A typical Friday night in the home of Susan and Art Green is filled with aromas from a smorgasbord of different foods and lively chatter in multiple languages.
Over the past 20 years, Susan and Art Green have welcomed international students from Abilene’s universities into their home for weekly dinners.
Art’s role in the Friday night dinners is to stand by the door and greet each student as they enter the home, while Susan makes sure all of the food is prepared and ready.
Art, who is a water chemical salesman, takes Polaroid photos of all of the new students who come through the doors. The students write their names below their picture, and Art takes the copies as he travels, memorizing each student’s name.
“He knows how important it is for them to be called by name,” Susan said.
Leading up to the dinners, Susan and some friends spend the week making and freezing food for the self-serve buffet line on Friday nights. A variety of cuisine is made from scratch, sometimes including Thai, Mexican, American, Indian, and sometimes even Russian and African. And it’s all paired with Susan’s homemade sourdough bread.
The Greens always go over a few rules at the dinners: Don’t throw away the reusable chopsticks, clean up after yourself and only take what you can eat.
“We feed a lot of people. We want the last people in line to get food,” Susan said.
Susan and Art developed a heart for Abilene’s international students when their daughter befriended a few during her time at ACU back in the early 2000’s.
When the couple who previously hosted Friday night dinners for Asian students announced their plans to move away, the Greens decided to continue the tradition – at first with a little hesitation from Art.
“I looked at my husband, and he said, ‘Don’t volunteer for anything,’ ” Susan said. “Now, it’s his favorite thing. He loves it.”
Attendance varies throughout the years, but one night, 186 students representing a total of 36 countries showed up to the house.
“But we didn’t run out of food,” Susan said. “In all the years we’ve been doing these dinners, we’ve only run out of food three times.”
Although the main attraction is the dinner, Susan said it’s not about the food. Rather, she and Art use the dinners as a ministry and a way to introduce international students to Christianity.
“I’ve always wanted to be a missionary,” Susan said. “This is so nice because we can be missionaries right here; we don’t even have to go anywhere.”
Several students describe Susan as compassionate with a “counseling spirit” – probably attributable to her profession as a marriage and family therapist.
One of the students the Greens have mentored over the years is Vicente Rojas Aguirre from Torreón, Mexico. Vicente met the Greens when he was a freshman at ACU in 2013.
“They gave me a place where I could feel comfortable and ask questions about my faith,” Vicente said. “They gave me a home away from home.”
Veronica Summers, an international student services specialist, has known the Greens since she came to ACU from the Philippines in 2009. She said an estimated 80% of international students never get to set foot inside of an American home, a statistic confirmed by the Journal of International Students. By opening their doors, the Greens give the students a special place.
“Not just for me, but a lot of international students appreciate being able to come into this home environment and be welcomed and eat something other than food from the Bean every once in a while,” Veronica said. “Them just providing that homey atmosphere for me being far away from my own home gave me a familial feeling of having parents away from my own.”
Vicente said from the first time he walked into the Green’s home through their big double doors, he knew he belonged there.
“It’s hard for a lot of international students to feel like they belong somewhere. They’re leaving behind a lot of things to come to the U.S. and to come to ACU,” Vicente said. “The Greens understand that better than most people, better than anyone I know.”
Vicente said the couple’s love for God is evident in the way they serve international students.
“We’ve just gotten to love people from a lot of different countries,” Susan said, a silver necklace holding a map of the world above her heart.
Although the Greens only have the opportunity to host six dinners this semester, they are excited to welcome students back into their home, and their hearts, for a new year of loving mentorship and good food.