• The Fellows Initiative

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

The Fellows Initiative network of Christian leadership and vocational development programs
A snow-day movie might with the author's host family and fellows class

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.