Imagine you know a language only literally. What would you think if someone told you they didn’t have “a leg to stand on” or they had to “make ends meet.” Or what about “driving someone up a wall” or “bending over backwards.” Never mind, it’s all just “tongue in cheek.” Understanding idioms is only one of the challenges of being a non-native English speaker in the USA. In Austin, 32 percent of the population lives in a home in which English is not the primary language. Student spouses, those brought to Austin to work in high-tech firms, people arriving under political asylum, family members of those brought for jobs, all these arrive in Austin with the common need to learn to speak English as a Second Language.
FUMC began it’s ESL Ministry as an initiative by a pastor for whom English was a second language, one who thought he knew English until he arrived in this country and faced a myriad of challenges with communication. Add to this dilemma the cultural differences in medical care, the condition of women in society, how to go to the grocery store, how to take a bus, and how to navigate the educational system for one’s children. And then there is the loneliness of being the “other.”
For over a decade, individuals who find themselves in these situations have come to our ESL classes. Attendees say the difference between these classes and those offered by educational institutions is the feeling of community, the creation of a place to belong. The social hours of ESL classes are a safe place to practice a language, but also a place to feel at home.
One of the unique things about the our ESL Ministry is providing childcare so mothers or fathers who care for the family can concentrate on improving their language skills. Although the teachers are volunteers, materials, childcare, utilities for the FLC, and refreshments for the social hours all cost money. Contributions to the rail offering during the month of August go to support this quiet but powerful ministry.
You can contribute at the altar rail, drop your gift in the offering plate, or send or bring your contribution to the church office. Make checks payable to FUMC and include a note stating that your contribution is for “ESL.”
I’d love you to meet our ESL students. They are a diverse group. They include an Iraqi woman news anchor who was told to leave Iraq or be killed, and a Mexican architect who was kidnapped by thugs and held for 9 months with a bag tied over his head until his family was able to ransom him. One student is a Christian Syrian who was forced to emigrate after the war started because of death threats. Some of her family was not able to get out and is a constant source of worry for her. Many are students or spouses of students at UT who are working on advanced degrees. Some of our students are visiting scholars who are here to do a year of research at UT. Several have green cards and are taking our classes so they can improve their English enough to get better jobs. We have two sushi chefs who want to be able to speak English to their customers. Though a diverse group, they all have one thing in common. They love the United States and don’t understand how Americans could possibly be dissatisfied. They frequently tell me, “This is the greatest country in the world. I don’t know how any American could be unhappy here.”
Working with our ESL students is the most meaningful volunteer work I’ve ever done. Every class day, students thank us for the lessons and for our time. They ask how they can volunteer at the church to “pay back” the free English lessons and childcare we provide. Many of our students have worked in various church ministries. They knit prayer shawls, make sandwiches for the Mobile Loaves truck, walk in the Crop Walk with our church members, and when we had Cafe Mission, they were reliable breakfast taco makers and sellers. Though many have low paying jobs, they drop their dollars into our donation box to help support the class. They are the warmest, most sincere group of people I’ve ever met. Thank you for supporting this wonderful mission.
Cathy Bingaman, ESL Program Director
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”