WE USED TO OWN a house. Not an apartment, not a condo, but a three-bedroom, three-bathroom home in the Bay Area with a beautiful, spacious yard. For years, we thoroughly utilized that home as a space of hospitality for neighbors, family, friends, church communities, college students, and staff who I worked with through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a ministry to college campuses.
I still remember the time when we crammed in almost 40 international students from over a dozen countries and stayed up late eating, singing karaoke, and playing games. By the end of the night, some of them had even started calling me and my husband "Mom" and "Dad".
a sweet dream and a nightmare
When God called us to move up to the Pacific Northwest to direct InterVarsity's ministry for that region, selling our house was the only option that would allow us to pay off school loans, be debt free, and be able to go wherever Jesus would call us. At the time, the housing bubble had burst a few years prior. Even though we had re-financed to lower the mortgage payment, we were still paying $500 a month for someone to rent our house — $500 that we needed to pay the bills.
Letting go of the house meant facing my demons of financial insecurity and the fears of my past. When I was in high school, my father had a major financial crisis when a manager he trusted embezzled a large sum from his company. He had to sell the multiple rental properties he owned to pay off debts, and filed for bankruptcy. We were barely able to hang on to the home we lived in.
I felt afraid of the insecurity that we were choosing; my dad never recovered from that time, financially or emotionally. Through the process of praying and wrestling with God about letting go of the house, I realized the amount of anxiety that I felt around money, and how scared I was to be in a financially insecure place.
Even though my husband and I have been in full-time ministry for many years, we've always budgeted and spent cautiously, taking care to be financially responsible and smart with the little we had. Letting go of the house went against all those efforts. And yet, it was clear that God wanted us to prioritize ministry and the kids over the house, despite how vital owning a house seemed to all of the above.
God brought me to a passage in Mark about a rich young ruler, who turned away the chance to follow Jesus because he could not give up his riches. More than my fears and anxiety about money, the house, friends, or community, I did not want to walk sadly away from Jesus like the rich young ruler. Facing that decision — and staring down the demons of my past — brought me to a place of surrender, which then brought me to freedom: from my anxiety and my deep-rooted fears.
Imagine our dismay at finding ourselves living in a new house in which our dining room table barely fit, that had no usable yard, with mold all over the bathroom, and, with heavy rain, an unwelcome mini-waterfall cascading through an upstairs window. We missed our friends and community terribly, and grieved the loss of a space where we were able to grow new relationships and cultivate old ones.
I found myself doing ministry without the ability to utilize our gift of hospitality, and therefore, felt less able to cultivate relationships in order to multiply God's kingdom. We found that a warm space filled with food, laughter, and deep conversation was like the "balm of Gilead" for a lonely, isolated, hurting world (Jeremiah 8:22). Now, without a suitable place, it felt like I was missing a limb.
I found myself doing ministry without the ability to utilize our gift of hospitality
I started praying desperately to God for guidance. In response, I heard: "Think outside the box," and, "Ask for help." And so the idea of asking some supporters if they might be interested in investing in a ministry house was born. It felt like a crazy pipe dream, yet I also knew that I didn't come up with the idea on my own.
One day, we were driving home from an errand and saw an "Open House" sign, just a block away from Reed College in Portland. Right away, the kids loved the big, open concept of the house, and I could imagine dozens of guests enjoying the space, forming relationships in this nook and in that room. But, I told the kids, "Don't get your hopes up. There's no way we can afford to live in this house."
In direct response to our prayers, John and Jane, both supporters of InterVarsity from the University of California in Berkeley, told us that they would like to partner with us. They put in an offer three days later, and the owner accepted the offer by Friday of that week! Two subsequent offers — both all-cash — followed suit for the house the following week, but we were already "in contract". We began renting the house from them at $1,000 below market rate each month.
And in the last three years, this house has been a space of welcome and celebration, a place that has pointed people to God.
One of our students, David, graduated from Reed this past May, and we held a graduation party for him with over 20 Reed students and alumni. At that party, we all shared deeply about what God had done in the past four years — from the profound friendships made to the risks in faith taken — all on a campus rampant with drug use and loneliness. I saw our beautiful, open living room become a holy space to celebrate the goodness and reality of the kingdom of God.
These days, when I stand in front of the big bay window in the living room, looking out on beautiful green trees, I can't help but worship Jesus for being true to His Word: "Truly I tell you, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for My sake and for the gospel will fail to receive a hundredfold in the present age" (Mark 10:29-30).
"No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for My sake and for the gospel will fail to receive a hundredfold in the present age."
family stepping in
"No way!", "What?", and "Why?" are probably the three most frequent responses whenever I tell the story of this house. Then I'm reminded of a Chinese proverb:
"一人吃飽，全家不飢," which means, "A single member of a family eats; the whole family will not be hungry." Growing up in a Taiwanese family, my parents inculcated in us the importance of family at an early age. No matter what happens, we take care of family.
True to the proverb, my family rallied when we tried to figure out why Mom couldn't get out of bed. It was exhausting, stressful, and overwhelming trying to take care of her, my ministry, and my two kids under 5 years old.
But different siblings took vacation time to come and take her to hospital visits when I had to be out of town, while those who couldn't come paid for someone to help clean and cook. That's what family does — we come together and take care of each other.
John, Jane, and I are not related by blood or marriage. But we are brothers and sisters in Christ; relatives in the family of God. Family was redefined when Jesus said, "Here are my mother and My brothers! Whoever does God's will is My brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:31-35).
John, Jane, and I are not related by blood or marriage. But we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
John and Jane saw a need in the family of God, and they stepped in to care and to share their resources. Unlike the rich young ruler, they owned the money; the money did not own them. We are honored to be partners in the gift of this house with John and Jane, and co-steward this kingdom space as family.
Do we make decisions regarding our houses and finances more defined by comfort and security or more by Jesus? Like other parts of the American Dream, a house can become an idol — a right, an entitlement, or a goal in and of itself.
Or a house can be a gift from God, a precious tool to be stewarded for the sake of His family, as God calls us to love in the same way that we love ourselves.