Agnes, Duwon, and Zhou are three Asian students who have been in our community as exchange students this past school year. Their initial home placements in our community didn't work, and they wound up with two families in our little congregation that was trying to come into being. Agnes said she and her family are Christian, but she didn't know there were different kinds until she arrived in the states. Duwon and her family are secular Muslims (whatever that is), and Zhou says her family professes no faith. I don't know the whole story about their initial family placements. One of them changed because of illness in the host family. I'm not sure what happened with another one, but I heard enough about the remaining situation to know it had a lot to do with the host family's intention to share their faith with the student.
Sharing faith is a good thing, something we're all called to do. But some of the stories I heard crossed a line. This placement involved one of the non-Christian girls. The initial host family insisted that she attend several activities at their church, often meaning being there at least four nights a week. They took her cell phone away from her, telling her she could only talk with people they approved. Long story short, she asked to live somewhere else. One of the members of our NCD congregation is a teacher at the high school, and she and her family took two of the girls into their home. The third girl moved in with another family in our congregation, and all three of them worshiped with us.
Several of us had dinner with the girls last night to celebrate their time with us and to wish them well as head home today and tomorrow. I've been thinking about them a lot as I work with the Great Commission from Matthew's Gospel in preparation for worship this coming Sunday. I'm sure that the faith-sharing family that didn't work out well for one of the girls thought they were doing what Jesus called us all to do by insisting that she participate in their church and its programs. How many times have I as a pastor encouraged people to use the church and its programs to help them share faith with others? Jesus did tell us to make disciples. But the truth of the matter is that we can't make someone believe. What we can do is love people with the love of Christ and let that love do it work as only it can. I hope that's what we tried to do with the girls in worship. I think so because none of their host families from our congregation required them to come, but they came because they wanted to. They developed relationships with people in our little group. We serve a meal to the hungry in our community once a month as part of an ecumenical effort. All three of the girls asked if they could help, and, of course, they could. They not only served food and cleaned up and did all the other things the rest of us do, but they sat and talked with the kids who eat there, something not everyone is comfortable doing. I know our local school requires some community service as a part of the curriculum. But I also know there were lots of other places where the girls could have done that service. I was glad to be able to sign their forms to document their help with the meals.
I'm sure all three girls will have all kinds of stories to tell when they get back to their families and communities at home. I hope the stories they tell about their participation in our church are about the welcome they experienced, and the love they found among us. And I know that welcome and that love will continue to work in their lives long after their time among us is over. We'll miss the girls, but we are thankful for their presence among us.