“He’s a part of our family. He’s Uncle Tony now!”
The Leyrer family signed up in 2015 to participate in the International Student Program facilitated by St. John, Wauwatosa, Wis. Little did they know that the third child they hosted, Tony Chen, would become like one of their own children.
St. John’s international program coordinates with families in China who want their children to complete high school in the United States. Students in the program attend eighth grade at St. John and then move on to one of the local Lutheran high schools.
Dana and David Leyrer originally decided to participate as host parents because they were both teachers at St. John and their children were around the same age as the international students.
“We thought it would be a great opportunity to share the gospel through this program and for our family to learn about a different culture,” Dana Leyrer shares.
Dana was nervous at first about how the students might react to her food or if there would be a language barrier, but she has been glad to find that neither have been a problem.
Each hosting experience has been different, but Dana says that Tony immediately acclimated to the family. He started living with the Leyrers in eighth grade and is now finishing his senior year at Wisconsin Lutheran High School, Milwaukee, Wis.
“When I first arrived, I felt very welcomed,” Tony says. “They treated me like their own children and were willing to solve any question I had.”
Since the beginning of his stay, Tony has attended church with the family each Sunday and eventually asked to be baptized. Today, he is a confirmed member at St. John.
Dana recalls a poignant moment before Tony’s baptism when he was preparing dinner on his own and she watched him pray by himself before he began to eat. “It made me very emotional,” she says. “We’ve loved watching him grow.”
The Leyrer kids all treat Tony like a brother. Ezra Tremaine, the son of Hannah Tremaine (née Leyrer), even knows him as “Uncle Tony.”
Dana says the most significant lesson she has learned as a host parent is to let the students know they’re a member of the family during their stay and to ensure they go to the same activities as the family, without question.
Tony is glad he has been a part of all the Leyrer family vacations and outings. He shares that one of his favorite memories of his time with the Leyrers was attending their daughter Hannah’s wedding.
“I’ve had a lot of good times and made many memories with my host family,” Tony says.
For those who are considering hosting international students themselves, Dana urges them to just try it. “Having someone new in your household does not come without challenges, but you should try it. You’ll never know what blessings you might see unless you try,” she says.
As Tony looks to the future, he plans to attend college in the United States next year. He knows he’ll always have a place to call home.
“He’s stuck with us now,” Dana jokes. “Our home will always be his home.”
Author: Gabriella Blauert
Volume: 110, Number 1
Issue: January 2023