Transparent Environments – The Spiritual Joy and Fruit of Communal Living
Lydia currently lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, where she and her husband, Nick, serve full-time with China Outreach Ministries, reaching Chinese international students at Purdue University. Lydia is a Wheatie for life (Wheaton College) and an enthusiast of Christian Classical education. In her spare time, Lydia enjoys being with kids (Nathaniel, Ethan, and Abigail in particular), doing calligraphy, teaching piano, running, and being active.
For more of this series check out: The Hostess with the Mostess – A Pre-Arrival Reflection, Adventure and Inconvenience – A Reflection One Week In, Searching for Significance - A Reflection on Conversations with Ayi, and Old Selves - Learning to Love Family Members Who Have Not Yet Changed.
When we were looking for houses in Indiana, we prayed that God would provide us with a house that had an extra bedroom so we could provide housing for someone who needed it. God answered our prayer, and in addition to that extra bedroom, we also ended up with an extra large family room (also used to host students). Praise God for his provision!
After moving in, we continued praying that God would direct just the right guest to our guest room – not just anyone, but someone with an open heart, someone who was thirsty for his presence and love. We wanted God to be glorified through that room.
Four months after we moved in, our first houseguest moved in and stayed for ten months. Then, our second set of houseguests moved in and stayed for two weeks. Next, Ayi and M moved in and stayed for three months. They moved out in August. How does it feel to be living in our house without houseguests? It honestly feels a little strange. Since we’ve lived in Indiana, we’ve had houseguests living with us for all but four months of it!
Friends and acquaintances are sometimes shocked that we have long-term houseguests. Americans seem to be friendly isolationists: protective of their own lives and space, but outwardly amiable. Many of us have never shared a meal with our neighbors that have lived next door for years! It is no wonder that many internationals feel very unwelcome. The process is not always easy; there are difficult days, inconvenient moments, but we are sure that God has called us to serve his lost sheep through opening our home. We receive abundant joy through the unique friendships that develop in our home, that are not going to happen anywhere else.
Did you know that over 300,000 students from China come to America to study every year? That makes up more than ⅓ of the total number of international students in America! That number doesn’t include spouses, children, or parents of students. Many, if not most of those Chinese international students have never heard the good news of Jesus. A small minority who come over have one family member (usually a grandparent) who attends church; but for the majority, church, Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity are topics that draw question marks.
For Ayi it was no different. Throughout her stay with us, God orchestrated some pivotal events and circumstances that made it possible for us share about our eternal hope and the peace of God. There were many “Aha!” moments as she got glimpses of the Christian worldview through our conversations about politics, our everyday decision-making processes, and our dynamic with our children.
It is humbling to think that my family, or perhaps your family, could be someone’s first impression of Jesus’ love.
What have we learned from living with houseguests over the past two years?
First, God created us to live in community. He did not create us to be recluses, but instead created within us a longing for meaningful, safe relationships – for trust and intimacy.
Second, communal living allows us to openly share the Christian spiritual life with others; or rather, it provides a transparent environment for others to see the Christian lifestyle and heart. In close community, God gives us ample opportunities to talk about our relationship with God and our understanding of God through prayer, scripture reading, memorizing scripture, and the application of scripture to our life circumstances. Sharing our struggles and our goals with a non-Christian shows that our faith is not only one that is spoken with the mouth, but it is practiced and wrestled through daily. One day, I shared with Ayi the Bible verse I was trying to memorize that day and wide-eyed with surprise, she asked incredulously, “Why do you memorize Bible verses?!” In that conversation I had a chance to share the worth and importance of Scripture memory – to fill your mind with biblical truths and promises so that your faith can be strengthened in times of weakness.
Third, living in community requires the daily exercise of Christian virtue and evaluating one’s own heart. Our practice of the Fruit of the Spirit and staying in alignment with God’s best for us is tested when there is an extra set of eyes watching you from the outside. It helps us realize that the presence of a houseguest can motivate the Christian to take seriously the life to which you have been called as a Christ follower.
Fourth, listening to the life stories of those in your community helps you to better discern their physical, spiritual, and emotional needs, which in turn helps their understanding of how God meets those needs. Through listening and reflecting on the painful, tragic life stories and joyful achievements and triumphs of our houseguests, we are able to practice empathizing and showing compassion to those who are lost. When we truly get to know someone, the process of trust-building can begin, and it is in the context of a trust-filled relationship that we have the space to introduce a loving, Biblical God to people. We can meet them where they’re at when hosting and therefore, help them to see that God can also meet them where they are.
Fifth, on a more pragmatic level, having houseguests has forced us to meet deadlines for house projects in a more timely fashion. There was a guest bathroom upstairs that was waiting to be remodeled and having houseguests coming was a good motivator to help us get the project done by a solid deadline. Were houseguests to continue coming at the same tempo they have been, we will have our entire list of house projects done in no time!
We have been blessed to see that every time houseguests leave, their hearts seem to have been softened towards the Lord through their stay here. May God be glorified! We pray that each of our past houseguests, including Ayi and M, leaves our house with a deeper understanding of the love of God and a heart that is one step closer to choosing God as their Savior.
I urge you to contemplate this opportunity to impact a life for eternity. Perhaps God has laid it on your heart or begun to work in your heart – a desire to open your home to an international Chinese student or relative. Seek the Lord in prayer for this desire and it is my hope that he will prepare you in his time. It has been and will continue to be a sanctifying and powerful experience for our family.
As a benediction for this blog series, I leave you with this truth from 1 Peter 4:8-9, 11:
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling... whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.