Home Away From Home

Dinners bring college students into families at Faith

Posted by Lynn Yount on May 31, 2024
Home Away From Home
The group at the College Ministry Dinner at The Demmerts’ Home on April 26 included, from Left: Nancy Dannen, Katie Rommel, Doug and Lisa Demmert, Taylor Auerbach, Danny Bubnyak, Mia Peterson, and Sean Mullan. Photo by Lynn Yount.

Kittens, rhubarb, war, and death may not seem to go together, but many unexpected subjects can come up at a family dinner table. Laughter and jokes are quickly followed by sighs and tears, and then there’s another round of laughter, as people share the joys and pains of life on earth.

College family dinners are a beautiful place to see this happening in God’s family at Faith Bible Church. Every couple months, host families from Faith invite small groups of young men and women from Doxa, the college ministry, to dinner in their homes. There is no specific agenda, just practicing hospitality and getting to know each other.

Doug and Lisa Demmert, who raised five children in the church and are now grandparents and empty nesters, have been participating since the dinners began a couple years ago. They also invite Nancy Dannen to their dinners, including the one I had the privilege to visit on April 26. Nancy said it is sweet and encouraging to spend that time with younger adults (it was hard for all of us not to call them “kids”).

In contrast to their dorm rooms or apartments, at the Demmerts’ homestead south of Spokane the young guests enjoy open space, beautiful natural views and animals – and the simple comfort of being in a loving family home. As they waited for others to arrive at the dinner, Katie Rommel and Mia Peterson snuggled a litter of kittens a few weeks old as a handful of hens squawked nearby. Lisa’s care in tending the garden, the chickens, and the bees was evident, and the Demmerts offered their visitors a share of their bumper crop of rhubarb – or even a kitten or two.

Young adults from Doxa gather around the family dinner table at the Demmerts’ home in April. Photo by Doug Demmert.

Three young men arrived before the group sat down to dinner. With five young adults and four older believers around the table, there was no shortage of questions, laughter, and storytelling. The Demmerts both come from a nursing career background and shared some of their history. Then Danny Bubnyak, a Washington State University nursing student, asked permission to pose a heavy question: How did they handle the ongoing reality of patients dying?

Doug and Lisa both acknowledged it was a tough question, but they emphasized how it pointed them to the importance of applying their faith in their work: “You have to have a big trust in God, that He is loving, and wise, and He chooses rightly,” Lisa said. But that still doesn’t make it easy to witness death, she said, especially of young people.

Doug shared a strong contrast that made a big impression during his early years as a nurse in intensive care: One patient was an older Christian man at peace in refusing a last-resort treatment, ready to be with his Savior. Another was a nonbeliever absolutely terrified of death, demanding every possible medical intervention. For Doug, those two people presented a memorable testimony for trusting in Christ.

The conversation continued to turn, with more laughs alternating with more heavy topics: the effect of the war in Ukraine on Danny’s family members there; the pressures to deny God’s Word in addressing gender and sexuality in their classes; their nonbelieving friends who decline invitations to come to Bible study or to church.

This conversation—hours long and refreshingly frank—could only have happened under the conditions of a small, warm, and welcoming meeting of God’s people. And it didn’t hurt that we were filling up on the delicious pork tacos and desserts Lisa and Nancy served up.

Taylor Auerbach, who is graduating from Gonzaga this year, did his best to help finish the food. “Taylor, finish it up” is something he said he’s used to hearing at church-related gatherings. But he’s enjoying it while he can, since he’ll soon be heading to graduate school in San Diego.

Taylor said it’s hard to remain faithful to God’s way when there’s opposition and rejection all around from peers. He emphasized how important it is to build on the stable foundation of Christ and trust Him to change people’s hearts. He’s been meeting with Doug one on one for discipleship.

Katie is graduating and moving away, too. She encouraged the other guests to trust God’s faithfulness. “I prayed I’d find the right church, and God brought me to this church,” she said. Moving to Spokane from Vancouver, Washington, she also wondered whether she could handle the challenges that might happen in a new place. But when they did—for instance, when she had car trouble—God provided everything she needed and cared for her through the experience. “He’s not going to lead me astray or leave me hanging,” she said.

Young adults from Doxa gather around the family dinner table at the home of Jeff and Mitzi Peterson (left) in May. Photo by David McGuire.

“You guys are such an encouragement to us,” Doug said as the meal came to an end. In a world that seems like it’s getting darker, God continues to save people from every generation and make them lights in the dark.

Cultivating connections

The family dinners came about a few years ago after college ministry staff discussed strategies to get students into worship services on Sundays. Tanya Cammack, who serves on the volunteer staff and coordinates the dinners, said it’s an ongoing challenge that students are comfortable coming to college groups but don’t necessarily see a need to gather with the church as a whole. But one ongoing priority for Faith Bible Church is connecting the generations: older and younger saints discipling and serving one another.

Tanya said they wanted to help students connect with people outside Doxa, knowing it would be a little less awkward to come into Sunday worship if they saw people there who they already knew. “Just the fact that you know somebody that’s not in college ministry,” said Tanya. “You walk into church, you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s my person!’”

Having smaller groups of students in church members’ homes was ideal for forming those relationships. It was important for the college ministry to recruit hospitable hosts who would display God-honoring character, marriage, parenting, and a true desire to disciple young people in faith: what Tanya calls a “mentorship mentality.”

She said it wasn’t hard to find those families at Faith. Some had kids in the college ministry already and were already showing hospitality to their friends and classmates. Getting more families involved and making the dinners an official part of the college ministry helped them be sure no one misses out on an invitation.

Students in Doxa are divided into three smaller Bible study groups that meet weekly. The group that comes to the Demmerts’ dinners are from Jared and Claire Millican’s Bible study group, which is technically “the Gonzaga group” but includes a lot of others. Tanya said there are two families hosting dinners for each group, so that each dinner remains small enough to be a family dinner.

“It takes a little effort, but it’s for a great gain.” Lisa Demmert

They each host a dinner three times a year, in the fall, winter, and spring. The colleges have very different class schedules, so each of the dinners can be days or weeks apart in each round, depending on what works for the hosts and guests. But Tanya said they’ve got a good system worked out to make sure invitations, dietary restrictions, and RSVPs are all delivered.

Lisa said hosting the dinners is the kind of thing that can seem like a big undertaking, but she and Doug have been blessed by doing it. “It takes a little effort, but it’s for a great gain,” she said.

Home-cooked food like Mitzi Peterson’s snickerdoodle blondies helps college students feel at home. Photo by David McGuire.

Drawn into the family

Sarah Summitt is a junior in Gonzaga’s nursing program. She came here from Southern California for her education, so she is far away from the Christian home and school in which she grew up. At Gonzaga, it was a “shocker” not to be surrounded by genuine believers. “I was trying to follow God in a place where so many people are doing the opposite.”

“I think that there’s so much value to having multiple generations present and investing in the lives of the younger generation.” Sarah Summitt

After being invited to a Doxa Bible study by Erin Dougherty her freshman year, Sarah was drawn to Faith Bible Church by attending the family dinner at the Demmerts’. “They just invited us into their home. And they really took an interest in our lives, and they really wanted to get to know us and invest in us.”

Sarah lived on campus and attended a church with primarily younger people, so the dinners offered something she was missing in her day-to-day life: time with older Christians. “I think that there’s so much value to having multiple generations present and investing in the lives of the younger generation.”

Because of the dinner, Sarah decided Faith was where she wanted to be. “Everybody was sharing why they chose FBC. And I was listening to them talk about how many connections they’ve made here and how faithfully the church follows the Bible. And hearing that from my fellow college students and then also hearing how long the Demmerts have been going here, and how faithfully they’ve seen the church following God, was really just powerful.”

Sarah loves her college-staff mentors and the older Christians she’s connected with. She’ll stay in Spokane for work this summer, and she’s excited to have a chance to go through Faith’s membership class and begin serving in ministry at church, possibly with children. And it all started with being invited to dinner.

“I’d encourage anybody who’s been invited to just go to them, even if you don’t know anybody who’s going, because they make such an effort to get to know you, and they have amazing food. They’re just so welcoming. And it feels like having a home away from home.”

Lynn Yount

Lynn and her husband, Doug, lead a Growth Group. Lynn serves as a writer and editor for Living Faith magazine and other church communications.

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