Welcoming the stranger: Opening our homes to international guests

Betsy Moyer, Salford

Requests came from University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University seeking invitations to their international student guests for a highly valued American home stay. All they asked was for one overnight visit, less than 24 hours with a host family. Folks in our community already had so many commitments. It was a challenge.

The opportunity to host international students is an honor given to us through a long and positive relationship Claude Good built with persons from these Philadelphia universities. During years of teaching English as a Second Language at “International House” in Philadelphia, Claude invited university students to spend a weekend or holiday out of the city in our community. The word got out that our Franconia Conference community was a welcoming and interesting place to see a beautiful view of America. Stories circulated of warm host families; of worship services where international visitors were welcomed, allowed to ask questions, and invited to share from their own countries. It was a perspective of America that was different from what they saw in Philadelphia. Students reported that these home stays were the highlight of their time in the US!

In July we welcomed a group of 24 South African middle school teachers who were studying curriculum development for five weeks at the University of Pennsylvania. These adults had been selected from all over South Africa in a very competitive process. The group was diverse in gender, South African ethnicity (representing all four groups), and faith (including Muslims, Hindus, and Christians). They sang, talked, listened, and endeared themselves to us. One hostess said the weekend with her guests was “a mountaintop experience.”

Several guests wrote thank you notes to their host families and some to the congregations they visited. One guest wrote, “I am (now) a Mennonite, even my kids are the grand-children of the Mennonites. I am not going to lose any contact with you, not at all. You are my family that God has created forever and ever, AMEN.”

On August 11, we welcomed 19 Western European Young Leaders to a Peach Picnic in Souderton (PA) Park. This celebration with peaches and corn, Franconia Conference families, and international students has been an annual tradition. The group this year was energetic and eager to see who we, as Mennonites, really are. Having only been exposed to dorm life and cafeteria food at Drexel University, these young adults found our picnic of grilled chicken dogs, roasted corn on the cob, colorful salads, fresh peaches, chocolate brownies, and ice cream to be “the best meal they had yet” in the United States.

guests_welcoming.jpgWe were fascinated to hear them tell us where they came from, discovering that most of them now live in a different country from where their parents were born. Many of the students bravely sang their national anthems for us, even though they had no accompaniment and were outside in a public park. We tried to return the favor by singing a few traditional Mennonite favorites and a folk song or two for our guests.

God works in mysterious ways and extending hospitality to strangers can be a most powerful witness. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing that, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” ~ Hebrews 13:2