In the last 10 years, 11,000 visitors from 135 countries have had their impressions of the nation's capital shaped by the hospitality of the Mennonite Church's International Guest House at 1441 Kennedy St. NW.
The visitors have included embassy personnel, engineers, doctors, students and just plain tourists who needed an inexpensive place to stay for a few nights, explained Edward Gerber. Gerber and his wife, Marian, are directors of the three-story brick house.
"We cater to internationals on a short-term basis of one or two weeks," Gerber explained. "We charge $6 a night for singles, $9 for married couples. Breakfast costs 71 cents and dinner $2."
The rates are low primarily because the Guest House, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this weekend, is operated and staffed by volunteers.
The Gerbers, who are retired schoolteachers from Orrville, Ohio, are assisted by Pat Cathrea, 25, and Grace Kuepfer, 19, both from Ontario, Canada.
In the Mennonite tradition, all four volunteered for a year of service with the Mennonite Board of Missions in Elkhart, Ind., and were sent here. The facility is operated by the Allegheny Conference of Mennonites to provide hospitality to foreign visitors on low budgets.
"We try to run a home away from home. Meals are served family style," said Gerber.
Martine and Jacques Drucker of Village Square Terrace, Rockville, stayed at the International Guest House last November for a couple of weeks with their 5-year-old daughter.Drucker, 31, is from France and is doing research in virology at NIH.
"It was very nice," Mrs. Drucker said. "You feel at home. They open their door to everyone. My husband said it was the best food he'd ever had in America. They let people live the way they want."
Every morning at breakfast, she said, everyone "introduces himself, says what he's doing here, and brings up any problems he may be having. Breakfast lasts an hour to an hour and a half."
Gerber said the International Guest House grew out of a need for international visitors to have a place to stay while here. "We minister to their physical and spiritual needs. We help them find a place to stay," he said.
Donald White, who heads the Allegheny Conference committee responsible for the house, said that while the staff attempts to maintain a "Christtian, home-like setting," it does not proselytize.
One of the favorite visitors at the house is a retired engineer from Rumania, known only as Ignatie, who is touring America by bicycle.
He's made a scrapbook of the places he's seen, has pictures of mayors, and always gets the signature of an official in the city he's visiting." Gerber said. "He doesn't speak any English, but manages to find someone who speaks one of the three languages he knows."