We offer this article for four reasons: 1) To give God glory for how He expresses His generous, nothing-to-hide hospitality through long-term hosting, 2) to share the thoughts and experiences of three long-term host families with very different life situations, 3) to inspire you to consider long-term hosting—which is sought continually by international students—and/or 4) to enable you to understand and come alongside someone who is hosting long-term.
One of our interviewees, Mai Duff, commented, “God calls some of us to host [long term]. He doesn’t call others.” May God use this article to reveal how He’s calling you in this matter!
Who we interviewed
Our three host families have different life situations and hosting experiences: Daryl runs a construction business and his wife, Bobbi, is a stay-at-home mom. They have four young children aged 6 to 1. Mai and David Duff live in a suburb of Columbus and have two teenaged daughters. Mai is a stay-at-home mom and David a busy physician. Columbus residents Gene and Phyllis (“Phyl”) Greene are retired empty-nesters with grown children and grandchildren outside Columbus. (Gene is the spokesman.)
List of Questions
1. Deciding to Host and Finding Guests
- What convinced you that you should host long-term?
- Whom have you hosted and for how long?
- How do you meet the people who stay with you?
2. Preparing Your Heart
- What needs to happen in hosts’ hearts to do long-term hosting?
- What are your expectations about including your guests in your family life?
- What personality fits into your family–outgoing or studious, sports/action-minded or academic/thought oriented? Do you have a list of criteria for long-term guests?
- How much time do you spend with your student daily or weekly?
- Do you invite your guests to go to church with you?
- What role does prayer play in your hosting?
3. Preparing Your Home
- Did you have to make changes to your house into order to host long term?
- What help do you give with transportation to campus, shopping, friends’ homes?
- What are your expectations about the use of the house, eg, when and who can visit your guest, keep the noise down at certain times of day, etc.?
- Who does the cooking when you all eat together?
- What are your expectations regarding cleaning and maintenance? Who does what?
4. How Is God Calling You?
- Would you like to meet occasionally with other long-term host families to share experiences and ideas?
- What would you say to people who sense God calling them to host long term?
Daryl: In the final class of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course, we were challenged to get involved in missions right here at home, in our home. We knew we should do this. Besides, what better way to share the gospel than right in your own home?
We all like hosting. The men stay with us anywhere from 2 to 6 months while they study ESL. We host only one guy at a time. We like hosting Arab men, but our first two guests were from Nigeria.
Mai: When I was 7 years old, my family fled Vietnam. We lived in a refugee camp in Malaysia for 11 months until a church in St. Louis, Missouri, sponsored us to come to the US. When the Garretts, who attended a different church, learned about the need for a host family for us through a connection in Bible Study Fellowship, they prayed about it and agreed to host us. They made our family of 6 (my parents and aunt, my two brothers, and me) part of their family for 11 months until we got our own apartment. When we first arrived, we relied on the Garretts for everything. Although we kids—10, 8, and 3 years old—had picked up some English from a tutor in the refugee camp, our family spoke almost no English.
We attended our sponsoring church, at first just to hear and practice English and learn about life in America. As our English improved and we understood more of what was happening in church, our interest in Jesus grew. Eventually, we all came to faith in Christ. God really used the sacrifices that the Garretts made for us.
Hosting our family changed the Garretts’ family dynamics dramatically, but they never complained. Long-term hosting changes our family dynamics, too. Since our older daughter will be a senior in high school next fall, we’ve decided not to host anyone long term during her last year at home.
Because of my experiences as a child, I can grasp the hugeness of living with an American family in their home. I see long-term hosting as my ministry. I’m fully committed to it. I make our guests a priority. They know that.
Greenes: People from IFI were always asking us to get involved with the students. But the “language barrier” intimidated me (Gene). I was afraid I’d embarrass myself. Around internationals, I was constantly asking, “What did you say?”
Then Phil and Ruth Ann Saksa [Phil was IFI’s General Director] asked us to support their ministry financially. We couldn’t at the time, but we said, “We have this house. If IFI can use it, let us know!” Soon after that, Phil introduced us to Yoshi, a girl from Japan who would intern with IFI. Phil asked if we’d host her during her internship. We prayed about it, gave the house to the Lord, and said yes. Yoshi prayed about it, too, and said yes. Phyllis, who has multiple sclerosis, was in a hospital bed at the time, and I was still working full time. We trusted that God would help us be good hosts, despite the challenges. He has. The joys have far outweighed the challenges!
Yoshi’s English was good. She often had friends in our house. They helped break the language barrier for me.
Daryl: We host men, usually Arabs, who are studying English as a second language (ESL). We’ve been hosting for about 5 years, one guy at a time.
Mai: We’ve hosted lots of people. Recently, we’ve hosted IFI interns—girls—since we have two teenaged daughters. The interns usually stay 11 or 12 months. Before that, we hosted many guests, including an international family of three for 9 months.
Greenes: We’ve been hosting internationals since 1996, when our younger son moved out of our 3-bedroom basement. (On the first floor, we have 3 bedrooms and 3 baths.) We’ve hosted nearly 1,000 internationals in 21 years, most for less than 1 week, but we’ve housed about 20 guests for anywhere from 3 months to 3 years.
Daryl: Our guys ask the IFI City Director to find them an American family to live with and practice their English. The City Director sends them to us.
Mai: We trust the Lord to bring us the people He wants us to host. Occasionally, IFI asks us to host one of their interns. We’ve housed two from China, one from Rwanda. Usually we don’t know the person who’s coming. We call this a wonderful surprise.
Greenes: Usually they come to us through IFI, often through temporary housing at the beginning of the school year or the IFI Bible study we host in our home. Some have been family or friends of the students in our Bible study.
Daryl: “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) I love the nations. I try to be like God. This is one way to practice love for the nations God has created.
Mai: I believe God has given this to me as a ministry. I think having our girls involved makes it a much richer experience for us and for our guest.
Greenes: We surrendered our house to God. Our hearts went with it. We knew God had given us this big house and His big heart to do this.
Daryl: Our guests are part of the family. We treat them as “big kids,” though. We invite them to go with us when we take a trip (we have a minivan), go to an event, or visit family or friends. The only time we don’t invite them is if the people we’re going to visit aren’t comfortable with including our “big kid.”
Mai: We like our guests to eat with us, at least one meal each week, play games, watch movies with us. We want them to feel valued, important to us. Several have really connected with our girls, enjoying them as sisters. We’ve hosted game nights and birthday parties for our guests. When one of our guests hosted a wedding shower for a friend at our house, all of us helped.
Greenes: They are family to us. To us, hosting is not an imposition; it’s our way of life. We hope we’ll be like parents or grandparents to them, but we don’t “parent” them. They go with us to family reunions, to visit our children for Thanksgiving and other holidays. In fact, if we don’t bring some internationals with us, our children and grandchildren are disappointed! They love getting to know our guests. Our relationships are long term. Our kids ask about our guests and enjoy being with them. One of our grandsons always wanted to come to our house when Lucy from China stayed with us over school breaks. He loved being with her.
My dad had some strong prejudices, so I wasn’t sure how he’d react to our guests. But he hit it off right away with many of them. Mom and Dad enjoyed long talks with them. Mom, who knew the campus area well, loved helping our temporary guests find housing near campus.
After I welcome our guests at the front door, most of them head straight back to our bedroom (unless the door is closed) and sit on our bed to talk with Phyl, who is in bed much of the time. Some of those conversations have gone late into the night, and I’ve fallen asleep in my chair. One girl from Korea brought us each a cup of special tea every night at 10 pm, then said good night.
Whether our guests are with us for an evening or for years, our house is “your home away from home.” We host their family and friends when they visit Columbus. We hosted 22 people the night before Yoshi, our first long-term guest, got married!
What personality fits into your family–outgoing or studious, sports/action-minded or academic/thought oriented? Do you have a list of criteria for long-term guests?
Daryl: If my wife is OK with the prospective guest, I am. Bobbi has the final say. She has to make more effort to maintain the situation than I do. We’ve had one very quiet who was a little hard for Bobbi to converse with, but I could have a conversation with a wall! I steer our conversations. The kids help to break the ice, too. They’ve learned some Arabic words, which helps.
Mai: Although we don’t have a “profile” we prefer, we’ve had more introverts than extroverts. The girls from China can be a challenge because they are only children, not used to living with two “sisters” and a stay-at-home mom. It takes some adapting for all of us. Eating meals together helps.
Greenes: We don’t specify a personality we’d prefer. Most of our guests have been outgoing and eager to do life with us. One was a challenge. She stayed in her room with the door shut most of the time. That was hard for all of us.
Daryl: We have no expectations. They are free to be around us as much or as little as they wish. It’s on them. Our attitude toward them is I want to know you. I want you to learn English. Our guys know they are always welcome in our family’s activities. They’re usually the ones who initiate our time together.
The guys we host love our kids. They play with them, read stories to them. (It’s good for practicing their English!) Our guests are like visiting uncles. They and our kids are excited to be together. Bobbi and I love to host! Sometimes Bobbi or I help them with their ESL homework.
Mai: It depends on our guests’ interest and availability. The interns have homework assignments and need to be on campus often, so they aren’t always available. We enjoy having them with us, though, and I make being with them a priority.
Greenes: We love having them with us. They know that they are welcome to be with us if our bedroom door is open. We know they’re available if their door is open.
Daryl: No. But we tell them that they are welcome to join us. Some do, some don’t. Most have gone at least once to our house church, which meets in members’ homes. We belong to the Northeast Ohio House Church Network, which has a central meeting once a month.
Mai: Yes, but we don’t insist. They are welcome to join us.
Greenes: Yes, we encourage them to go to church with us, but we don’t demand it. Some of them have taken responsibilities in our church, some haven’t; some have gone to a different church or not at all. Right now, I’m leading a Discovery Bible Study class for Chinese students at our church.
Daryl: Bobbi and I pray that our guests to be open to studying the Bible together, hearing the gospel, and opening their heart to Jesus. We know that without prayer, nothing happens.
Mai: We always pray before meals, so when guests eat with us, we give thanks for them and include any praises and concerns that they have. Sometimes we ask them if they would like to lead prayer at our meals. As the Lord leads, if there is something specific we need to bring before the Lord, we ask our guest if she would like us to pray with her. With one of our Chinese guests, we followed up weekly about prayer requests. Sometimes we would pray about these separately and check in later about them. Sometimes we prayed together right then.
With our Rwandan guest, the Holy Spirit led her and me to commit to pray together weekday mornings before work/school. This was a powerful time of connection with the Lord and with each other. We saw Him do amazing things in both of us as a result of this time together. Whenever we were tired or there was some tension between us, we prayed anyway. I believe the Lord honored our commitment to come before Him together and used it to bless us in whatever way we needed. We try to pray together as the Spirit leads us. As a couple/family, we have prayed regularly for the needs of our guests when they were not with us.
Greenes: It was prayer that got us into hosting and prayer that carries us in it. We are ready to pray with our guests any time they ask for prayer. We pray together when the need arises in a conversation. They know they can come to us for prayer.
Daryl: No. Our house already had a “mother-in-law” suite, perfect for hosting one person. This arrangement gives our guests as much autonomy as they want, but because they are used to living with large, extended families, they like being part of our family.
Mai: We had long-term hosting in mind when we purchased our house, which has a complete apartment in the basement, everything except a kitchen. We added a small refrigerator so guests can keep food separate from ours if they want to. (In our house, if it’s in our refrigerator, anyone may have it. We tell our guests that if you use up the last of something, tell us or put it on our shopping list.) We like our guests to eat with the family; we hope they will.
Greenes: We have a 6-bedroom, 3-bath house. The only physical change we made was knocking out a wall in the basement to enlarge the living space down there.
Daryl: We show our guys how to use the city bus if they haven’t learned it already. Some have a car. If they want to go someplace, we expect them to figure it out. Besides, we’re not always available when our guest needs to get some place. They can figure out how to get there on their own.
Mai: Our guest has to be able to drive and have a car because we live far from the IFI office and the OSU campus.
Greenes: Our house is within walking distance of a bus stop, but we’re pretty far from campus. Phyl doesn’t drive. When I worked downtown, I usually dropped our guest off at campus on my way. Now that I’m retired and Phyl often isn’t well enough to go out with me, I go a lot of places by myself, so I don’t mind taking our guests where they need to go, as long as I know in advance. We tell them that anytime they need to go somewhere after dark, I’ll take them. We don’t like them walking home from the bus stop after dark.
What are your expectations about the use of the house, eg, when and who can visit your guest, keep the noise down at certain times of day, etc.?
Daryl: Our guests are part of our family; we are not their landlord. At 37, I’m old enough to be the father of a few! They are big kids. I see no need to micro-manage what they do in their living space. We have only a few rules regarding guests: It’s okay to have girls in, but not to sleep over, nothing wild. Only one girl has ever visited, and that for only 45 min.
We tell them, “Keep it down.” Some internationals party like Americans, but this hasn’t been a problem at our house. We’ve never had an issue with this. Usually their friends don’t stay overnight. We tell them our bedroom and one of our kid’s bedrooms is right above their living space. They get it.
Mai: We are NOT our guests’ landlord! NOT! We want them to know they are important to us and we see them as family. We haven’t had problems with noise or unruly visitors. We have a Household Covenant that we give our long-term guests. [See the Duffs’ Host Family Household Covenant, which includes the Greenes’ modifications.]
Greenes: After a disappointing experience, we adopted a household covenant that we and our guests sign before they move in. We didn’t have a covenant for the first 14 years of hosting. It was suggested by IFI when we were having some concerns with one student. Starting with a covenant is easier than trying to implement one mid-term.
Daryl: Sometimes our guests cook, but Bobbi or I do almost all the cooking. Some of our guests have no interest or experience in cooking.
Mai: I prefer to do the cooking, but I enjoy having our guest help me prepare meals. Once in a while I might ask our guest to cook a meal for us all.
Greenes: Gene does most of the cooking, but we like it when our guests help prepare meals. Sometimes they cook for us, but we don’t expect it. We buy all the food. Often our guest will go with me to do the shopping, especially if I’m going to one of the local ethnic markets. Only if they want a special food do they buy it.
Daryl: We just say, “Keep it clean.” We don’t have specific rules. We rarely check their area. We’ve never had a real problem. One of our guys was pretty messy. When his friends saw how he was treating his space, they said, “Hey, man, what’s with the mess? Clean this place up!” And he did!
Mai: I’m pretty clear about our rules for keeping the basement apartment clean. I expect our guest to clean at least once a week, especially the bathroom, which can develop mold quickly if it isn’t cleaned properly. If mold develops, it’s pretty costly to get rid of it. I check to see if the place is clean. If it isn’t, I repeat my expectations about cleaning and even show her how to clean if she doesn’t clean well. In a healthy family, people love each other. Keeping the home clean is one way we express that love.
Greenes: We spell it out in our Covenant. We also show each guest how we want things done, including cleaning. We say, “This is how we do this at our house,” and they catch on. We don’t wait for them to do it wrong. Gene takes care of anything that breaks.
Would you like to meet occasionally with other long-term host families to share experiences and ideas?
Daryl: Yes, I meet once in a while with our City Director. Once we met with a group of families who are also hosting students long term; It’s helpful to have a network. We’ve all decided that this is the way we need to live. I don’t need a “support structure” to live out this element of the Christian life—bringing nonrelatives into my home life. Lots of people are afraid of Arabs. But I say that if we’re afraid of them, we’re not loving them. Before we got married, Bobbi and I decided we’d include others in our everyday life.
Mai: Sure. I’d be glad to talk with anyone who has done long-term hosting or who wants to know more about it.
Greenes: We’d be happy to mentor anyone who wants to host long term but wants to know more or needs encouragement. We’re happy to help any way we can.
Daryl: Don’t wait. Do it now. Be obedient right away. Take the opportunity you have NOW. The window is open now; it may close.
Jesus is coming back. He’s waiting for us to share the gospel with all nations. It’s far less expensive in every way and much more effective to have Saudis living with you as a natural way to share the gospel. It’s a lot safer, too, to meet them on your home turf than to go to theirs.
At home you’re free to say whatever you want. Here’s an example: When one student mentioned Abraham sacrificing Ishmael, I said, “No, that’s not how it happened.” I showed him the story in the Bible. Reading it shook his foundations. He read with his mouth hanging open! Then he looked up at me, stunned, and said, “Everything I know is wrong. I can’t handle this now.” I was okay with that. I let the Bible speak for itself. Now he’s my best friend. Once a month he comes home from college in another city in Ohio. He spent spring break with us and will be back for summer.
Jesus said, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Most people would think we give more when we give time, energy, and resources to house a student. But I know I’m the more blessed one; I get more.
Mai: Long-term hosting is an opportunity and a blessing. If God is calling, do it! Feeling nervous, not knowing what to do or expect helps us grow. God can teach you. He can give us whatever we need to do it. Focus on that. He can even use hosting to fix things in us! He’s shown me what He wants to fix in me through our guests. Do you have kids? Hosting gives them great opportunities to grow, too!
A friend who had adopted a child asked me about hosting long term, “How do you do it?” I wondered the same about her! All I could tell her was, “We’ve been blessed by it!” God calls us to different things.
Greenes: We see hosting, whether for one night or long-term, as a very blessed way of life. We don’t think of “counting the cost.” We look at all we’ve gained from it. It has blessed our entire family—parents, us, kids, and grandkids. It has made our world very large and helped us experience God in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Our kids tell us, “You’ve changed completely since you got involved with IFI!” (In good ways!) God can use it to do the same in you!
Want to learn more? Contact IFI
IFI does not have a formal matching program for long-term housing. The families in this article responded as opportunities arose.