Blog > Standing Shoulder to Shoulder: Westwood Community Church
Standing Shoulder to Shoulder: Westwood Community Church
by former Communications Coordinator – Hannah Varberg
By no means do we do this alone. HCC is dependent on churches, organizations, and nonprofits to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in our heart for international students. One of these close partnerships is Westwood Community Church in Excelsior.
Although Westwood is on the far other side of the Twin Cities metro, they cross the 29-mile distance many times a year to host Friendship Meals, welcome students into their homes, run airport pickups, serve at the Welcome Picnic, and plan engaging events. One of their events happened over the Christmas season, and our Chinese guests were eager to participate.
Being in a church is a foreign experience to the vast majority of international Chinese students. The Westwood event began with a choir and orchestra Christmas concert, and this may or may not have fed into the students’ expectations of what church was. After the concert, however, was the opportunity for the international students to truly understand the meaning of church and Christmas as everyone gathered for a cozy dinner.
As they were congregated around many different Christmas tables, the Westwood community and international students connected. Some found they had more in common than they would have thought otherwise. Lyle Johnson of Westwood and his international friend discovered they had a mutual acquaintance in a professor of Mechanical Engineering at the U of M. This was a spark of immediate connection. This new friendship was even reason for a selfie!
Dan Vassar of Westwood discovered another commonality: his daughters spoke Mandarin, and they were able to use this skill in a practical way! His oldest daughter, Nataley, was asked at the last minute to translate the Christmas story shared by Clayt Beitel during the dinner . This presentation of the Christmas story in the students’ native language was another keen moment for connection and understanding. Dan and his daughters later befriended a Chinese student and his wife and have plans to go sledding and have dinner with them in the new year.
At the end of the night, Westwood’s Christmas event was a success. Some of the international guests, if not all, had never been in a church and never knew that Christians attend church every Sunday. Westwood sent the students off with poinsettias in hand, smiles on their faces, and new thoughts to ponder. At worst, they had a comfortable and enjoyable experience in a church. At best, lives will be forever changed by the love of Christ, and they will take their faith back with them to China to multiply it.
These international students will have the poinsettias to serve as a reminder of the church, but there are various other students who remember Westwood and their friendship in other ways. Dozens of students have interacted with the Westwood community, and Westwood continues to invest their time, volunteers, and resources into the HCC mission. Dawn Beitel, Chaz Nichols, and many other volunteers work diligently with HCC to share hospitality and love.
With Westwood, HCC is strong. We are thankful and blessed to stand shoulder to shoulder with churches like Westwood Community Church.