Photo courtesy of John Stoltzfus


Ilacir Piano stands between Paula and John Stoltzfus (back left and right). Their kids (front left to right), Lilianna, Isaac, and Elaina are with them, enjoying a trip to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. 



The possibility of hosting an international person, such as an IVEPer, was something that my wife, Paula, and I had considered for a while but the “right” time never materialized. Despite our reservations that we did not have enough time and space to be good hosts, we finally said yes when the need arose. We both had experienced life-transforming experiences being hosted in homes in other countries earlier in our lives and wanted to pass along this gift. In reality, hosting an IVEPer is an opportunity for mutuality as both host and guest give the gift of themselves.


I don’t claim to always know how God’s Spirit arranges encounters in our lives, yet I consider the opportunity for our family to know Ilacir Piano at this time in our respective lives as an experience of the goodness of God. We were able to make some deep and meaningful connections discovering similarities and differences in our stories and life practices. Ilacir’s practice of putting ketchup on pizza was a source of amusement for our kids. And learning more about his journey of life and faith was a source of inspiration.


From attending a Phillies baseball game to watching the majestic fountain show at Longwood Gardens to joining games nights with friends from our church community, we shared numerous moments of fun and wonder. One of the highlights of our time together was going ice skating at a local ice rink. Ilacir stepped out of his comfort zone to try ice skating for the first time. I suspect that his courage to try something new was inspiration to my three younger children who were also just learning to ice skate. There were some painful falls to the ice along with moments of success and a sense of pride in staying up by the end. Despite some sore muscles I know we all had a good time and gained more self-confidence in taking risks.

As a graphic artist, Ilacir’s artistic talents were on display in a variety of ways in our home and at his placement at Dock Mennonite Academy. He came up with the wording and design for the poster shown in the attached photo displaying the school’s verse of the year from Philippians 2:2-5: “We reflect Jesus to the world; together, let’s be the change.” I think this expresses the heart of the purpose of IVEP.  As we come together in the spirit of Christ offering ourselves to the other we can become the change needed in this world.


Finding the space to be a gracious host and conscientious guest was not always an easy task. It required vulnerability and courage to open ourselves to one another. Thankfully, Ilacir has a great sense of humor and the ability to laugh at ourselves helped. Sometimes it was an awkward dance as we adjusted to a new normal and way of life in the household. We had to adjust and work through prior expectations. We discovered that it can take more work and emotional energy than we had imagined. We also discovered that the payoff in connecting was richer and more rewarding than we had imagined.


God has a way of providing the people we need along the paths of our lives. My family is deeply grateful for the opportunity we had to host Ilacir for a brief time.

By John Stoltzfus