By Tyler Lowen, SALT participant and Agriculture Development Assistant at MCC partner Organization to Develop Our Villages (ODOV)
I write this post not with the grand illusion that my ideas are a going to create world peace. However, I write with the thought that perhaps that the act of hosting and being hosted can be a tool to create peace at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and even community level.
As a SALTer, I live with a Khmer family in a small Cambodian rice farming village. The family has chosen to host me as an expression of their faith and have made me feel welcome in a place that is foreign to me in nearly every way possible. My experience is defined by communication challenges, both linguistically and culturally. However, these moments provide the opportunity to exercise patience and understanding rather than resort to anger and mistrust.
It is not only my Khmer family that has hosted me, but also the many farmers that I visit weekly through my work at Organization to Develop our Villages (ODOV). These farmers, despite having bare financial resources, have shown me incredible warmth by inviting me for meals and showing interest in who I am and why I am in Cambodia. These conversations around shared meals have done more to break down the cultural, religious, and historical differences between our cultures more than any personal attempts I have tried on my own. These episodes of being hosted have helped dismantle negative stereotypes about the Khmer people I may have held if I was only an outsider to the culture. They also have hopefully helped my Khmer coworkers, friends and family better understand what it means to be a a citizen of North America. It is through these interactions that I see relationships of peace being built.
The act of hosting is relevant for those of us in a position of relative wealth and stability in an era where many countries around the world are experiencing violence and millions of people are seeking refuge. Being hosted in Cambodia leads me to believe that it is our call to respond with welcoming arms and a spirit of generosity to others. The rhetoric of fear and “otherness” is all too common in news stories and media. This means there is also the incredible opportunity and need to tell a different kind of story; a story of welcoming and understanding. We need to tell the story in which peace rather than fear is the message, a story where compassion and empathy are the central themes rather than violence and mistrust. We can do this by being hosts.
There are many ways that we can host well; including financially or materially (MCC puts together relief kits – and you can contribute) but also by investing in relationships and hosting people different than ourselves in our homes.
May we choose to be hosted and to host in order to create peaceful communities and strong relationships.