Christian Hospitality Network Provides Much-Needed Shelter as Thousands Flee Redding Fire

by | Aug 3, 2018 | Business & Marketplace, Finances & Career

Editor’s Note: If you want to help those affected by the fires, you can give through Charisma’s non-profit partner Christian Life Missions. One hundred percent of your donation will go to those affected. We have already sent $5,000 to Bill Johnson and Bethel Church since they know where the needs are. Send a check to Fire Disaster Fund, Christian Life Missions, 600 Rinehart Rd. Lake Mary, Florida 32746. Or give through PayPal at christianlifemissions.org. or call 407-333-0600 during business houses to give by phone.

In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul exhorts believers to “practice hospitality.” That simple phrase has become the core of the platform of FaithStay, a ministry that provides opportunities for Christ followers to share the spirit of Christian benevolence with the world.

The Shasta County wildfires have provided a perfect—albeit very unfortunate—showcase for that generous spirit. The dangerous Carr fire has already forced 38,000 people to evacuate their homes and destroyed 500 buildings.

Through its website and Facebook page, FaithStay is asking individuals and families to open their homes—without cost—to the evacuees. Readers can search #HelpRedding.

“Our brothers and sisters in the Redding/Shasta County region are being evacuated due to the disastrous #carrfire,” FaithStay’s Facebook post reads. “We’re seeking willing homeowners in the region to participate in hosting evacuees and those seeking shelter. Become a host here at faithstay.com.”

Prophet Shawn Bolz, with more than 123,000 Facebook followers, has shared FaithStay’s plea for local believers to open their homes to those affected by the fires.

“Our friends at faithstay are helping you to offer your home for evacuees!” Bolz wrote. “Or find a home being offered! faithstay.com it’s like airbnb for people of faith!”

The recent wildfire disaster is only a small part of FaithStay’s main initiative for believers to open their homes to travelers who otherwise cannot afford the sometimes-exorbitant prices of hotels. While the travelers witness firsthand the depths of God’s love, hosts open themselves up to opportunities to embrace new relationships and can personify the gospel through their compassion and generosity.

One of the organization’s founders and manager of operations, Justin Grado, calls the concept of FaithStay “foundational Christianity.”

“It’s more than lodging. The act of opening our home is as interwoven in the Christian community as are love and servitude,” Grado says. “Our platform brings a new face to an already living tradition, providing a unified, streamlined means to share Christian hospitality with the world. In techie terms, we think of it as biblical hospitality 2.0.

“When you look at it, Jesus was born in a home share. There was no room at the inn, and so Mary had to have her baby in a stable someone allowed them to use. If there was room at the inn, who knows how the story would have gone. We might not have our faith today. It’s really odd to me that more Christians haven’t taken advantage of this.”

Whereas stays at chain hotels for three or four-day conferences or events can run anywhere from $150 to $200 per night or more, rooms on faithstay.com can sometimes be obtained free, or for as little as the host wishes to charge. Through the program, the hosts who charge a fee are encouraged to “tithe” a designated percentage to local ministries or churches. Or they can donate they entire amount they receive.

FaithStay charges the traveler a 10 percent service fee.

“Not only can this be a new income stream for families—which is important in this day and age—it can also give the host families the feeling that they are really doing something special for the Lord,” says FaithStay’s Marshall Allman. “I know of one girl where it allowed her to tithe for the very first time. She started tithing to her church, and now she sees it as her own personal ministry.”

FaithStay continues to follow the benevolent legacy of their partner, David Willson, who has spearheaded global homestay programs for some of the world’s preeminent sporting events for the past 25-plus years. A devout Christian, Willson’s ministry began in 1996 with the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta when, as director for The Salvation Army’s Sports Ministry Department, he was challenged to provide housing for families of Olympic athletes from around the world—approximately 2,000 people.

Wilson collaborated with local churches and faith-based organizations in Atlanta to relieve the housing dilemma.

The initiative later became known as the “Athlete Family Homestay Program.” Willson helped to ensure mothers, fathers, spouses and siblings of Olympic athletes were provided the opportunity to see their loved ones compete in the world’s most prestigious athletic arena “without the burden of excessive accommodation costs.”

But the Atlanta Olympics proved only the only the beginning. The success of the program extended to Sydney, Australia, for the 2000 Summer Games, where Willson was sent to recreate the model of the previous Olympics.

Since then, Wilson’s work—and ministry—has taken him to Beijing, China; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; London, England; Athens, Greece; Turin, Italy; Toronto and Vancouver, Canada; and Salt Lake City, Utah. Beyond the Olympics, Wilson has established homestay programs for the Rugby World Cup, the Ryder Cup in golf, the Pan Am Games and the Commonwealth Games.

In 2000, Willson founded the Global Events Group Inc., a nonprofit major event agency based in Atlanta with the sole purpose of coordinating hospitality and ministry around major sporting events. To date, he has worked with more than 40 denominations, 7,000 churches and 200 faith-based organizations in 45 countries.

In early 2016, a friend told Grado about Wilson, and Grado and colleague Jordan Lawhead connected with Willson and shared the idea of FaithStay. At the time, Wilson dealt with depression after losing his son, Harrison, and wasn’t ready to move into a business venture.

A year later, however, after extensive prayer and family agreement, Willson stepped in, and FaithStay launched its website. It began taking bookings in “stealth mode” in March 2017, mostly surrounding numerous conferences held at Bethel Church in Redding, California, annually.

“After laying low for a while, we were praying and seeking what plans the Lord had for us as a family and a ministry,” Willson says. “The whole idea of individuals and churches hosting people from a hospitality standpoint has been ingrained in me from my days with the Salvation Army. Hospitality is a great tool for ministry. I’ve always wanted to develop this as a legacy, and now we have the technology in place to do so.”

Willson sees hospitality as a way for believers to share their faith with the world in a simple way.

“For almost 25 years, we have created databases of host homes that provided hospitality for ministry during the world’s largest sporting events,” Willson says. “Once the Games moved on, so did the coordination of ministry and the link to future experiences. There is no better program we’ve seen where people can host someone in their home—even non-believers—and be at ease with talking with them about faith in Jesus.”

Grado says there are many reasons believers want to participate in FaithStay. A steady income stream is one initiative, but the most compelling, from personal testimony of the hosts, is that their busy schedule does not allow them to take a trip into the mission field. Through FaithStay, hosts’ homes become their mission field.

“My husband, Bob, and I had a vision many years ago to have a hospitality home,” Mary, from Redding, California, said on FaithStay.com. “There is no doubt God brought this vision to fruition and we feel blessed! We love hosting the nations and love what God has called us to do.”

Measures have been implemented to ensure the safety of both the traveler and the host. FaithStay requires members to verify their identities through its secure ID verification provider Blockscore. Member information is cross-referenced with government databases, watch lists and public records. Verification questions may be asked for added assurance. FaithStay members are also encouraged to connect their social network accounts to further validate their profile.

Before booking, travelers and hosts can learn about each other through detailed profiles and validated reviews. All reviews are written by hosts and travelers only following a completed booking experience. Unlike some other lodging platforms, there is no way a review can be fabricated due to the tech logic in place.

Involvement in FaithStay’s hospitality movement is easy, Grado said. Simply visit FaithStay.com for more information or to sign up as a member, or download the app on Google Play or the App Store.

Although home-sharing programs have been around for many years, Willson predicts FaithStay’s unique format and benefits will create a witness to God’s glory and goodness worldwide.

“I see the creation of a legacy of hospitality not just with the guests coming for major sporting events but for guests from around the world who come to town for conferences, mission trips, vacations, disaster relief and other things,” Willson says. “Now, there is no limit to the ministry of hosting someone in your home.” {eoa}

Shawn A. Akers is a content development editor for Charisma Media.

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