Not Students, but Teachers

I’ve been assisting with the ESL program that just got started at Berea First Baptist Church. This is my first time being involved with ESL, and I love it. I chose to work with the basic class, which are individuals who essentially are not yet able to speak or write any English. I think this has been a great challenging opportunity for me so far, and a wonderful weekly encouragement of the beauty around us in life, and the courage within the human spirit.

We started out with around six people in the class, and last night had grown to around 12. Ranging from a 14 year old boy to a 70 yr old woman, spanning Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. I’ve been doing some translating for the teacher with instructions and answering questions, and then just interacting with everyone in the class. I feel like I’m starting to build relationships, and am thrilled about it because the individuals in our class are amazing. Everyone works so hard and is dedicated even after long days at work.

Last night I was talking with a few people during the break (that everyone has affectionately dubbed recess) and was struck by the amazing lives people are living. I couldn’t help but wonder how often I look at people, and see jeans and a t-shirt and assume they do what most people their age do….so, if they are young, they probably go to school right? Do HW and hang out with their pals some? A little older, maybe work a job in town and go home to their significant other?

But that’s not how God sees us, nor do I think how he wants us to see those around us that way. I think God calls us to see the spectacular, the special goodness hidden within, his image that is present in our lives. Even with my less than exceptional Spanish abilities, I found out pieces of beautiful and profound stories in just a few minutes of talking with people in the class. My stereotype of a boy who probably went to school in the area was broken down as I discovered a young man who was Guatemalan and had just moved here with a portion of his family. I cannot imagine the kind of courage it takes to do just what he has done in the past two weeks, in a new country, with half your family thousands of miles away, speaking none of the language and having no friends. Yet he is a musician, and provided me with the information to check out some of his work from Guatemala. Or the young man with him, who was a chef in Cancun, before entering the world of imitation Mexican food and Spanglish in the States. Dancers, writers, dreamers, lovers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and mothers.

I wonder if Moses had done a survey during the Exodus if it would have looked similar. Would he have been struck by the resilience of the people he was journeying with? The Exodus story speaks frequently of the justice that should surround the treatment of a sojourner, and yet also speaks of the people’s night of watching the Lord, knowing and yet hoping that he would indeed bring them out and through it all. I don’t think that watching and waiting and hoping and praying ever ended. I think we all do it today, whether we are crossing borders or not. But we don’t talk about it a whole lot. Often times we are cool with seeing the surface level, however things appear is how they are. But as theologian Chris Rice says “The way things are is not the way things have to be.”

The Exodus was liberation, and we celebrate that freedom, and the gift that the new land was for the people. This is somewhat true today. As a gentleman mentioned to me last night, he had to learn English in the “land of opportunity”. But what about the gift that the people brought to the land they were entering into, the land that they would leave their mark upon? Like learning a language, the journey is hard as cement at times, but God is ever present, and has surrounded each of us with fellow sojourners to travel with us, teach us, and love us.

I’m excited about continuing to learn what perseverance looks like.

Prayer

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. ESL Classes have gotten off to a great start. There is something really powerful about the dedication the women and men (or lone man haha) in the class I’ve been in have towards learning the English language. I can’t imagine how hard and intimidating that must be, especially since I think Spanish is difficult….yet they all are trying so hard. When the new student who is a young man appeared last night, I couldn’t help but think how much courage it would take to go by yourself to start English classes and make that kind of commitment. It blows my mind, yet is wonderful, and I think God is drawing him to the church, as I think God is using the ESL opportunity to do just that with all the students, and people like me, who are learning through watching. I got to work with one lady a little outside of class and she was eager to help me as well with my Spanish. We read through a poem together that was going to be on my Spanish test. It was such a great experience, having her teach me about the poem we were reading “poema de amor por la ciudad de Mexico”.

I enjoy working with adults, and feel this is going to continue to be a great growth experience for me. One of the biggest things I think I struggle with is the desire to fix problems people are facing….it’s not always my responsibility, and I’m simply a part of the work God is doing. Yet it can be hard to remember that he is not asking me to try to do all things, but rather to do the things he is calling me to well…

God is Surely Alive

Sunday night I found myself sitting on the couch eating amazing arroz con leche from a sweet woman who lives in Marietta, SC and was a faithful attendee with her son at Marietta First Baptist Church. She was so happy to see the couple from the church that I was with who had watched her son grow up and constantly engaged both of them in the life of the community. I was welcomed with open arms and food as well, as she eagerly went to retrieve something to show us from the back room. Returning with outstretched arms, she held up a copy of the DVD “God’s not dead,” beaming at the pride she obviously felt for having seen and affirmed this movie.

The couple and I confirmed we had indeed seen it, and had been touched by it as well. I quickly learned that her teenage son had bought it because he was impacted by it, and she thought the mensaje was so wonderful that she called her mother in Mexico to try and explain the meaning over the telephone.

I was struck by the whole situation. The first being the beauty of the moment: the piping hot arroz con leche we were eating together and the joy that hung in the air with this reunion and intimate fellowship. The movie seemed to fit the context so well…..here we were in a trailer that had seen better days in rural SC with a single mother who knew all too well the struggles of living life halfway in Mexico and halfway in the states. It was dark inside, yet this woman and her son had glowing smiles, and exuded love when they mentioned their church. It seemed like the very place in which God was indeed not dead, but surely alive, because his love could transcend borders, and reach inside the midst of poverty, and loneliness, and everything that creates barriers in the world around us.

It’s funny how often we schedule things in our lives. I plan out weekend plans with friends, time to do homework and to exercise, and generally have a set time to eat meals. I had no idea when I was riding through Marietta that night that I’d find myself watching God’s not Dead with a family I’d never met before. But I couldn’t have been blessed in any better way than to experience their faith and hospitality to someone who was a stranger showing up at their day. I think these sacred surprises are what the incarnation is all about; God interrupting our status quo to show us a more beautiful way of being.
Demos gracias a Dios.