Potential landlords looked at me with squinty eyes, raised eyebrows and skeptical expressions of distrust. “So, you want to have youth in the apartment often?” they asked. “You said you help at the Baptist church?” “You’re an American?” Such questions as these gave me an idea why I was having such a hard time finding somewhere to live. In Catholic Poland, foreigners are few and tolerance for other religions is low. The landlords’ questions clearly showed their prejudice, their fears that I would flee the country at any moment without paying or that my youth group would destroy their apartment or have weird, loud religious meetings there.
I was apartment hunting, because I had felt led by God to move from a large, enchanting city in Poland to a small, crime-infested town of 40,000 near Warsaw. I regularly prayed for an apartment (and got everyone in my home church praying), but couldn’t find one.
Meanwhile, I still needed somewhere to lay my head and my boxes, so the youth pastor arranged a room for me with a family from the church. As a single woman in my 30’s, I didn’t really want to live with “parents” again, but, as weeks of looking turned into months, it seemed like God had answered my prayers through this family.
I soon learned that “family living” has its advantages. God had not only provided, but abundantly! In a country filled with tall, Communist, block apartment buildings with tiny, two-room apartments, I now find myself living in a nice, American-style home with a Polish couple and their college-age daughter. The spaciousness of the house makes me feel at home and also provides enough space for my meetings and overnight guests. The garage provides storage space and the flower-filled yard is a wonderful place for barbeques and entertaining. Living with a family also helps rapidly advance my language ability and cultural understanding, as there is often someone around for conversation and explanation of Polish peculiarities.
Being part of a family affords me other privileges that singles often lack on the field. For example, someone would know and worry if I didn’t make it home. Someone would take care of me if I were sick. My host mom often cooks, giving me more time for ministry. My host dad helps me with heavy labor tasks and car maintenance problems. His very presence in the home provides greater security.
Living with a host family can also help alleviate a typical problem of singles on the field: what to do on holidays. Holidays and special occasions can be especially difficult times for single global workers. Roommates often return home and their global working roommates are left to sit and wait, hoping someone will cast a sympathetic glance their way and invite them over. Living with a family, however, has changed that for me. My host family “claims” me on holidays and is even hurt if I go somewhere else. Instead of burying myself in ministry work, treating the holiday like any normal day, I find myself busily involved in food preparation, picnics, bike rides and entertaining talkative relatives who visit – the simple pleasures of living.
You may be wondering if my host parents feel as positive about the living arrangement as I do. With all that my “family” offers me, what do I add to their lives in return? As an active, optimistic foreigner in a country that is pessimistic and ethnically homogenous, I bring new experiences to their lives, interesting foreign guests, American delicacies and a useful car. The rent I pay helps their financial situation. Most importantly, however, is that we have entered a mutually rewarding relationship of care and concern, which enriches all of our lives. In essence, my host family has become my “family” away from home.
Practically speaking, how do we make it work? First and foremost, we discussed money, mutually deciding on a set amount that would cover rent, food, gas and electricity. Money matters can often tear even the best of families apart, so this matter needs to be clear from the start. My expenses, including a detailed phone bill, are my responsibility.
I am also a “contributing” member of the household. I join in on house cleaning on Saturdays, running errands, washing dishes, and cooking.
Family living may not be for every single global worker – it takes more time and effort than running as a Lone Ranger in this world – but it can help fill that deep longing for family.