6th July, 2016
Ray and Marilyn White, former owners of a Christian counseling centre in the UK, didn't have the money to go on expensive holidays when they retired, meaning they had to find a way to do so - without paying full price.
Hearing about a house-sitting organisation which offered people the chance to look after someone's else's home while they were away, they registered and ended up living in a property in France for three months. While Dr White says it was a “wonderful experience”, they did have times of loneliness and couldn’t find a church. There were also some statues and other things left around the house which he says, as Christians, made them feel uncomfortable.
PICTURE: Kym Parry/www.freeimages.com
"We love getting email from people all over the world telling us how God has used Christian House Sitters to enable them to have a holiday that they really needed but could not afford. Knowing we have made a real difference gives us a thrill.”
- Dr Ray White
“Marilyn said that next time we should use a Christian organisation,” the South-African born 69-year-old recalls. “(S)o we searched and could not find one anywhere. Marilyn therefore suggested we start one, which we did, and the result is Christian House Sitters.”
The organisation, which is based out of their home in Somerset, aims to bring together Christian home-owners and house-sitters by providing a website and email service which they can use to find each other.
“If you register as a home-owner, we help you find a house-sitter to move into your home while you are away on vacation,” says Dr White, who has previously worked in business, for Youth For Christ and as a pastor, and who still, as well as writing books, runs an "active preaching ministry" and takes seminars on subjects such as stress management for church groups.
“(The house-sitter) will look after your home and pets for you free-of-charge and in return they receive a rent-free vacation in your home. So, as an owner you save money by not having to pay anyone to look after your home and pets. You also have the security of knowing that your home and pets are being looked after by a responsible Christian.”
The benefits for those who register as house-sitters is also somewhat obvious - they “get to travel and stay rent-free in lovely homes all over the world rather than in expensive and, often characterless, hotel rooms”.
People wanting to advertise their house will have its details, excluding the exact address, listed on a protected area of the organisation’s website where registered would-be house-sitters can find them. All registered sitters are also emailed about the listing. Sitters can then register their interest with a particular property and their details are sent on to the home-owner. It’s then up to the home-owner to make contact, check references and arrange the ‘sit’ (a draft agreement is provided on the website).
Dr White says he and his wife insist that all who apply must be a member of a Christian church.
“We then email the pastor of their church and say that they have registered with us and given him as a reference,” he says. “We tell him that he can expect to be contacted by home-owners seeking a reference from him about these people. If he indicates that this is all satisfactory we register them. If they can’t supply these details or if the pastor is not willing to vouch for them, membership is refused.”
Properties listed range from apartments to large family houses with the length of time they are available anywhere from a week to a year, although between two to four weeks is more typical.
The profile of the house-sitters varies widely.
“We have families with children, single people, missionaries on furlough, ministers wanting a holiday that they can afford, retired people,” Dr White says.
More than 1,000 people have registered on the site since it commenced and current members live in 15 countries, mostly in Europe but also including Australia and New Zealand, the US and Canada.
While home-owners pay no fee to register on the site, sitters pay £25 (or equivalent) a year. All of this money is used to support a Christian children’s home in Kenya – The Home of Peace Children’s Home - which Mrs White took over the responsibility for raising funds for in 2010 after the UK church which had supported the organisation decided they could no longer continue to do so.
The Whites have since set up a registered charity – the TLC Children’s Trust – to raise funds for the home which is officially registered with the Kenyan Government.
Asked what they love most about running Christian House Sitters, Dr White says it’s the connections they make all across the globe.
“We love getting email from people all over the world telling us how God has used Christian House Sitters to enable them to have a holiday that they really needed but could not afford. Knowing we have made a real difference gives us a thrill.”
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