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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Nations Right in Front of Me

I have a skill—proficiency in English—that’s useful to some people, so I signed up to teach in my church’s English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. Two things prompted me to get involved: first, because I love, love, love teaching; and second, because from those who have received much, much is expected.
God has blessed me with a surfeit of time and resources that I can and should use to bless others. And, having once lived in a country whose language was largely a mystery, I know what it’s like to stand in the grocery store, holding a bag of something that could be sugar, or could be salt, but you have no way to sort out which because you don’t have adequate language skills to read the writing on the bag or to ask somebody for help.
It’s painful, humbling, and exhausting to navigate a world in which you’re functionally illiterate.
After two semesters teaching the beginners’ ESOL class, I can wholeheartedly profess that the blessing has been entirely mine.
God brings the nations to us, and we get to meet them in the ESOL classrooms. My group alone represents speakers of Vietnamese, Chinese, Uigar, Arabic, German, Persian, Nubian, Spanish, Urdu, and Turkish.
In some of their home countries Christian evangelism is forbidden. But here it is not.
Before Christmas I showed the class a video of Pentatonix singing Mary, Did You Know?, and gave my students lyrics sheets to fill in. Over and over again they asked to watch the song, and by the fourth time two sang along with it. Then five students joined in. Then all of them. I watched the United Nations, in my classroom, singing about the birth of Jesus.
I wept.
At our church’s Christmas party my eight-year-old daughter had an emotional breakdown—I’d prefer not to share why, as the depth of her despair reveals either her entitlement issues, or her father’s and my poor parenting, or both. Three ESOL students—two Middle Eastern men and one African man—gathered around to cheer her up. Ali and Shalaly kissed her cheeks and tried to make her laugh. Omar said, “Don’t cry, little girl! I will give you the best present ever!” and gave her the gifts he received at the party.
Who is blessing who?
One evening mid-way through the semester Truyen interrupted class to say something he could keep inside no longer. “I just love you all!” he announced to the entire room. The class fell silent for a few moments.
“We love you, too,” we told him.
We told each other.
Yes. The blessing of teaching these wonderful people is mine.


  1. As an ESL teacher, I completely agree with your sentiment that the blessing is all yours. I've learned so much about life and the beauty and power of the human spirit through my ESL students. I especially appreciate this line in your post: "It’s painful, humbling, and exhausting to navigate a world in which you’re functionally illiterate." I couldn't agree more, and it gives me greater empathy and appreciation for the myriad of folks in our country for which this is true! Thanks for your thoughtful words! XO

  2. What a wonderful experience for you. And you're obviously receiving more than you're giving. But your students are so fortunate to have someone as their teacher who gives of herself as well as her knowledge and experiences. A blessing for everyone.