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We’re doing “you’re welcome” wrong.

I spent 10 days in Uganda, East Africa, in June with our Movement Mortgage leadership team, and how the people there use this simple greeting is one of the most powerful lessons I learned.

In the United States, we use “you’re welcome” as a response, an obligatory acknowledgment of thanks extended to us: “Thank you for helping me with this application.” … “You’re welcome.”

In Uganda, people use it as an invitation.

As I walked into the small, one-room home of one of our hosts, I was greeted with “You’re welcome!”

You’re welcome? I hadn’t even made it inside yet, much less thanked our host for his hospitality. But he was already greeting each person in our group with “You’re welcome!” Was he being sarcastic, the way I might be when one of my daughters forgets to say thank you? Not at all.

Before we could express anything, our host wanted us to know we were welcome to share in everything he had.

This same interaction happened again and again on our trip, in the slums of Kampala, the remote villages of Gulu and the churches and ministry gatherings we encountered everywhere. Our hosts greeted us with a hearty “You’re welcome,” well ahead of any expression of thanks on our behalf.

I finally asked one of our Ugandan friends about this seemingly backward use of the phrase.

“We want to receive you well,” he told me. “We are honored that you have come to visit us. And we want to receive you and serve you well.”

By sharing warm you’re welcomes, they extended the most important thing they had to give us — their community.

We went to Uganda to see first-hand the work of some nonprofit efforts on the ground there, and to see how the Movement Foundation might invest alongside those works.

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Dave and I working on a local farm in Uganda

Yes, the unemployment rate in Uganda is atrocious. People need jobs and income desperately. An entire generation was scarred by civil war and heartbreaking injustice. Our foundation is exploring how we can invest in good works there. But my greatest takeaway has been how well received we were as guests.

At a local church, members slaughtered a goat and four chickens — no doubt an extraordinary feast on their budget — to feed us. At a remote village, neighbors carried a couch from the road (nearly a mile away) to our meeting so that we could have a nice place to sit and rest.

“You’re welcome,” they would say as they invited us to accept their hospitality.

When I told one host that we had heard of his church and had prayed for them, he was overwhelmed. The answers to those prayers (or lack thereof) were of little concern to him. He simply praised God that He would place this small church in Africa in the prayers of other Christians across the globe.

Community mattered more to our Ugandan hosts than I ever realized. For Americans, community is a luxury. We spend our time often isolated in our offices or homes or cars, choosing to be in community with others when it’s convenient.

In Uganda, community is life. Their homes are only big enough for sleeping. They share transportation. They care for each other’s children. Their small farms, marketplaces and villages thrive or die based on how well they share in community with one another.

By sharing warm you’re welcomes, they extended the most important thing they had to give us — their community.

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What if we had that attitude here in America? What if we began every conversation, every customer interaction, every business meeting with a “you’re welcome” attitude? What if we valued community with each other more than our things, our time and our own priorities? What if we truly lived the words of Jesus? After He knelt down and washed his disciples’ feet on the night of His betrayal, Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

What if we began every conversation, every customer interaction, every business meeting with a “you’re welcome” attitude?

The changed attitude would transform our interactions with each other. Hospitality would increase. Patience with one another would grow. Serving others would become a greater focus.

At Movement, we say we exist to love and value people. We set servant leadership as the bar for our managers and executives. Compared to other Western corporate cultures, we’re making great strides toward those goals.

But 10 days as a guest in the slums, villages, churches and farms in Uganda gave me a wider perspective. We still have a lot to learn.

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About the Author:

Casey Crawford

Casey Crawford is the co-founder and CEO of Movement Mortgage, a former Super Bowl champion and a thought leader on the intersection of business and faith. Casey’s natural leadership and laser focus on serving God compel him to invest in anyone who is looking for an example, role model or motivator to help them make their own positive change in the world.