AKRON, Pa. – Over the years, Bonnie and Dave Moyer of Souderton, Pa., have provided a home away from home to four young people from around the globe. In the process, their own lives have been enriched.
The Moyers, in their mid-50s, have hosted four young people, two from Indonesia and one each from Brazil and France. The three women and one man lived with the Moyers at different times as part of Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP).
“Each is as different from the other as night and day, but each is special,” Bonnie said. “They are strong in their personal faith and courageous to leave everything they know and come here.”
Now in its 62nd year, IVEP provides cross cultural experience to Christian youth, many but not all from Anabaptist congregations from around the world, said Andrea Geiser, coordinator of the IVEP U.S. program. In July, 53 young people will finish a year of IVEP service in Canada and the United States.
A new group will arrive in early August, and openings for hosts in Canada and the U.S. are still available.
“This is a chance for us to show hospitality to a brother or sister in Christ,” Geiser said. “Part of the program is to live with a local host family to learn the local culture and connect with a community. It does take extra time to host an IVEP participant, but hosts say again and again how their lives are enriched, their children learn and they have a very positive experience.”
The Moyers believe many people deny themselves the joys of hosting IVEP participants because they harbor unrealistic perceptions of what’s involved. The Moyers themselves worried whether they could fill the role.
“We wondered if we could do it without child-raising experience of our own, and we thought we were too boring for the younger set,” Bonnie said. What’s more, they each work more than 40 hours a week.
However, the couple is committed to international understanding. Bonnie manages a Ten Thousand Villages store in Souderton, which sells fairly traded crafts from around the world, and Dave served with MCC in Belgium from 1978 to 1980.
In 2005, a sponsor contacted Bonnie directly with an urgent need for someone to host an IVEP participant. She and Dave made a quick decision to participate as hosts, and they have never looked back. Dave said his concern about keeping an IVEP participant engaged and active was unfounded because the young people also become involved in their workplaces and congregations.
The Moyers adopt a low-key approach – giving their guests some individual living space while including them in family meals and as many or as few of their activities as each desires.
“They are young adults, not children. They have a purpose in being here and a job to go to. Their brains are tired at the end of the day, and they need some space,” Bonnie said.
However, Dave was thrilled when Edwin Hindom, who is from Papua, Indonesia, took a lively interest in his activities.
“He always wanted to be at my side and was fascinated by tools and machinery,” Dave said. “Edwin liked yard work and really enjoyed helping me with anything that involved the chipper/shredder especially, but also the lawn mower, weed whacker, power saw, cordless drill and snow blower.”
Food is one area where the Moyers try to accommodate their guests’ personal preferences. “You can make someone feel at home if you give them something familiar to eat,” Bonnie said.
Bonnie plans frequent meals with pasta for their current IVEP guest, Elisabeth “Lisa” Spredemann from Brazil, who says she could eat it every day. They found hot sauce for Nur Ninda Natalia “Lia” from Java, Indonesia, and for French woman Lucille Toilliez, who loved crepes, Bonnie would make a batch and freeze them so that Toilliez could help herself each morning.
Spredemann said her biggest worry coming into the program was whether her limited English would hamper her efforts to do a good job at her assignment as a recreational activities assistant at two retirement homes.
This is a common worry, Bonnie said, but she thinks IVEP participants are too hard on themselves. Host families help their guests build confidence with simple reassurance that they’re doing their jobs well and that their English is understandable and improving.
Emily Will is a freelance writer from Frederick, Md.