Churches across the country will be conducting outreaches in their local communities during this Thanksgiving holiday season. But did you know that one of the most effective ways to reach out to others—even those from other nations—can be done without even leaving home?

During the past few years, members of Valley Community (El Monte Valley Community Foursquare Church) in El Monte, Calif., have had the opportunity to put into action the true heart and meaning of Thanksgiving. We have provided our members with the opportunity to open their homes and invite foreign exchange college students to share a meal and celebrate a traditional American Thanksgiving in a family setting.

The families who participate in this outreach not only give to the students, but also receive from them. It’s a two-way sharing experience: The students are able to partake in an American holiday and in turn are provided with a means to talk about their homes, countries, cultures and traditional celebrations. Doors are opened for authentic conversation and relationships.

The families in our church who have hosted students have expressed their gratefulness in being able to serve in this way. This annual outreach allows them to share with others on an occasion that was born out of kindness, generosity and love.

Hosting exchange students for a holiday meal is a wonderful way to show the love of God to young people who are far away from home and family. It lets them know there are people who care. Thanksgiving tends to be a rather intimate family time. What better way to exemplify the love of Christ reflected through a loving and accepting home?

We all know the history of Thanksgiving, when the early American settlers were welcomed by Native Americans after the many hardships they had endured traveling across the ocean. To be shown such kindness from strangers brought healing to their hearts and established relationship between the Native Americans and the new settlers. Welcoming a foreign exchange student into your home represents the essence of the first Thanksgiving, two distinct cultures coming together to share a meal.

Hospitality, by definition, means the “cordial and generous reception of guests.” As Christians, we should be generous to those around us.

There are many foreign exchange students who sacrifice so much to come to the U.S. for a college education. We have the privilege to show hospitality to them, especially during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Consider this: It may be the only time they ever see the inside of an American home or have the chance to spend time with an American family in such a setting.

The Bible also has a few things to say about hospitality. Here are some examples:

  • “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13, NIV).
  • “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2).
  • “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth” (3 John 1:8).

In scores of cities across the U.S., there are college students from all over the world. God has provided us with a tremendous opportunity to reach out to these students in friendship, not with an agenda, but to show hospitality, kindness and love, which are the essence of the gospel imbedded within our nation’s history.

Want to get started? Here are some first steps to take:

  • If there is a college in your area, look at the school’s website to discover just how many nations are represented at the school.
  • Connect with the administration office and talk to them about hosting students for Thanksgiving.
  • If you aren’t in or near a city with a college or university, reach out to someone in your neighborhood who has moved to the U.S. from another country and culture, and invite him or her to your home.

Your family can be used by God this holiday season to share His love with someone in need of His touch. Ask the Lord to guide you, be creative, and see where He might lead.

This article was written by Michele Chaskin, Walter Marquez, Roy Ravago, Jennifer Sandoval and Remi Lawanson, members of the missions council of Valley Community (El Monte Valley Community Foursquare Church) in El Monte, Calif.