woman looking at a globe

Reaching the Nations . . . from Your Front Porch

Internationals: Who Are They?

How far are the nations from your front porch? They’re closer than you think. The nations are all around us. To reach them, we must understand who they are. Just like us, internationals are not all the same. Here are just a few of the types of internationals among us:

  • International Students – Around 975,000 students from other countries are studying at universities in the U.S. Over 57% of them are from just four countries—China, India, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
  • Immigrants – The number of immigrants and their children born in the U.S. is approximately 80 million, or 25% of the total U.S. population. The number from Asia now roughly equals those coming from the Americas.
  • Refugees – As symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. has long been a target destination for people seeking refuge from troubled countries. In FY 2015, the U.S. admitted 70,000 refugees. More than one-third came from the Near East/South Asia (esp. Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, Syria, Afghanistan). Another one-third came from Africa (esp. Somalia, D.R. Congo, Sudan, Eritrea, Burundi), and one-quarter came from East Asia (esp. Burma).

How Can We Connect with the Nations in Our Midst?

Getting involved with the internationals around us is quite simple, but it requires intentional effort. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few ideas:

1. Start up a conversation with the clerk at a convenience store. If you go into a convenience store and the clerk’s name tag or appearance or accent gives you the impression they are from another country, they just might be. Introduce yourself and ask them where they are from. Decide to become a regular customer to get to know them better. Who would have thought that buying gas at a local convenience store could turn into a cross-cultural encounter?

2. Visit an ethnic market. In some cities (and even some smaller towns), you can find a grocery store or market that caters to international people from Asia, Latin America, Africa or the Middle East. Make a point to go shopping at that store and ask a clerk some questions about the international products. (Tea, coffee, and snacks are great conversation starters.) After the store owner or clerk recovers from their shock that a non-international would enter their store, they’ll be pleased to have you as a customer. They’ll be even more amazed if you try to build a friendship with them.

3. Befriend an international student. Many international students (some say 70-80%) never set foot in an American home. You can change this statistic. Universities often welcome volunteers from the community to serve as “friendship partners” with their international students. Go to the university’s website and search on “international student programs” to see what type of friendship programs are available. You might be just the friend that an international student is looking for.

4. Share a Meal Together. People all around the world love to eat, believe it or not. Inviting a student into your home for a meal can provide the context for fruitful discussions. Universities often have programs where you can bring an international student over to your house for a meal. NC State University, for example, offers a program called “Breaking Bread” through the Office of International Services to give students a “taste” of American culture. Internationals also love to share food from their country with Americans. Sharing a meal together might even give these students a hunger for the Bread of Life.

5. Help a refugee family. As illustrated in the article “Assisting Refugees Opens Doors for the Gospel,” (link to article on the PNDNC website) your church can demonstrate the love of Christ in practical ways to refugees. Organizations such as World Relief would love to have your involvement in helping a family coming to the U.S. from very difficult circumstances. The World Relief office in Durham, NC, for instance, has numerous ways to provide assistance. Serve on a “Welcome Team” to greet the refugees at the airport and welcome them to the U.S. with open arms. Recruit some other families from your church to form a “Good Neighbor Team” that will visit a refugee family on a regular basis. Become a friendship partner to assist a refugee in their adjustment to the U.S. Relatively small acts of service can make a significant impact on a refugee family.

6. Give the Gift of Language. Maybe you’re not a teacher (or maybe you are), but if you’re reading this you have a gift that many internationals desperately need: English. Share this gift by becoming a conversation partner with an international neighbor or friend. Some universities have “conversation clubs” where local volunteers can hang out and just talk with international students. You can develop skills in ESL (English as a Second Language) by attending a workshop or enrolling in a certificate program. Perhaps your church could start an ESL program to minister to the needs of internationals in your community. And what about learning another language yourself? Making the effort to learn another person’s language goes a long way in building relationships.

The peoples of the world are next door. To reach them, we just have to step off our front porch.

Billy has an M.Div. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Alabama. Billy serves as an adjunct instructor at in the ESL certificate program at SEBTS. He has taught ESL for Westminster Theological Seminary in the Mastering Theological English Program, for North Carolina State University in the Intensive English Program, and for Messiah University in the TESOL certificate program. Billy and his wife, Mary Jo, and their three children, lived in Taipei, Taiwan for nine years, where he served at Overseas Radio & Television, Inc., a Christian media ministry.

Sources:

On International Students

1. http://www.wsj.com/articles/international-students-stream-into-u-s-colleges-1427248801

2. http://www.iie.org/Services/Project-Atlas/United-States/International-Students-In-US

3. http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors/Data/Fast-Facts

4. http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors/Data/International-Students

On Immigrants

1. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states#Immigrant%20Population%20Change

2. http://www.businessinsider.com/baml-immigration-state-map-2015-8

3. http://www.ibtimes.com/immigration-us-2015-reaches-new-record-immigrant-population-421-million-people-study-2053038

On Refugees 

1. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/refugees-fact-sheet

2. http://www.state.gov/j/prm/releases/statistics/251285.htm

3 girls from Xingjiang

The Role of ESL in a Church’s Ministry to Internationals

ESL in the Bible

Is ESL in the Bible? Well, sort of. Jesus never really addressed the issue of language teaching, but He did talk about loving our neighbor. Matthew 22:34-40 highlights a question Jesus was once asked: “Which command in the Law is the greatest?” In His answer, Jesus pointed to two commandments: 1. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. The Old Testament context for the second command is found in Leviticus 19, where it appears in two different contexts: loving your fellow countrymen (Lev. 19:17-18) and loving the stranger residing among you (Lev. 19:33-34), “for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Since the Israelites knew what it was like to be foreigners, they were called to welcome the strangers in their midst. And as citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), aren’t we all aliens living in a strange land? Teaching ESL is simply a practical application of the the command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

ESL Myths

What is ESL, anyway? Maybe you have heard something about it, but you’re not really sure what it looks like. Let’s begin by dispelling several common myths:

1. You have to speak Spanish to teach ESL. After all, doesn’t ESL mean “English-Spanish Language”? Not exactly. ESL means “English as a Second Language,” so you can teach ESL to people from any language background. (Besides English, that is.)

2. You have to know the language of every student you’re teaching. Similar to #1, this is probably based on the notion that language teaching is just translating from one language to another. There was a time when the Grammar-Translation Method was the prevailing method of teaching English (Hint: A very long time ago), but not anymore. The focus these days is on providing a communicative environment for students from all language backgrounds.

3. Teaching ESL is just teaching English grammar. And so, if you’re not comfortable with English grammar, you’re not eligible to teach English, right? Wrong again. Teaching English is much more than just helping students master grammar rules.

A Snapshot of ESL

Basically, ESL is a way to help students from other language backgrounds gain a functional proficiency in English. ESL can also be a very practical way to demonstrate the love of Christ to the nations in our midst.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you were living in a foreign country (not just for vacation or a business trip, but as an immigrant), and you didn’t speak the language well, how would you get along? And how would you feel if a group of people offered you a warm welcome and a place to learn the language in a non-threatening environment? You just might feel loved and accepted.

Fitting ESL into the Bigger Picture

Here’s the key point: ESL should be part of a church’s ministry to internationals. It’s common for churches to make two strategic errors with regard to ESL:

1. Putting all of our eggs in one basket. A church sometimes puts too much weight on ESL. Leaders may think that if they have an ESL ministry, that is the sum total of their ministry to internationals. Well, it’s a good start, but ESL cannot be the whole picture. 

2. Leaving out the golden egg. In seeking to reach the nations around them, some churches may neglect ESL and try to do it through other means. It’s difficult to imagine how a church can effectively reach the nations around them without dealing with language barriers. For immigrants and other internationals in our midst, language learning is not just a nice hobby; it’s a matter of survival. Maybe ESL isn’t really a “golden egg,” but you get the point.

Guiding Principles

As you prepare to integrate ESL into your church’s ministry to internationals, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Train the volunteers — If you already have teachers who are already trained in teaching ESL, that’s great. If not, take advantage of weekend workshops provided by the Literacy Missions team of your state convention. You can also find experienced ESL teachers in your area who can come and offer guidance.
  • Decide on the curriculum — Depending on your church’s vision, you may want to use a general ESL curriculum focused on daily life skills, or a Bible ESL curriculum that uses Bible stories or spiritual principles to center each lesson on the gospel.
  • Keep the bigger picture in mind — Remember that the goal is not just helping people learn English, but making disciples and integrating them into the church.

Let’s be honest: one hour a week will not help people master English, but it can provide a safe place for people to practice their conversational English. If it can help build bridges of friendship, ESL can be a great door-opener for the gospel.

Billy has an M.Div. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Alabama. Billy serves as an adjunct instructor at in the ESL certificate program at SEBTS. He has taught ESL for Westminster Theological Seminary in the Mastering Theological English Program, for North Carolina State University in the Intensive English Program, and for Messiah University in the TESOL certificate program. Billy and his wife, Mary Jo, and their three children, lived in Taipei, Taiwan for nine years, where he served at Overseas Radio & Television, Inc., a Christian media ministry.

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