NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, December 12th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: How can you present the gospel to your non-English speaking neighbors if you don’t speak their language?
EICHER: For many churches, this language barrier problem is itself an opportunity. English as a Second Language, ESL classes have sprung up around the country. Of course, for many of these English students, they already know two or more languages. So the name “English Language Learner” is taking root.
REICHARD: These classes provide churches an opportunity teach grammar and American culture, but also more important things.
WORLD Radio’s Jenny Lind Schmitt recently visited one of these ministries in Issaquah, Washington.
AUDIO: [Sound of Christmas party]
JENNY LIND SCHMITT, REPORTER: As English Language Learner students arrive at Covenant Presbyterian Church teacher Claudia Helm greets them. Cedar garlands and poinsettias decorate the fellowship hall. And tiered trays loaded with goodies sit in the center of tables set with fancy tea cups and Christmas napkins.
HELM: Hi! How are you? Good to see you! Good to see you!….
Helm’s students are all recent immigrants from China. As they arrive today they play an icebreaker game. They use what they’ve learned in class to ask each other questions and collect cards.
STUDENTS: Do you have Jesus card? You can try Mary. Lisa, what do you have?
Weekly lessons include grammar, vocabulary, conversation practice, and a Bible verse. Then every few months there’s a party to teach an aspect of American culture. Today’s celebration is the music and food of Christmas. That means something much more important: the gospel story. Here’s Claudia Helm:
HELM: Today we are really hoping that the Word of God will go deep into their hearts. And that there would be some that come to know Jesus as their Savior.
AUDIO: [Sound of party games]
While the students collect cards, the teachers are praying in the church kitchen. They pray that teachers will clearly present the gospel, and students will clearly understand it, despite language barriers.
HUANG: I pray that you would bless this labor of love….
Joe Huang is pastor of True Light Chinese Church. It started the program at Covenant.
HUANG: We use this… to show our friendship and our caring… to let them understand that the church cares about their situation, what they need.
In recent years, immigration from mainland China to the greater Seattle area has boomed due to high-tech jobs and real estate. Most of the students in this group are women who came to the U-S for their husbands’ jobs. Many struggle to connect with the greater culture around them.
AUDIO: [Sound of party games]
STUDENT: I want to learn English and I want to learn American culture. And I want to meet friends here.
True Light Church and Covenant Presbyterian began collaborating on this project only two years ago. It didn’t take long for word of free English classes to spread in the Chinese immigrant community. The first week, 40 students showed up. By the second week, it swelled to 60.
Beverly Roecker was one of the first volunteers.
ROECKER: Being able to connect is the hardest part. And they feel the same way. They want to be able to converse with me, and I want to be able to converse with them. And there’s a barrier. And that’s language.
Once the card trading game wraps up, ELL director Julie Hastings welcomes everyone. During the regular classes, they only speak English. But today Pastor Huang translates to make sure everyone understands.
HASTINGS: A Christmas tea is sometimes celebrated in America and that’s why we wanted to introduce you to having a tea.
The students learn new vocabulary: scone, quiche, coconut macaroon, and cucumber sandwich.
YUE: What was this? HELM: That’s a quiche. YUE: Quiche. Quiche.
At our table, scones and coconut macaroons are a hit. Cucumber sandwiches?
YUE: I don’t really like them! [laughs]
Once everyone has a cup of tea, Pastor Shiv Muthukumar tells the story of Christmas. The room falls silent and attentive.
MUTHUKUMAR: If God would come to you, what do you think he would look like? [Chinese translation by Pastor Joe]
The students all have booklets and follow along with the verses printed in English and Chinese.
STUDENTS: Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…
Pastor Muthukumar closes by inviting everyone to attend the Christmas Eve service. Then one by one, the classes come forward to sing a Christmas song they’ve learned. Helm goes over the vocabulary again with her class beforehand.
HELM: ‘Shepherds why this jubilee?’ A jubilee is like a joyful time, a party. Why are the shepherds so excited?
Then it’s their moment.
STUDENTS: “Angels we have heard on high”
The teachers have one final surprise. They have learned to say God Bless You in Chinese.
TEACHERS: “Shen Shu-fu Nee”
Pastor Huang says this kind of outreach is effective…
HUANG: …but you’ve got to be very patient…
Over the coming weeks, ELL teachers are inviting their classes to family Christmas gatherings in their homes—sharing more than just food and carols. Pastor Huang says eight students from the program have started attending his church. And Two of Claudia Helm’s students are planning on attending the Christmas Eve service.
HELM: English is just a vehicle that the Lord uses to draw people to himself… Last spring when we closed out the classes over and over what the students said was that they could tell that the teachers loved them. So it’s more about the love of Christ coming through us and touching their lives.
STUDENTS: Glo—ri—a! In excelsis Deo!
For WORLD Radio, I’m Jenny Lind Schmitt reporting from Issaquah, Washington.