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FVL International Program Celebrates 50 Years - Mary Rolloff

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This year, the International Program at Fox Valley Lutheran High School celebrates 50 years! Since 1970, we have had the joy of hosting hundreds of students all over the world. These students have opportunities to experience American culture, make new friends, and learn more about God and his Word. The families who open their homes to these students, in turn, have opportunities to learn from them and share Jesus every day. 

Over the coming weeks, please enjoy the stories and memories shared by past host families. 

 


“If you cannot speak like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus; you can say he died for all.”

 

Michelle Chen graduates - 2015

Even ten years later, Mary Rolloff said she couldn’t imagine her life without having known Michelle (Guyi) Chen. 

“In some ways, it seems like just yesterday,” she said.

Mary was not a stranger to living by herself, but in 2011, it felt different. Her father had passed a few years prior. Her brother had moved out after living with her for a brief period. So when she saw an announcement in her church bulletin that FVL was looking for host families, “something clicked.”

“As I look back now, I just smile,” Mary said. “I didn’t worry about being single or having no more responsibility for kids other than being the fun aunt. I didn’t worry about the challenges of having a high school student at FVL while I worked in Green Bay with irregular hours. I didn’t worry about bringing someone into my home from a different culture thousands of miles from home. What I thought about was the unique opportunity to provide a Christian education to a student in need.” 

Four girls smile at graduation

Christian education is something that Mary values deeply. Her father, formerly a teacher, instilled this in her and her siblings. Christian education, Mary said, is “so critical to teens as they prepare to enter life’s next great phase.”

So in 2012, Mary made the decision to open her home to Michelle Chen, a sophomore from China. Mary’s life shifted to include daily pick-ups and drop-offs, proms, math meets, dance, and tennis practices. Although this busy schedule presented some challenges, in Mary’s mind, they were far outweighed by the blessings. 

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“We never know when or how the Holy Spirit will grow the seed that is planted,
but we do know God’s Word will never return empty.”

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Michelle Chen is baptized - May 2013

Although Michelle was not a Christian, she was open and respectful to Mary’s religion. Michelle regularly attended St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Appleton with Mary. This opened a door for Mary to discuss sermons and Bible studies with Michelle and answer her questions and concerns.

“I’ve never been comfortable just witnessing, but these were just conversations, and God gave me the words to speak,” Mary said. “As Michelle talked, her love for Jesus and knowledge of Him as her Savior became more apparent.”

The turning point came after a Good Friday Tenebrae at St. Matthew. Mary and Michelle were discussing how powerful the service was when Michelle announced she wanted to be baptized before returning to China for the summer. 

On May 26, 2013, Michelle became a child of God through baptism, the first FVL student from China to be baptized. Then on December 8, 2013, Michelle was confirmed. She celebrated the milestone with several of her friends and faculty members from FVL, as well as members of Mary’s extended family. 

Mary hosted Michelle until she graduated in 2015, and even years after, they stay in touch. Michelle shares news on her post-graduate studies and how she continues to nurture her faith.

“I could not have been a host mom without the support of my amazing personal and church family,” Mary said. “They all embraced Michelle as one of their own and offered support, encouragement, and solutions to both of us.” 

“We never know when or how the Holy Spirit will grow the seed that is planted, but we do know God’s Word will never return empty.”