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To say that this ministry is full of unexpected surprises is an understatement. Shirin came from Iran for a few days and ended up staying three months while she awaited her visa. Xiaozhen came from China for two weeks, which turned into two years. We all traveled to China with her to meet her family last year. She got married this summer, and Kerry gave her away at the altar. Ben, Josh, and Jessie all came for summers and left a wonderful, indelible mark on our family. The ministry is never what we expect, but the house is always full of the right people, whom God sends our way.
Last Christmas I realized for the first time how Mary and Joseph were couchsurfers in Bethlehem so long ago. We got an e-mail on December 23 from a young man from China, studying in New York, who asked to come stay with us Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It wasn’t in our plans, but we eagerly said yes and picked up Jimmy at the metro station.
That night we took him to our Christmas Eve church service. Having never celebrated Christmas in his life, he was fascinated by the children dressed as angels, shepherds, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. As Jimmy sang along to the carols, I whispered with surprise, “Do you know these songs?” “No,” he answered, “I’m just reading the words on the screen.” He participated fully and seemed to enjoy himself. Later he joined us and several friends for a Christmas Eve dinner. One friend’s daughter brought twenty-six chicks—hatched for a recent science project. We all played with the chicks, and Jimmy asked, “Is this a Christmas tradition too!?” He had no idea what a crazy family he had landed in!
The next morning he opened his first stocking, his first Christmas presents, and then listened as Kerry shared the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth, his death for us, and resurrection. We wanted Jimmy to know the true, wonderful meaning of Christmas! We went back to church later that morning. During the prayer time, Jimmy prayed out loud for his family in China. He spent the afternoon with us before heading back to school, writing in our guest book that he hoped we could stay in touch for the rest of our lives. We’ve already started on Facebook, and I have a feeling we will see him again.
In fact, I think we will see all our houseguests again. This past summer we traveled as a family to Slovenia, where we stayed with the very first couchsurfers we ever hosted. It was like a family reunion. They actually moved out and stayed with their parents so that we could use their whole apartment. We traveled around the country together, sightseeing, swimming in the Adriatic, eating gelato, and enjoying each other’s company again after more than two years. But the best memory for us was when we were able to share the Gospel with them over a dinner of Slovenian dumplings one evening. The next night, the young man’s parents invited us to dinner at their house. His mother began by saying, “I understand you are interested in God. I want to talk to you about that.” After a wonderful, open, and authentic conversation, we invited her to come stay with us in the United States. She said, “I do want to visit you… and I want to go to your church.” We can’t wait for her to come.
What is ahead for our Christian “youth hostel”? More sheets to change and more meals to cook, we hope! More individuals and families to love. More laughter around the dinner table and shared cross-cultural experiences. More conversations about the meaning of life and eternal things. More lives changed by Jesus through the simple practice of hospitality.
Machu Picchu may be a “million” miles away, but travelers like those we met on the Inca Trail are making their way up our front steps all the time. We don’t have a neon sign out front, but I hope we will always have a vacancy for the strangers and soon-to-be-friends that God sends our way.
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