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Inspire Awards: Giving students a warm welcome

For the last 20 years Inspire Award nominee Mary Fairbairn, a pastor’s wife from Reading, has been opening the family home to overseas visitors

For the last 20 years Inspire Award nominee Mary Fairbairn, a Baptist pastor’s wife from Reading, has been opening the family home to overseas visitors, many of them students. She explains why

Graeme and I have always wanted our home to be a place where people are welcome, including students and overseas visitors. One of the first overseas students we welcomed was a student midwife* whom we met when she was delivering our first child!

In the conversation between contractions we found that she was a Christian. A friendship began which has lasted ever since, though she now lives in the USA.

We also met local and international students at church and would welcome them to our home. Some of them became surrogate uncles and aunts to our own three children.

Most of these we just met and befriended; we also took part in UCCF and other schemes to invite students to visit us at Christmas.

Over the last 20 years we have had people lodging with us. Initially we never planned this. A student nurse in our housegroup had no family locally and we felt she would benefit by staying with us; a young teacher needed somewhere for a few months before he bought his own house. And so it went on.

Now that our children have left home and we have vacant rooms, we have regular students, mainly from overseas, staying with us.  Recently this has been predominantly people from the Far East.  We also hold barbecues and parties for students and visiting scholars.

We’ve lost count of how many students and others have visited us - it must run into hundreds. Our estimate is that around 40 to 50 have lodged with us, and hundreds have visited!

We don’t manage to stay in touch with all of them, but have visited some in Malaysia and China. One of the things we have learned is how reciprocal hospitality can be.  We have experienced some wonderful hospitality as we have visited abroad.  

Years ago we had a family of four arrive to stay with us at short notice. When their plans to emigrate fell apart there five of them by the time they had moved.

With international students some of the highlights include being able to laugh together at different cultural habits. Perhaps the most remarkable thing was a return visit from a former student accompanied by one of her former teachers. It turned out that during World War II she had offered hospitality to my father’s cousin when he was in Malaysia. We were able to put them in touch after 40 years – what a small world!

Some of the people that have stayed in our home came as Christians, and we have enjoyed fellowship, and hopefully tried to give them some encouragement.  Others have come as non-believers.

We never hide the fact that we are Christians, and let them experience a Christian home.  A few have come to faith over the years.

As Christians we are encouraged to practice hospitality.  But you need to have a right attitude.  We know some people who have lodgers and make a long list of rules. This doesn’t work.  Relax and enjoy it. Have fun. Be flexible and allow time to chat.

Mary Fairbairn was nominated for an Inspire Award by Patricia Pierre Dean from Florida – the student midwife* who delivered her first child.

There’s still time to nominate an individual, project or children’s/youth ministry for an Inspire Award. Click HERE for details.




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