I got to go to the Catalyst Conference in Dallas last week for work, and it was life changing. I texted my boss in the middle of it and told her that I wasn’t sure yet what type of ROI we were going to get on our booth, but the two-day event had blessed my soul beyond my expectations.
There was good worship. Lots of it. And there’s something so wonderful about getting to worship in the middle of a work day. I guess that’s just another perk to this amazing job God sort of dropped in my lap. But in addition to the worship, which was just SO GOOD, we got to hear from some really great speakers. Typically the thought of sitting in a room listening to two days worth of “rah rah” pep talks makes me want to pluck out my eyeballs, but this was different. Each speaker pierced my heart, encouraged me, and got me EXCITED about ministry.
Danielle Strickland spoke about how ministry is like surfing. It’s 80 percent work, and 20 percent payoff. But those not willing to put in the work, to be in the trenches, to swim against the tide week in and week out, will never be in the right place when the wave comes. As someone who has surfed once (man, it was hard… but so fun), I totally get what she was saying.
It perfectly describes our English as a Second Language ministry. Mr. Right and I start our eighth semester of teaching English to refugees and immigrants next week. And let me tell you… it’s work. It’s never convenient to give up one night a week, to leave your crying toddler in the nursery, to eat dinner at 9:00 p.m. after you get home. To prepare a lesson and invest in student after student, wondering if what you’re doing will make a difference.
It’s hard work. But then you catch a wave. And you see lives change. And it’s SO MUCH FUN.
There was the family from Venezuela – a couple who were both doctors back home, but who couldn’t practice in America because their degree was worthless here. We were able to help one of them become a certified Respiratory Therapist so she could help her family, and we helped the other learn enough English that he could go back to community college to work toward a degree here.
There are the many students who have come through, not speaking a word of English, fresh off a plane from places far away. And after years of classes, they stop coming because they learned enough English to find jobs. Jobs that will change the future of their own lives and the lives of their families. Jobs that will change legacies. (Finding a job is the biggest barrier to success for immigrants.)
There have been students who were socially isolated. Not being able to speak English, they’re stuck living lonely lives with very few friends. Can you imagine what it would be like to have ABSOLUTELY NO FRIENDS? To never be able to talk to anybody but your immediate family? I have watched my students, who are so isolated, make friends with other students in the same situation. And their whole demeanor changes. They’re happier, more confident. They know they’re not alone in this big, new place.
I have seen students overcome racial, ethnic, and cultural barriers. One of my favorite memories was a class when a few of my West African students realized that the Egyptians sitting next to them were also from Africa. They had no idea, because they didn’t LOOK like Africans.
Or when I look over and see students from North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Palestine, and Egypt in the same room together. Realizing that these people aren’t enemies. Or the Muslims who have never experienced love from a Christian back in their home country, and then they come to our little class, in our Baptist church, and experience genuine love and respect from Christians for the first time.
And then there are the rare moments when I have gotten to see my students accept Christ and get baptized. Or their families get baptized. It typically takes several years. Which means that it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds, wondering if all of this work is making a difference. Will they ever come to know Jesus, the reason we serve in the first place? Week after week, year after year in the trenches. Swimming against the tide.
But when that wave comes… it’s so worth it. There is nothing in this world like it.
Friends, would you pray for our little ministry as it kicks off another semester next week? Pray that God would bring us more teachers and that he would bless our students.
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