Transportation network makes friends from strangers
By Karla Braun
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA – “All I see is smiles,” says Brenda Burkholder, volunteer at the homestay shuttle information table. Many of the more than 7,200 guests from 56 countries registered for Pennsylvania 2015 travel between their overnight lodging and the Farm Show Complex each day via shuttle bus.
Besides the network of airport shuttles, three different bus systems operate during Assembly: hotels, Messiah College dormitories and homestays.
Leon and Nancy Stauffer, creators of the Mennonite Your Way catalogue for travellers, head up the shuttle system for Assembly guests who are staying in the homes of local Anabaptists.
The Stauffers engaged 21 buses from Elite Coach and Executive Coach, Lancaster county companies with ties to the Mennonite community. Each bus drives 25–40 guests to a drop-off centre in proximity to a cluster of homestays, from where hosts take their guests home.
Additionally, a host rides with each bus, taking attendance and answering questions.
Bus hosts Mike and Lena Brown of Lancaster Mennonite Conference say there is a lively buzz of conversation among their travellers from nine different countries. Some remark that the nearly hour-long drive is like a tour; they enjoy the scenery.
The first days had some hiccups as travel demands – delayed or missed flights, long customs interviews – disrupted shuttle schedules. Some transfers from one system shuttle system to another were missed and hosts were sent home without guests for the first night.
Leon extols the graciousness of everyone involved with the homestay. He appreciates “their flexibility even with the kind of snafus we had. They are still smiling genuinely when they meet.”
The Stauffers’ work of seeking host families began two years before the 21–25 July 2015 event, and it occupied their energies full-time occupation for the past several months.
Matching guests with hosts isn’t as simple as writing names on a list. The Stauffers considered pet allergies and accessibility needs and preferences to room with friends or host guests from a particular country or speakers of particular language.
“We prayed a lot,” says Nancy.
Homestays registrations finalized around 800 with one to seven guests at a given address.
The Browns, like many of the bus hosts, also have a guest in their homes. They see this as an opportunity to be of service and to meet very interesting people. The locals are just people, Mike says with a smile, but the visitors are leaders from whom we have much to learn as we walk with God together.
Karla Braun has been associate editor the MB Herald (magazine of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches) and will become editor of Courrier/Correo/Courier after Assembly.