Lessons in hospitality from the International Volunteer Exchange Program
The Born household on the west side of Abbotsford looks somewhat different than the average Canadian household. The dozen adults – including one international exchange participant – and handful of children living in the house eat together, support (and sometimes irritate!) each other, and meet weekly for an intentional time of collective worship through prayer and Bible study.
For Bryan and Teresa Born, opening their home is a logical outworking of being faithful Christ followers: “It just seems like sharing life is what God intended us to do,” Bryan says. “Our hospitality should extend to all; we should share the love of Jesus in every way possible.”
In Botswana, where the Borns served as missionaries for 12 years, “we experienced hospitality from so many,” says Bryan. “We almost always found it an incredibly life-giving and learning-filled time of relationship building.”
Returning to Abbotsford, B.C., some five years ago, the Borns both found themselves working in mission-related jobs, yet they missed the accountability and close fellowship they experienced on their journey of following Jesus with a team of fellow missionaries. Additionally, they saw a mission opportunity in their very own city: Caucasian Canadians and Indo-Canadians don’t have much to do with each other, not even sharing the same neighbourhoods. Gathering a group of likeminded adults (mostly young, recent college graduates), they began to address some of these “itches” by moving into a large house directly across from a gurdwara (Sikh temple), and becoming host “parents” to a participant in Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP).
“Communication is key” to navigating the relationship as hosts to a person from another culture, and with the varied housemates, says Teresa. But the attitude that guides these conversations is that of an eager student.
The Borns and their housemates are always learning – learning about each person’s particular gifts and challenges, learning about the IVEPer’s culture and how he or she practises a Christian walk in his or her home country, learning about the people in the community in which they live, and learning how to be “inclusive of other people’s views, yet very clear about what we believe,” says Teresa.
It’s certainly not all serious work: “It’s really fun to introduce people to a culture far different from their own,” says Bryan. “It’s great to see people
learn and grow.”
With so many adults in the house, the Borns’ IVEPer has a broad range of opportunities to go out and do things (releasing “host parents” Bryan and Teresa from some of the pressure to offer their IVEPer many experiences), yet it’s still daily life that provides the richest moments. “So much interaction happens over meals, before and after,” says Teresa. And having children in the community can be a portal for a shy IVEPer, or one struggling with English, to feel comfortable and able to contribute.
“But it’s not just what we’ve been able to do for them,” says Bryan. “Each IVEPer has impacted us. They have stories and experiences to offer,” both as a decision-maker in the local household, and as a bringer of global perspective on the struggles of the church in the wider world.
A challenge of offering hospitality is retaining humility. As North American host parents in a comfortable home, possessing cultural and educational collateral, the Borns recognize there is a power imbalance. But they contextualize their lives according to Matthew 25:31–46 – whether those they welcome are influential or “the least of these,” it is like serving Christ himself – and there is no place for superiority.
“Every one of our IVEPers has provided us with an opportunity to learn more about how God is at work in the world around us,” says Bryan.
“I sometimes think of the IVEPers in terms of the disciples Jesus sent out in Matthew 10:11–13a,” he says. “I pray that our home will welcome and embrace fellow followers of Jesus in such a way that God’s peace (shalom) will rest on us and go out from here to bless our neighbourhood and the world beyond.”