Building Bridges: A Cultural Celebration

Join us on February 11 from 2-5 p.m. at West County Assembly of God for BUILDING BRIDGES, a celebration of the rich cultural traditions that exist throughout the St. Louis metro area. This year’s multicultural festival includes a wide range of performing arts from around the world. Here’s a sneak preview of artists on the adult stage:

Soorya Performing Arts (India)
Christelle Mukendi (Ivory Coast)
Telegu Christian Fellowship (India)
Brazilian Singers (Brazil)

Food booths and culturally-oriented vendors offer samples and wares of their homeland. These include:

Mayuri Indian Restaurant
Organo Gold
Ma Yim Bakery
Trades of Hope
Faith That Works

A Kid Zone offers activities throughout the afternoon so that people of all ages can participate. We’ll have:

Legos with Dr. Stephanie Nicholson
Facepainting by Cici Jackson
Cooking with Genevieve Lindner

Use this Brown Paper Tickets button to buy your tickets. You don’t want to miss this fun-filled, cultural event!

building bridges tickets

Proceeds from Building Bridges benefit iFACE Ministries, a ministry focused on helping make St. Louis a welcoming place for internationals. Tickets WILL be available at the door.


Epiphany: The Traditional End of the Christmas Season

Once when I was listening to the radio, the announcer stated that he didn’t feel like it was Christmas; he wondered why he felt that way. He thought maybe it was because the weather was warm or because the stores start setting out Christmas decor so early. (If you don’t live in the U.S., you should know that some stores start decorating for Christmas in October! Talk about overkill.)

I feel this angst every year at Christmas time. About the time everyone else stops celebrating Christmas (typically, Christmas Day), I feel like starting! I once felt guilty about this tendency because it made me feel like a non-Christmas person. Being blase about Christmas just isn’t allowed in many of my circles!

Then, I learned that the song “12 Days of Christmas” is actually about the period between Christmas Day and Epiphany, January 6. During the Advent season leading up to Christmas, people prepared through fasting and prayer. Only after this season of preparation did they begin celebrating the birth of the Christ child and the Second Advent of Jesus. This means that, historically, the celebratory aspect of the holiday began after Christmas Day!

Now, I somehow doubt that I’m going to change the way Christmas is currently celebrated in the U.S. I’m afraid “that horse is already out of the barn,” as my grandma would say. However, it’s freeing to know that my tendency to slowly build toward Christmas Day and then let the celebration continue past December 25 is not just a strange personal quirk! (I have enough of those without adding this one to the list.)

These days, if my Christmas tree does not go up on Thanksgiving weekend and come down on Christmas Day, all is well! If the days before Christmas are more reflective and less frenzied, all is well! If I start singing Christmas carols later than most, all is well! I now know that I’m joining with the host of believers who have gone before me, and my current western liturgical brothers and sisters, by celebrating Christmas until the Wise Men come (Epiphany).

Now I just need to learn how to bake a “King’s Cake!” I’m sure that my family won’t complain about adding that tradition to the end of our Christmas season. (Click HERE to see some awesome photos of 2014 Epiphany celebrations from around the world!)


Photo by Keith Williamson

by John Morgan on Flickr

Why Do Christians Celebrate Advent?

Although Advent is an extremely old Christian tradition, it is relatively new to the evangelical calendar. In fact, I didn’t learn about Advent until I was an adult, and I attended church throughout my teen years! However, these days it’s quite common for American churches of all denominations to have advent wreaths, and many families use Advent calendars to countdown until Christmas.

Despite this increased popularity, I don’t think that many of us understand Advent. We light our candles and open our calendar windows without ever asking, “What is Advent, where did it come from, and how is it connected to Christmas?” In other words, we never ask, “Why in the world am I celebrating Advent!?”

Since I’m an explorer by nature, I researched to see what some other people say. Here’s the outcome of my studies. The last two articles are more inspirational in nature, but I hope you enjoy them too!

And if reading seems like too much work right now, here’s a short video that explains the Season of Advent. And it’s by Busted Halo, a website that does a great job of explaining Christianity in simple terms. It’s a win-win!


Photo by John Morgan

When Did Thanksgiving Begin? It’s Complicated!

The first “Thanksgiving” was a 3-day harvest festival celebrated by the original English colonists in 1621. After enduring a terrible sea voyage, brutal winter, and multiple deadly diseases, the remaining colonists were thankful that they had survived! Indeed, they wouldn’t have survived a second year if the Wampanoag Indians, whom they invited to the festivities, had been unfriendly. Instead, these Native Americans taught the colonists how to grow corn, extract maple syrup, and, basically, survive in this “new world.” Sadly, the peaceful co-existence between the colonists and Native Americans only lasted one generation (which is a long story for another day).

Over time, various states held festivities and a few of the early presidents, including George Washington, proclaimed national thanksgivings. However, the national holiday we know as Thanksgiving didn’t exist until 200 years after the original one. And it came into existence because of a very determined woman who campaigned 36 years to make it happen!

In 1827 Sarah Josepha Hale, a well-known magazine editor, began petitioning politicians and writing articles to encourage adding Thanksgiving as a national holiday. In 1863, during the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln finally declared two holidays, one in August as a memorial to the Gettysburg Battle and one in November as a general giving of thanks.

Nevertheless, until 1941 the President of the U.S. determined the day to be honored as Thanksgiving each year. Customarily, the fourth Thursday of November was chosen, in keeping with Lincoln’s original November celebration. However, in 1939 F.D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week to encourage more shopping (obviously, shopping and Thanksgiving were already closely linked). The American public had a fit over the change! Two years later, Congress passed a bill setting the fourth Thursday of November as the official day of American Thanksgiving.

Nowadays, Thanksgiving evolves around food, family and friends, football…and shopping! Although the foods and activities have greatly changed (watch the video below to see what I didn’t mention), it is still a time to give God thanks for all of our blessings and to enjoy the people that are dear to us. For those reasons, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite American holidays!


indian food

How Do You Define Hospitality?

Have you ever noticed that hospitality varies greatly from culture to culture? When I first made friends with people from other countries, I was surprised whenever they offered me food if I was only staying a short time. In fact, I frequently turned the food down because I was uncomfortable; it was so outside my norm! If I was hungry, I would eat after I left their house. I didn’t want to be rude by having them cook something for me.
It wasn’t until much, much later that I learned that sharing food was one of the ways that my friends expressed hospitality. In their homeland, you always offer food to a guest; not doing so is a sign of disrespect or poor hospitality. Whereas, when I was growing up, a guest was offered a drink, but food was only offered if the person was staying for a meal. Imagine the number of times that I unintentionally offended my friends by turning down food? Yikes! I’m so glad that they were kind enough to overlook this American’s bumbling behavior.
Since that time, I have noticed another key way that hospitality is demonstrated differently among my international friends. Many of my friends tell me to “come by anytime.” This is not something native-born Americans typically say! I’ve even tried to do it a couple of times. One time, I left the house determined to just show up at my friend’s door, but then I felt guilty for not telling them that I was coming so I stopped along the way and called! I just couldn’t bring myself to break the cultural habit of getting permission before arriving.
I’m not quite sure why my international friends feel more comfortable with the idea of spontaneous visits then I do, (and possibly many other native-born Americans). I think this type of spontaneity was more common at one time in our history. If so, I’m not sure why we stopped. Perhaps it’s because we stay so busy that we prefer to work (and visit) at scheduled times. Or it could be that we don’t like the idea of inconveniencing our friends or interrupting their privacy; spontaneous visits make us feel like we are doing both. Whatever the reason, it’s unlikely that an American friend will “come by anytime” even if you extend the offer multiple times.
What does this mean for your friendship with Americans? Well, it definitely does not mean Americans are rejecting you. When you offer food, consider telling your friend how sharing food demonstrates hospitality in your country (or let them know that offering food is something you enjoy doing). If you want an American to visit your house, set a day and time with them. They’ll feel more comfortable, and you’ll still get to visit. Since cross-cultural friendships involve exploration and lots of grace, consider hospitality one of the areas where you’ll constantly be learning and growing with your American friends!