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New Worshiping Community Breaks Down Cultural Barriers

International students at the University of Washington in Seattle. Screen shot from video, Film 180, Mike Fitzer

International students at the University of Washington in Seattle. Screen shot from video, Film 180, Mike Fitzer

August 4, 2016

For Eric Hanna, what began as a dinner invitation became an integral part of a spiritual journey.

Last year a classmate at the University of Washington invited Hanna to a meal and Bible study at International Friendship House in Seattle. Friendship House is home to International Disciples, a new worshiping community that seeks to empower international and American college students in the Seattle area to be global Christian leaders.

A native of Amsterdam, Hanna had accepted invitations like this one before, but always felt as if the group ended up being too fanatical. After declining the initial invitation, he kept thinking about it and, after a long weekend, decided to give it a try.

“I really admire Eric,” said International Disciples leader Polly Yorioka. “I’ve appreciated his honesty about the spiritual journey he is on—that he doesn’t feel like he has to have the perfect answer or claim faith that he doesn’t have.”

Hanna, a self-described seeker, quickly got involved with the people he met through International Disciples—with their beliefs, ideas and approach to how they want to interact with the world.

“They’re very good about getting people involved,” he said, “without being pushy.” Hanna himself decided to get more involved with International Disciples. After a year of studying abroad, he plans to live at Friendship House.

“We have students from Japan, Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and Libya, to name a few,” Yorioka said as she helped prepare a meal at Friendship House, where 11 student leaders live.

“This house is like family to me,” said resident Zenan Wang from Shanghai, China. “It makes me feel at home.”

“Finding this place was like starting a second life,” added resident Catherine Joo, who is from Seoul, South Korea.

Yorioka says Friendship House is where International Disciples trains its student leaders how to be disciples of Jesus—and disciple makers.

Much of their core activity is centered on a meal, which residents invite other college students to. The meal is followed by Bible study for those who want to stay. Yorioka says many of the students who come are Christian, others are spiritual seekers and some “couldn’t care less,” but they enjoy coming to a place where they are known and welcomed.

As part of its discipleship training, International Disciples began taking students on hot chocolate and lemonade runs to the University District’s “Ave” area, where many of the city’s homeless reside. Yorioka says this was a way to introduce the students to not just breaking down cultural barriers between people of different countries, but also to breaking down barriers between the rich and the poor, so that they could “learn new things about God.”

“I was kind of scared to talk to the homeless,” Wang said, admitting that she thought, “Maybe they are dangerous; maybe they will rob me.” But the experience was enlightening, she said. “After we do the hot chocolate runs, it’s like building a bridge between us and them.”

And that, according to Hanna, is the most important thing—to see the homeless as people, rather than as an image that you walk past all the time.

Yorioka hopes the students who come to faith through International Disciples will not just become American Christians who do things the way Americans do. Rather, she wants them to learn to have faith that is authentic in their home countries.

Perhaps that desire is rubbing off on both those who reside at Friendship Hous and those who come for the meal and perhaps stay for Bible study.

“I can do missionary (work) wherever I am,” said Joo, “because it’s our soul, our attitudes and our value that make the difference.”

Hanna echoes those sentiments.

“Ideally I wouldn’t mind taking on more responsibility,” he said. “I want this motivation to be a bigger part of my life with that (their values).”

Paul Seebeck, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus:  Seattle Presbytery

Let us join in prayer for:

Presbytery Staff:

Scott Lumsden, Executive Presbyter
Eliana Maxim, Associate Executive Presbyter
Kevin Nollette, Associate Executive Presbyter
Karen Breckenridge, Stated Clerk

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Shawn Berry, FDN
Barbara Betts, PMA

Let us pray

Help us to see beyond our own walls, O God, to the friendships we have yet to form, relationships that will help us to grow and to extend your faith in ways that bring light to all people. Amen.

Daily Lectionary

Morning Psalms 116; 147:12-20
First Reading Judges 8:22-35
Second Reading Acts 4:1-12
Gospel Reading John 1:43-51
Evening Psalms 26; 130

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