally receiving true peace and joy. Now, three years on this woman still comes up in conversation and even the women who aren’t believers continue to talk fondly of her. Once again, relationships are key.

Understanding the language of hospitality directly impacts relationships. Learning to ‘speak’ this language is key to the words of truth we speak taking on true meaning. As we serve our neighbours, wherever we are, may we consider this an act of love towards and an act of worship.

1 Peter 4:8-9

8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

(Images supplied by the author)

(c) When Women Speak … October 2020

Natalie and her husband have served in Turkey for the past four years. They left Australia with their 7 month old son and now have three small children.

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