Eric and Rebecca Vaas had entered a season of life that many empty nesters find themselves in. Recently retired with their children grown and moved out, they were looking for ways to steward their time and resources well. This led them to get involved with IFI. “We enjoy meeting new people,” the Vaases explain, “and there seemed to be many opportunities and a good fit for us to be of service in the IFI organization.”
After becoming official IFI volunteers in the summer of 2021, Eric and Rebecca eagerly jumped into engaging with students. Their first event was helping with the check-in table at the OSU Welcome Party in the fall of 2021, which gave them the exciting experience of interacting with many of the international students who came to eat, dance, take pictures, play games, and make new friends.
Just a few days later, they made their first personal connection with a student from Pakistan and took him out for a meal in a restaurant. This relationship opened the door to others, and before long, the Vaases hosted two more students over Labor Day Weekend and helped another hunt down free or inexpensive furniture for her apartment.
They had the joy of seeing how the simple blessings God had given them, like a home and a spacious van, could be a blessing to international students and lead to deeper relationships with them.
As much as Eric and Rebecca enjoyed serving students in practical ways, they also longed to connect with their friends spiritually. In March this year, they heard about Daniel, an international student from Nigeria coming to OSU for his postdoctoral work and needing a temporary host home. Rebecca “felt that we were supposed to host him,” so the Vaases welcomed Daniel into their home as soon as he arrived in the United States. They spent the next three days helping Daniel get established in Columbus.
Their van and knack for finding furniture came in handy once again as they drove Daniel around town to set up his new apartment, open a bank account, and pick up food and household items. This time, however, the Vaases gained not only a friend but a new family member.
“Eric and Becky Vaas have adopted me as their own!” Daniel says. “I feel blessed.”
The time they shared during his three-day stay, enriched by their shared beliefs as followers of Jesus, allowed them to have deep, personal conversations. Even after Daniel moved into his own place, the Vaases continued to text with him and see him on a regular basis, taking him to church with them on Sundays and helping him practice for his driving test.
Daniel spent Easter and his birthday with Eric and Rebecca. He met their children and their church family and shared openly about his own life, family, and cultural background. “As we get to know him, and his and our levels of trust grow, we have learned much about his culture and the customs of both Nigeria and South Africa,” the Vaases say, adding that “working with Daniel has been an answer to his and our prayers.” It has also encouraged them as they continue to live out their trust in Jesus by serving their international friends who don’t know him.
Sometimes serving students means blessing a large number of people, and other times it can lead to a meaningful relationship with just one or two. Eric and Rebecca have already experienced both. While some retirees might spend their free time traveling the world, the Vaases have discovered another way to touch and be touched by the nations. “Working with IFI is a great stretching and growing opportunity for volunteers to interact with people that they normally would not know,” they say. “In a way, it is a cross-cultural opportunity that doesn’t require a passport!”