I’m Sydney Kraslawsky, and this is how I’m living deeply.
I was excited- I’m a people person inside and out. But I got really nervous once her plane landed and we picked her up at the airport. I was kind of freaked out: ‘Oh, this is happening. We’re going to have a stranger live in my house for a few weeks this summer.’ Carlota was a Young Life exchange student visiting from Spain, and she was my age. We were both around 13 or 14, in eighth grade. As we met her and drove her back to her host home (my family’s home), I was thinking: ‘I have to kind of show her where everything is and what everything does; figure out how we can bond, but not force a bond.’ We were both really quiet at first- she was just trying to figure out the dynamics of life in our house. But once we both figured out ‘Oh, you’re kind of quirky and weird, like me,’ we really clicked in a super fun way. It was like we both realized at the same time: ‘Wait a second- we’re actually kind of the same.’ That shared trait of quirkiness emerged in a few different ways. For one, we were both Disney Channel nerds in middle school. That was one thing that helped her learn English- watching all of these Disney Channel shows. So, like, Wizards of Waverley Place and things like that, we both loved. We would just watch and laugh out loud at the dumbest little things. And of course we loved singing in the car to teeny bopper middle school songs. She would show me what they listened to in Spain- I couldn’t believe how it was so different from the Taylor Swift I was listening to as a 13-year-old! There was a shared sense of ‘You’re a weird middle schooler, and so am I.’ My family (my parents, me, and my younger sister) ended up hosting Carlota for three summers, and even visited her in Spain a few years ago. It turned into a very sweet friendship. It still is, even though we’re 23 and 24 now. Carlota and I still talk fairly often to catch up about life.
During Carlota’s second or third summer with us in Knoxville, her family dog passed away back home in Spain. It sounds a little odd to say this, but my mom says that was a really sweet moment for her- watching me kind of have this realization of, like, ‘Wait, you’re a person that I love and care for, and you’ve just lost someone important in your life.’ Mom pointed out that was my first experience of watching somebody else go through a death in the family. My heart toward Carlota was: ‘How do I love you well, when you can’t even go hug your mom right now?’ What that often looked like practically was our midnight sneak downstairs to the kitchen to get mint chocolate chip ice cream. That was her absolute favorite. My childhood freezer was not quiet when you opened it to get stuff out! I mean, who wakes up the whole house just to get ice cream and then sneak back upstairs? But it was like my way of telling her, ‘This is how I can love you while you are mourning this loss.’ (Not only that, but because of the situation, we could pull it off without getting in trouble!) And here’s the crazy thing: The same sort of situation also happened in reverse. A couple of years later, when I was a junior in high school, my mom got diagnosed with cancer. Carlota was on the other side of the world and saw the update on social media. So she called me and we set up a Skype or a Zoom or whatever. She was kind of in that same boat: ‘How can I love and care for you and this family that is now like my own family as well?’ (Quick update: Mom is fine now. After intense treatment, she’s been in remission for many years.) While we were online, Carlota was really encouraging: ‘Hey, this is my American Mom going through this. This woman is one of the strongest women I know!’ So in some ways we kept it light, but these were also serious moments that deepened our bond. The older we get, the more real life we can talk about now that we’re adults.
As part of their trip, the exchange students go to Young Life Camp for a week in the States. Everybody comes back with this mountain-top spiritual high. And that led to questions for Carlota: ‘What is this that I’m feeling?’ It was great for her to be able to come back to our home and open a conversation about that at the dinner table with my family. My dad has a theology degree, so he was able to help her understand better how God was at work (without all of the big churchy terminology). That just kind of put a cherry on top of that ‘mountain high’ for her- she realized she had come back to a home with people who loved and cared for her in the same way she’d just been told Jesus loved and cared for her. The tangibility of that -having her being able to physically see it- I had no idea at the time how important that was. But these days I lead small groups of girls, so I see it now. There’s just something so sweet about having a room full of girls in your house. It’s cozy and safe and somewhere you can be vulnerable about what’s really hard, because you know the tangibility of Christ’s love is there. I think that was first shown to me through hosting Carlota, and I just never really realized it until I got older. Through her, I also think He opened my eyes, in a sense, to the reality of a world that’s bigger than me, bigger than Knoxville, bigger than my circle of people. From a missions perspective, He kind of gave me this little sprinkle –that feels like the best terminology for it- of what living on mission is all about. It was like, ‘Hey, I know you’ll be invested in this one day. I’ll just open the door a crack so you can see what it is before actually opening the door yourself.’ I had no idea the grasp of global missions that CSPC had. The older I get, (especially now that I’m on staff with the CSPC sports ministry) the more that I realize that our local mission support is huge, yet it’s only a fraction of what our global mission activity looks like. What’s really eye-opening is the fact that the Church globally looks very different, but we’re all focused on the same thing.
CSPC is helping Young Life find host families for more exchange students this summer. So if you have capacity, I hope you’ll prayerfully consider opening your home. What do you have to lose? You have everything to gain and, at the same time, everything to give. If you want to help with missions but you can’t financially go to Africa, or you don’t have the time off of work or school to take a trip to the Netherlands, this is CSPC literally bringing global missions to you! You don’t have to go to Spain- Spain is coming here. And there really is lifelong joy that can result. Even though eighth grade feels like a very long time ago (10 years now), I still talk about those summers Carlota spent in our home. The exchange students just plug into whatever’s already going on in your family’s life. Simple stuff like: ‘I’m going to hang out with my neighbor. We’re going to run through the woods. You want to come?’ That was my childhood- I just got to bring a new friend along. And you can see what it all meant by the fact that Carlota and I still talk to this day. And I don’t just mean keeping up on Instagram- I’ll invite her to my wedding one day! She’s going to get an invitation in Spain! (Whether or not she’s going to be able to make it, I have no idea.) I know I’m going to get an invitation to her wedding one day, too. It’s just a really sweet connection- we bonded in the everyday stuff of real life. The friendship’s still strong ten years later, and it will be ten years from now.