The Lord led one college student to organize and lead a ministry of teaching English as a second language (ESL) as a ministry of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church here in Indianapolis this summer. As pastor, I have encouraged, supported, and prayed for this ministry, and have been blessed to see other saints take up the hands-on work.
Since we began about a month ago, God has brought twenty to thirty different students from Hispanic, Chinese, and West African backgrounds one or two times each week. They range from young children to grandparents and from those who know almost no English to those who are nearly fluent and simply want to meet more Americans. The work is hard and requires commitment and diligence, but wonderful relationships are being formed, and the Lord has opened many doors in a short period of time. The teachers and students sometimes even share meals together as a group and in one another’s homes, and for discussions of the nature of God and of the gospel.
The temporary sign in the picture was drawn together by some of the teenage boys in the congregation at the last hour to help guests find our location. It was only intended to be temporary, but the Lord keeps bringing people in through those three simple letters, ESL, and so the sign stays up (we try to help its posture from time to time!).
One question that we have frequently been asked by the ESL students is: “Why are you doing this?” They recognize that it is a lot of work. And what a great question to have the opportunity to answer! Here are five reasons we are ministering this way:
- Jesus calls us to show mercy. One prospective student, on the opening night, could only follow gestures to park his truck and come to the correct door. What freedom the English language will give him in this land! Immigrants are often physically needy, and English skills will help them be able to navigate the community, be able to find better work, and become more skilled workers. It is a great delight to watch instructors start near the very beginning with students who hardly know a word of English. I have no idea why they were working on the word “jump” as I walked past, but the class of three or four students physically jumped together as they repeat after the teacher. International university students are orphans in a strange land. I’m told that somewhere near 90% of international students would love to be invited to an American home but that only 10% see the inside of one of our homes before they return to their home country. Some of these students are quite advanced. Walk past one classroom in this program and you’ll hear an instructor, who is an attorney, teaching law students words like “embezzlement” and “jurisprudence.” There was no targeted advertising. The Lord just brought people with needs that matched the gifts of our people. Why should we be surprised? After all, he is God of mercy! We who have been shown so much mercy by God have the privilege of extending mercy to others. Our summer leader has described these classes as “giving a cup of cold English in Jesus’ name.” Meeting this physical need opens the door to deeper friendship and further ministry to the heart.
- Jesus calls us to proclaim the gospel. We are called to speak words of life to those who are dead in their trespasses and sins. The students come asking many questions. Some actually came with solid English skills and simply wanted to study the Bible. Students want to know what the church is and believes. They want to know its history. They ask why we do certain things. They ask about the nature of God. We get to teach from the Bible and speak of the love of God demonstrated through the death of Jesus Christ for sinners. Some participants come to public worship or other events. One of our teachers is from India and is in the U.S. for pastoral training. Students wonder why he left his engineering work to come here. He joyfully shares how the Lord has changed his life and his vision for his homeland. The classes open doors in class and in conversations. We have the greatest news on earth; we want to make it known!
- Jesus calls us to strengthen our communities. We pray that peoples would flourish and towns revive in Psalm 72. We seek the welfare of the city in which we live. By building relationships, especially with immigrants who often wonder where they fit, we strengthen the fabric of our communities. For instance, as we point people to Jesus, as he awakens them by his Spirit, and as they fall in love with his perfect law of liberty, we can expect to see new citizens who will govern themselves and their families wisely and who will select wise leaders in our republic. Our land certainly needs greater clarity in our immigration policy, but most ordinary Christians will have the largest impact on immigration needs by rolling up their sleeves and serving.
- Jesus calls the church to labor together. Some fifteen to twenty people from the church have stepped forward to join in this ministry, and their faces glow as they work and grow together. One person said she teaches, in part, “Because it’s just plain fun!” Some in the congregation know French, or Spanish, or Mandarin, and like average Americans, many of us don’t even really know English correctly! But, people give what they have, and the Lord multiplies it. God is using these classes as a means of uniting the congregation’s heart in prayer. We experience true fellowship, or partnership, in the gospel as teachers and assistants labor together, as others play together with children, prepare snacks, and so on. The world will only know that we are Jesus’ disciples by the love we have one for another if they see us together. The Lord has blessed our times together with much love and laughter. This building built on the rock is his doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
- Jesus calls us to make his name glorious among the nations. Repeatedly, God’s people are called to declare his glory among the nations. Here, the nations are in our back yard. By the power of the Spirit, they will make his name glorious in their home countries. Increasingly, we have connections with other churches abroad. We are teaching ESL classes because we want to strengthen those churches with new converts as they return. In it all, our desire is his desire: that his name, of glorious worth, would receive its praise eternally, and that his glory would fill the whole earth.