On Mission Through the UNC International Friendship Program

This week it is a joy to introduce you to Eric and Lisa Vook and their three sons.  They’ve been practicing hospitality for quite a few years now.  Here is their story:

Eric & Lisa Vook

We have been involved with the UNC International Friendship program for about 23 years now.  The opportunity to meet and share lives with new friends from around the world has been a great blessing in our lives. It all started when we were newly married and stopped by a booth here at the Bible Church looking for people to be matched up with International students at UNC. We were told that most International students never come inside of an American’s home while they are here. It appealed to us to reach out to students who are far from home since we had gone to school away from our families and we are still far from home – Lisa from Ontario Canada and Eric  from New Mexico.

Our first opportunity was most memorable – we had 2 men who were roommates and had recently arrived from China – one was an undergrad and the other was in a PhD program studying new brain surgery techniques… I was feeling like we had made a big mistake! I was wondering what I would have to offer someone who literally was a Brain Surgeon!! Our plan for our first outing was to pick up the guys, get Subway sandwiches, and then go to the Durham Bulls baseball game – what could be more American! We were explaining the plan to them; they looked nervous. I told them about Subway and how we would make a sandwich. They asked me, “What is a sandwich?” I thought, “I can help you!” I completely felt my insecurity and hesitation leave.  Eric taught them to drive and gave advice on buying a car. We gave them our old furniture for their sparse apartment. We spent the most time with these students because we had the time. It turned out Subway became their favorite place to eat! They gave us a doll as a gift for our upcoming baby. They were sure it would be a girl – we have 3 boys now!

We kind of all got busy after our first year together. We had our baby, and his wife came from China. School and work and life happened. Then we had the biggest surprise ever years later. We were at the Easter festival and ran into our first student. After his wife came, they started going to the Chinese Church in Durham. Our friendship made him more open to learning about the gospel and joining his wife in commitment to Christ. We see “Tiger” every year at the International Thanksgiving dinner. His son “Eric” is the same age as our youngest son, and they go to camp together. Who could even imagine – it all started with us teaching them about sandwiches!

Through the program we have met people from many different countries and have made connections with singles and families, undergrad students and graduate students. Our children have learned how to share hospitality and appreciate and care for those from different cultures and countries. Our kids have played a big part in our hospitality by reminding students of younger siblings or playing with families that have children. Sometimes it is difficult to find a good time for the students to get together. I usually text a few times that would work for us and see if they are available. I’ve come to realize that it’s okay to make it a short time and have casual food. We have tried to share some American foods with them but may also  order out food they might be missing. I try to put my focus on my guests and hearing all about what new things they are learning and experiencing. We often have the students tell us about where they live on the globe and find it on Google Maps if we can.

It is so much fun to share about our lives here with people experiencing everything for the first time. It makes the normal things we take for granted interesting and helps us to see things in a new way. Our boys have learned customs and interesting facts from around the world. Our relationship with the International Friendship Program keeps us young and traveling the world without leaving the Triangle!