(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles detailing the eternal impact that can be made through hosting an international exchange student).
Charles Flynn has served children and families in Arkansas since 1991 as part of the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries. Flynn and his wife Lana have also served children and families from around the globe as host parents for international exchange students for many years.
The Flynns had met exchange students through church and thought that might be something they wanted to do but didn’t think they could afford it. In July of 2001, they got a call from someone whose job it was to find homes for exchange students. The lady had originally called someone else and was told instead to call the Flynns. She was told, “They always have a lot of teenagers at their house, they won’t notice one more.”
During the initial conversation, the Flynns discovered that serving as a host home was not nearly as difficult, nor expensive, as they had originally thought. Basically, they would be required to provide the student his or her own bed, provide transportation to school and provide three meals a day. All other expenses would be provided by the student’s parents.
Charles and Lana made the decision that night to host their first foreign exchange student. “So, on a Friday afternoon, we went from thinking that one of these days, we would like to do this to deciding, hey, we’re gonna do this,” Flynn said. And so, a couple of weeks later, they were at the airport meeting Juliana, a teenage student from Brazil.
Fulfilling the Great Commission
Since then, the Flynns have hosted eight different high school students, all girls. Two were from Germany, four from Brazil, one from South Korea and one from Thailand.
The Flynns see this as a ministry and an opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission. “When they come into our home, we don’t push the gospel down their throats. We are not allowed to force them to go to church, but we can invite them and encourage them to attend,” Charles Flynn shared. “The students know before they arrive that we are Christians and that our church is an important part of our life. That’s part of the application process. We have told each one of them that we would never make them go, but we would like them to visit so they can experience that part of our lives.”
The Flynns’ experience has been that most of the students go and end up liking it. Charles Flynn says it is because they are so relational and are here to meet new people. When they go to church, people are often fascinated by exchange students. They get lots of attention, which is usually a good experience from the start.
Several of the students have made professions of faith through the years. Many of them have helped lead others in their family to faith as well. The Flynns believe that even those who did not make professions of faith were positively influenced. “Hosting an exchange student is like taking an international mission trip without ever leaving your home,” Lana Flynn said. “It’s a 24/7 mission trip where you live out your faith every day. They are watching every move that you make. You’re either real or you’re not, and they know it.”
The Flynns have developed a close relationship with each student, even referring to them as their daughters. They have kept in close contact through the years and have even visited seven of them in their home countries. “It’s just been special not just to get to know the kids, but to know all their families,” Lana Flynn said. “The neatest part is their families have accepted us as part of the extended family. We’ve even been invited to stay in the homes of six of the students when we visited. They love us and we love them. It’s just really special.”
“Go” without going
The Flynns would encourage anyone interested in exploring the possibility of hosting an international exchange student to contact Lisa Brecht at CETUSA (Council for Educational Travel, USA), a not-for-profit international student exchange organization coordinating exchange experiences for high school students, university students and young professionals. Brecht has served for two years as the organization’s regional area director for Arkansas and Louisiana.
Although CETUSA is not a Christian organization, Brecht encourages her fellow Arkansas Baptists and other believers to visit their website to learn more and to take advantage of the resources provided to assist them in making a decision to become a host family. Just like the Flynns, Brecht views hosting exchange students as an opportunity to reach the nations and fulfill the Great Commission. “Hosting provides an opportunity to ‘go’ like Jesus said without actually having to go. God is literally bringing the world to us.”
Brecht and her family have hosted several students through the years. She has seen God work and many lives changed as international students, many of whom don’t come from Christian homes, learn what it is like to be a Christian just by coming and living with a Christian family.