When we went to eat dinner with the lovely family with a ministry of taking strangers into their home, the Ilgenfritz’s, I noticed several nativities around the house. I mentioned them to Joyce, and she told me that she had more of them than she could count. People have given them to her from all over the world. She has several from Peru, the Philippines, Africa, and numerous other countries. They are different shapes and sizes and made of various and sundry materials. Many are very cleverly made and could easily be overlooked as a nativity.
Joyce plays a game with her grandchildren at Christmas time and has the nativities hidden throughout the house and they try to find them all. They keep count of how many they find, and then tell her the total. I think the one who finds the most gets a prize.
I went over to her house later and took pictures of many of her nativities.
Here are some of them:
The pictures here show at least 39 different nativities. She has even more, but she didn’t set them all out this year. One picture I took of a nativity inside a bottle came out blurry, so I didn’t post it.
I think it is significant that Joyce collects nativities. I was thinking about this as I uploaded all of these pictures of the manger scene. She and her husband Morgan have a ministry called the Lighthouse. They have taken in 411 strangers and let them live with them. This is a special ministry that not many would be able to do. It’s certainly not my family’s calling!
They have taken in many unwed mothers and helped them learn how to take care of their babies. They have given a home to many troubled youths who have accepted Jesus and turned their lives around because of the love shown to them by this special family.
If Mary and Joseph had knocked on the door of the Lighthouse, Morgan and Joyce would not have turned them away. The story would have been a lot different, and I know that’s not how God planned it, but it struck me that they have taken in almost every stranger who ever knocked on their door. I’m sure that they will have a magnificent reward in heaven. They have lived out Matthew 25:35
“for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;”
We met them during a time when we were strangers with no where to go to experience the comforts of home or the joys of the Christmas season. They graciously invited us in. They fed us a warm, home-cooked meal. They made us feel special and loved. At a moment’s notice, they changed their plans and fitted us in, even though we are a large crowd and not easy to accommodate. They even helped us get there since we didn’t have a vehicle large enough to get everybody there. They didn’t act like they were the least bit inconvenienced by any of this. On the contrary, they acted like they were happy to have us there and happy to do all of these things for us.
Joyce has called to check up on us since that night. She brought soup over to us one night. It was delicious. The Lord had her make it and she didn’t even know why. Then she thought of us and called to see if we wanted it.
When we needed a ladder, she and Morgan brought one over for us to borrow. She has called just to see how I’m doing. She lets me know that she’s praying for us. She knows that I’ve been carrying a heavy load, and I can feel her compassion as she speaks to me and when she hugs me.
They are living out the gospel. What an example they have been to us and to so many others. May we learn from them and be obedient to our Father as they have been and store up riches in heaven. They emphasize that they are just normal people and that all Christians are supposed to live the way they do. They’re right. But how many of us do? We’re not all called to open our homes the way they do, but we are all called to obey whatever our Father tells us to do. Their love for people, and their willingness to put themselves out for other people is inspiring.
I’m so glad that God put them in our lives and provided a place for us to celebrate the birth of the Savior even though the only room we had was in the inn (the Days Inn).
Our story is still being written. And this chapter has been very difficult and fraught with uncertainty and anxiety. The Lord has been trying to teach us to trust Him no matter what. We will keep taking this test over and over again until we pass it.
The Lord is gracious and faithful. Many of our experiences parallel the things that happened in our Lord’s life as He walked the earth. He did it perfectly, without sin. We are far from perfect. But He is perfecting us and conforming us to His image.
I believe this.
I see Jesus in the Ilgenfritzes. I see their example of love and self-sacrifice for the sake of strangers. I admire them and want to be like them.
The nativities that they have collected symbolize their willingness to give a home to strangers in the name of Jesus. This is the way that they serve Jesus by serving the least of these.
I know in my heart that if Mary and Joseph had knocked at the door of the Lighthouse, there would have been a room for them.
We have met some of the nicest people here. Almost every house we have looked at is owned or has been shown by a Christian. We have met Christians and seen Christian bumper stickers every where we’ve gone. I commented on this to one of the homeowners whose house we looked at, and he said, “Oh, yeah, Jesus is Lord here.” I was amazed! I liked the sound of that.
Last night we were invited to the home and family Christmas party of a wonderful couple with an amazing ministry of giving homeless and troubled people a temporary home while God is dealing with them. Many people who have stayed with them have ended up getting saved. They let us come to their beautiful home and soak in the decorations and trappings of a family Christmas for the night. They heard my message and called me right back and invited me without stopping for a moment to think about it. They just knew that they wouldn’t want to be in a hotel with 10 children at Christmas time, so they blessed us with a change of scenery and a change of diet. Their names are Morgan and Joyce Ilgenfritz. Morgan even came to pick half of us up in his van since we turned the rental van in Tuesday.
They told us bits and pieces of their story, but then they gave us two books that have been written about them. And they gave us a book that their daughter-in-law wrote. She has 16 children. So, guess what I’ve been doing today? I’ve been reading about these amazing people who opened their home and hearts to us.
They have had 411 different people stay in their home over the past 30 years. The books about their ministry are called I Was A Stranger and… by Anthony J. Bachman and Divine Appointments by Bonnie S. Grau. They call their house the Lighthouse. It is a house with 19 rooms that God gave to them through Joyce’s job as a personal nurse to an elderly man who happened to have a huge house and a very bad disposition so that no other nurse could handle him. He asked her to move into his house with her family and take care of him as long as he lived. It was a very trying time, but it ended up providing the means for the ministry they would have for the next 30 years. God just sends people to them. They never advertise or try to get anybody to come to them. Their story is full of divine appointments and God’s provision as they obey Him every time He tells them to reach out and help a needy person He puts in their path.
They told us they weren’t afraid of large families because they have a son who has 16 children. They told us a little about them. In fact, two of the 16 children are living with them right now. One is 22-year-old Hannah who is attending nursing school at the college 4 blocks from her grandparents’ house. So she is able to save money and spend lots of quality time with her grandparents while getting her education. The other is Esther.
Joyce was a wonderful hostess and gave us gifts for our children even though she had only heard of us one hour before we showed up at her house. Morgan was a generous host, too. We enjoyed our time with them. The kids have been playing with the puzzles they gave us and writing with the Christmas pencils and eating the yummy food they sent with us.
We watched a movie with them, “Christmas Child” by Max Lucado. It was really good. Megan Follows and Stephen Curtis Chapman were in it. Then Joyce loaded us up with gifts and Morgan took us back to the hotel. What an amazing couple with a wonderful ministry!