OAKLAND — Mosaic Church has a strong sense of understanding other cultures, with its congregation full of members who have adopted children from all around the globe. The Oakland church also participates in the annual Mission to Japan Homestay Program, which brings Japanese high-school and college students to the Orlando area for a month to learn about Christianity and American culture.
This year, multiple families have opened their homes to 10 students, allowing them to experience local theme parks, beaches, sports and menus, all while strengthening friendships and attending regular Bible classes that provide lessons on Christian beliefs. At the same time, the program has given Mosaic’s children a glimpse into the lives of Japanese students.
David and Jackie Wimberly have hosted students many times in the last decade, and this month, they met Momo, 19.
“We were invited into this ministry 10 years ago, and it sounded like a great way to allow our family to welcome a person from another culture to experience hospitality and hear about Christ,” Jackie Wimberly said.
It made such an impact on their family that their only son, who is 25, is living in Japan teaching school as a result of his involvement with this ministry, she said.
Momo, the Wimberlys and three of their four daughters have enjoyed family game nights and movie nights, water activities and weekly church attendance. Momo accompanied the family to see one of the Wimberly daughters perform in a play at Disney, and she participated in a college-age volleyball tournament with other local young adults. She was even present for the youngest daughter’s baptism last week.
“Momo is delightful,” Jackie Wimberly said. “She is adaptable and warm and enjoyable. Though she doesn’t speak fluent English and communication can be a challenge, she continues to try hard and is such a precious girl.”
McLean and Heather Alley were eager to host a student from Japan because they have a 1 1/2-year-old son, Miko, whom they adopted in Japan. Their guest is 21-year-old Rii Tsuchiya.
“We thought this would be a great opportunity to show a small part of the U.S. and our culture to someone who has only ever seen it in the movies,” McLean Alley said. “We also want our son … to have a connection with others from the country of his birth.”
Rii and Miko have formed a sister-brother bond. She has been playing with him, reading stories to him in Japanese and tucking him into bed at night.
Miko has been open to trying new foods and getting to know her host family. The Alleys and Rii have played board games, shared family photos, taught language skills to each other, watched alligators, visited theme parks and enjoyed movies. Her favorite film has been Harry Potter with Japanese subtitles. She was enamored with Publix, too, he said.
The church has connected them, as well, and they have had some simple but meaningful discussions about their faiths and beliefs. McLean Alley said it has been a positive experience, and they will certainly host students in the future.
A SECOND GENERATION
Warren Griffith, an Orlando resident who started Mission to Japan in 1993, was introduced to Mosaic’s pastor, who felt so passionate about the homestay program that he got his congregation involved. Griffith was 17 when he took his first trip to Japan in 1982 through a similar program called Youth For Under-standing. For two months, he stayed with a family, bonding with his host brother, Jiro Ando, who was also 17.
They kept in touch long after the mission trip was over.
Now, more than 30 years later, Jiro’s 16-year-old son, Ko Ando, is participating in Griffith’s Mission to Japan homestay program and is staying with Dr. Ernie Reilly, a member of Mosaic.
“My experience with the program has been wonderful, and the students have had such great experiences,” Reilly said. “They have loved it here. We have also absolutely loved having them. Our two young children have immensely enjoyed their exchange student brothers and have also learned so much and had wonderful experiences and exposure to the Japanese culture through the eyes of their student.
“The program is a blessing to both the exchange student and the exchange family,” he said.
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].