Jesus Made Known through a Host Family
Updated: Apr 16, 2020
by Sarah Dodson
Editor's Note: Welcome back to the TFI blog! After a brief hiatus, we will be posting a new article every month or so. This blog article is about living with a host family as a fellow. Across the TFI network, most fellows live with host families from the local church. Instead of host families, several fellows programs offer shared housing in which fellows live together in community. Both are wonderful options. Stay tuned for an upcoming article on shared housing. If you're interested in reading some of our previous blog posts, here's the link.
The host family element of a fellows program can be a daunting concept, on both ends.
Will I be able to truly rest in a stranger’s home? Will my home be restful with a stranger in it? Will I eventually come to feel like a friend rather than a stranger? Will he or she be a good “fit” for our kids... or just feel like another kid for whom I’m responsible? How will schedules overlap and what is to be expected of them as a fellow, and us as a host family?
These are valid questions on both sides of the equation that are brought to bear in the minds of fellows and families participating in a Fellows program. It can certainly be a change for post-undergrad students to transition back into living with a family unit after four years of living with friends or alone, and it can be equally shifting for a family with children to take on an independent adult.
However foreign and unnerving it may sound, the host family experience is a wonderfully formative path for growth for all parties involved. It broadens our understanding of community, demonstrates a lived-out gospel, and teaches us about sanctification through embodied grace and hospitality.
Anchored in a body of all ages and stages
In living with a host family, fellows develop a greater taste for the body of Christ in its variety of forms. Placing fellows with families tethers the fellow to the greater church family. Cooper Mahoney, 2018-2019 Memphis Fellow, noted how her time with her host family helped forge friendships with other couples, families with young children, and empty nesters alike, in what could have been an impenetrable, large church body. This helped her feel truly enveloped in her church, rather than a visitor passing through for a temporal year.
The fruit grows both ways, too. Laura and Matt Annessi have spent two years hosting with the Chattanooga program and plan on hosting again in the future. Laura, a stay-at-home mother of two whose schedule often limits her in space and time, appreciated how hosting a fellow helped fulfill her desire to counsel and serve outside of her family without having to carve out another compartment in an already full calendar. Having a fellow in the household allowed Laura to minister, mentor, and encourage a sister in Christ while still tending to her daily call to motherhood.
Another byproduct of host family life is learning to prioritize community. A class dispersed across suburbs and neighborhoods necessitates that fellows practice the patterns of gathering with one another without the convenience of a college campus or shared dorm buildings. Fellows learn by experience that forethought, effort, and personal sacrifice is required to intentionally spend time with one another outside of class, much like life in a busy post-fellows world.
Jesus and His gospel made known through host families
More than the classroom or pulpit, living with a host family teaches all involved more about the gospel. Fellows step into the mess of imperfect families, not families who have it figured out or have perfect kids. These are normal, fallen families who are seeking to follow Christ while they still battle in a broken world, just like the fellows.
Welcoming a fellow into your home is a bold and vulnerable gift. The fellow will not only see your limitations, but your sin. The Annessis’ hope and prayer as hosts is that those instances of weakness aren’t moments for the family to pull themselves together in front of fellows, but rather opportunities to model repentance and reliance on Christ for his daily mercy.
Challenging too can be the act of receiving free grace in the form of hospitality from host families. Many of us like to perform, achieve, and earn our right to rest and be provided for, and living in a family’s home directly challenges those inclinations. The ability to live transparently and in free grace, as fellows experience, becomes a breeding ground for growth in the gospel: Christ’s grace really is desperately needed, and His grace really does allow us to take another step in freedom.
Mahoney reflected on nights of sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly over late night dessert in the kitchen with her host mom, followed by receiving prayer for such things. In turn, she found herself praying for her host family to better love their neighbors, better serve one another, and declare the Lord’s goodness. The sincerity and care of her host mom’s investment in her heart had a twofold effect of Mahoney experiencing Jesus more in her own life, while longing for more of him in the life of her host family as well.
Great is the reward
For fellows, being hosted means a front row seat to the ways families and spouses handle conflict and seek to love each other. For hosts, wrestling through big questions fellows encounter in class is equally refining. Both sides get to observe the gospel at work in the day-to-day lives of the other, which is an encouragement to hosts and fellows.
Resounding reflections from host families include how integral the fellow becomes to their family. Far from another child to tend to (indeed, the fellows have far too busy a schedule to need to be entertained!), the fellow becomes the older guy or girl that their children look up to, acting as a mentoring figure under whom children could learn and flourish. The Annessis have also been grateful for the ways hosting has modeled the concept of sacrificial hospitality to their children, that their space and possessions belong to Jesus and that as a family they seek to love those the Lord puts in their path.
It’s worth noting that most, but not all, programs involve living with a host family. Some programs have community living, in which fellows live in the same apartment building or housing complex. Keep your eye out for a future blog post on community housing. For those programs that take strangers into their own homes for nine months, the rewards can be life-giving, for both the fellow and the host. After nine months of intentional living with a host family, the hardest part is often moving away from those that have come to feel like home.
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