Volunteers Gary and Silvia showed hospitality during COVID-19.

The table was set and delicious smells wafted through the house as Silvia’s family sat down to share a table prayer with their new international friends. This dinner party probably looked very much like other IFI friendship dinners: two international students and three Americans sitting around a table laughing and getting to know one another.

But this friendship dinner was not like other friendship dinners.

Silvia and her husband, Gary, decided to open their door to international students this March even though waves of COVID-19 fear led most people to shut off contact with the outside world. You might inquire into the wisdom of in-person hospitality during the early stages of a pandemic. What led them to take the risk?

Silvia and Gary are relatively new IFI volunteers who became involved after watching their daughter, Cathy, enjoy volunteering with International Friendships. This year they received an invitation from IFI to host a friendship dinner; a quarterly opportunity for volunteers to befriend new international students, invite them into their homes, and share American culture over a meal.

While they were considering it, Silvia attended a conference where one speaker’s testimony highlighted the need for hospitality to internationals. In relating the story, Silvia says:

“He told us of a young girl from China that his parents had friended and invited to their house several times. When it came time for her to return home, she brought them a suitcase full of souvenir items from China. These were gifts that she had planned on giving to the people who welcomed her to their homes while she was in the US, but his parents were the only ones to do so. Therefore she was giving them all the gifts.”

Silvia came home from the conference convinced God was calling them to host a friendship dinner.

Then came COVID-19.

IFI informed volunteers and students who were signed up for the March friendship dinners that no one should feel obligated to participate, and those who chose to move ahead should take the necessary precautions. One of the three students originally matched with Silvia and Gary dropped out, but two remained interested.

As Silvia communicated with them, she used the opportunity to express trust in God, sharing that her family was not afraid of the virus, but did want to be cautious for the sake of all involved. God would give them wisdom as they trusted in Him! To minimize exposure, they moved the hosting location from Silvia and Gary’s house to Cathy’s apartment since Silvia and Gary currently share their home with family. The night of the dinner, Silvia, Gary, and Cathy met the students at the door.

“As we gathered I informed them that we had already been praying that we would share nothing but friendship that night,” says Silvia.

The evening was a joy. As they visited over chicken bake casserole and pineapple cake, they found out that one of their guests would be in America for only a short time. They talked about the many things she wanted to do before going home in September, hoping COVID-19 would not prevent her from really experiencing the United States.

The students stayed until 11pm and expressed interest in seeing one another again. Silvia says they have been able to stay in contact with the students through email, and even planned a parking lot party for one of their birthdays during social distancing!

When asked whether they would host again, Silvia says, “Absolutely! Even with a pandemic? We have had 2 children who travel internationally. If they were in another country when something like this happened we would want someone to befriend and host them – so absolutely! We serve the God of creation, there is nothing on this earth that is more powerful than Him, if He says go ahead, who are we to be afraid?”

“We place our trust in the wisdom of our Lord: if He says wait – then wait, but if He says go – then it is better to go.”