Christina Ganfield was searching for friends—the kind of friends that only come from shared loves and losses, the kind from home. Home for Christina is Malaysia, seemingly a world away from Rochester, Minnesota. She tried to be a part of different social groups, but nothing ever seemed to fit. Many people she met grew up in Rochester and already had well-established social circles and family support. It was hard to break into that kind of shared history when trying to connect with other women.
One day, while at Christ Community Church, Nancy Dockter, the women’s ministry leader at the time, approached Christina and Rodica Alexander about starting an international group for women. Nancy had come across a resource for women’s groups that offered a monthly conversation prompt. In the summer of 2013, they organized the first International Table. Over the years, the group has brought together between eight and 10 women monthly. Most of the women are from other countries, but the group has several Americans (of mixed or no strong foreign ethnicity) too. The group currently has members from Malaysia, Sierra Leone, Canada, Louisiana, Chicago, Illinois (married to an American born Japanese), China, Korea, Taiwan, Long Island, New York and Romania.
FORMAT OF THE INTERNATIONAL TABLE GATHERINGS
The structure of their get-togethers is quite simple: joining together over a shared meal. The group moves around to a different member’s home each month. The hosting member provides the main dish, and other members bring side dishes and desserts.
Rodica, from Romania, laughs when she confesses that although they try to bring international meals from their home countries, sometimes she runs out of time and just brings Italian because it is easiest. After the initial conversations and catching up with each other’s lives, they settle in to discuss four questions that prompt the group to dive deeper into their feelings, relationships and beliefs. Rodica says, “When your family is so far away, you have to build your own family.”
Utilizing this format has enabled the group to build strong and real relationships. At first they saw each other monthly, at the dinner group, but that turned into friendships that celebrated graduations, weddings and other family events. “It takes years to develop relationships. It takes years to develop trust. For most of us, it is hard to find a group of friends who you can be comfortable with,” Christina shares.
“We are so diverse, yet we chose to come and meet despite our differences, our culture and where we come from, and make that effort to meet. We have realized that we are really not that different. We have the same issues and struggles, but still come together,” Christina reveals about the group.
START YOUR OWN TABLE GATHERING
While their International Table is full, they hope that their story will serve as a catalyst for others to create similar groups, particularly for those who don’t have local family. These women encourage us to find meaningful relationships beyond the superficial social connections.
First, it is important to feel safe and respect confidentiality. Create a pact that you won’t share anything important outside of the group. This commitment to confidentiality allows group members to freely express their innermost thoughts and feelings. Second, emphasize the importance of personal invitations. A personal invitation paves the way for connection.
Christina wants others to know that it doesn’t take much to start a group that creates meaningful connections and relationships. An ordinary person can make a small change that has a significant impact in a community. It just begins with a small gesture, an invitation.
Terri Allred is the Owner of Third Eye Tribal in Rochester. She loved attending an International Table gathering and plans to join. She lives in Rochester with her husband, sons and dog.