Why on earth would you buy a seven-passenger van?, Randy thought to himself, as his dad purchased a red 2013 Chrysler Town and Country. Granted, it was in really good shape, but what was the need?
Fast-forward some years, and Randy is now involved with serving international students alongside his wife, volunteering with the IFI location in Peoria, Illinois. He’s like the cool uncle of the family, as he owns an old Volvo convertible, attracting the attention of the international students he serves. Most of them had never ridden in a convertible car before, so it was easy to entertain them with his fancy ride.
Just when he had forgotten all about his father’s seven-passenger van, he gets a call from one of his siblings: “You should keep dad’s van.” His father had passed away, meaning they had to split the inheritance, which included the vehicle.
That’s when it hit him: “I think I need to sell the Volvo and keep the van. There is a use for students,” Randy said.
Although selling the convertible meant no more fancy joy rides, Randy soon realized he had the capacity to transport a lot more students with the van, so much so that he became a part of the IFI Transportation Team. This meant weekly Walmart runs for students to buy groceries, taking them to sporting events, going to the hairdresser, and moving them to their new apartments or houses. It also meant access for them to participate in spontaneous activities within their communities. “Ever since I’ve known Randy, he’s been transporting the students with the red van,” said Jim Hanes, IFI Peoria Area Leader. “When he had the convertible, the students enjoyed riding it and would choose him to take rides. But I see he had no trouble choosing the van; it’s much more practical for the ministry we do.”
Randy was amazed at how valuable the van turned out to be. Through the many interactions with the international students he transported, he realized how important mobility was for them. “The majority of the student-athletes who attend the junior college have no vehicles to get places,” Randy said. “For many of them, their settings are extremely isolating.” Something so practical, yet taken for granted.
Not only did serving this way open his eyes to basic international student struggles, but gave him the opportunity to have deep conversations and to engage cross-culturally with them. He’s had moments to share about Jesus being the guide of his life to a Nepali Hindu student, to observe how his African brothers and sisters hold time loosely during a haircut appointment, and to take students on fun trips, like exploring the city of Chicago. “It’s so much more than transportation,” Randy said. “The time to and from is huge.”
As a result of the many shared rides, Randy has been able to foster longitudinal relationships with these international students. “We’ve known some people for 15-plus years, despite their transitions out of college,” Randy said. “We’ve visited a past student in Ghana. Just recently, we spontaneously met up with a past student from Haiti in Phoenix, who used to be a part of IFI Peoria. We treated him to dim sum and got to listen to his story about coming back to God.” As shown, intentionality, optimizing your time, and being open to God’s spirit goes a long way.
In addition to transporting students, Randy and his wife love hosting them at Randy’s cousin’s condominium in Chicago, as he lives in the Twin Towers, which overlooks the beautiful river city of Peoria, as well as their own apartment in Peoria. They enjoy having students over for a meal and good conversations, as they have the chance to display their own German-American heritage. “Their apartment is always open to students,” said Jim Hanes. “Randy and his wife are super people, models for me in the ministry.”
Despite not having his dad present to witness the van’s incredible usage, Randy is still pursuing his call to make disciples of all nations and to make a house of prayer for all nations, as Matthew 28 and Isaiah 56 say. “I wish we could tell dad that we kept it,” Randy said. “The van has been a huge blessing. Dad knew about our involvement with IFI but he wasn’t completely familiar with it, and I think he would’ve been happy he was a part of God’s work. This has taught us that the most unlikely person can be used in the Kingdom. God had a plan way before I did!”
So why on earth would you buy a seven-passenger van? For such a time as this! As Randy likes to say: “Just call me Grandpa Uber and I’ll show up for duty!”