Written by: Alyssa Kurtz
I’m feeling grateful reflecting as our first two English Language Learning (ELL) Madison sessions came to a close. Our first 7-week session ended on October 30th, and it ended with an organic and memorable time of food, fellowship and testimonies. It seemed both participants and teachers felt full, not just from the spread of authentic food made by our participants, but by the spirit that animated the room that night. There was a genuine sense of unity characterized by laughter, joy and dialogue that multiple people testified to: “It felt like holiday dinner with the family.” Despite the fact that the people around the table came from a diversity of countries, cultures and languages, the familial vibe in the room was evident.
To give a little background, we kicked off the ELL Madison program as a response to a request made by campers at our Camp Skillz Madison site this past summer. The children were learning so many wonderful things, that they began advocating for an English class for their mothers. These children seemed to understand that their mother’s quality of life could be improved if they had the opportunity to learn English. Many of these children are the translators for their parents, so they carry a burden most kids their age don’t know.
I remember hearing about the need for ELL facilitators at a BS@CS Bible study this summer and was moved as a camp counselor shared of the children’s hearts for their parents. I felt compelled to get involved in the program, in whatever way I could. Initially I wasn’t sure my participation made the most practical sense. I don’t speak Spanish, and I figured there were plenty of others who would be better equipped to help with the class. But as time went on and I continued hearing that the class was beginning, it stayed on my heart and mind so much so that I felt I would be missing out on something the Lord was doing if I didn’t get involved. I couldn’t rest with that in my spirit. I may not be a Spanish speaker, but I’m willing to learn. I know English, I know the Lord and I have a heart to serve these families. Who am I to limit the Lord, and what I felt He was putting on my heart? So I volunteered to get involved, and I’m so happy I did.
Our first class was primarily women, with the exception of two men. Rafael Reyes, our site manager, welcomed the group in Spanish and shared of his own English learning journey putting the room at ease. In our initial class we assessed our students and evaluated what they hoped to learn through the time. We found that nearly all of our students were parents, many of whom were simply wanting to learn how to navigate life here as a parent. Their primary goal was to be better equipped to serve their children, to speak/read/write the “language of their children.” As a mother myself, it was humbling to hear the simplicity of their requests -- “I want to be able to read my child’s report card at school.” “I want to be able to speak to my child’s doctor, and read their prescriptions.” “I want to know how to fill out a renter’s application.” As we talked further I learned that many of these parents had lived in the United States for years, some of them for over two decades, and no-one had ever reached out to them to assist them in the daunting task of learning English.
Despite all of this, I’m so thankful to know that even when society overlooks hospitality to the newcomer, we serve a God who hears and responds to the very real needs of the immigrant. Part of Israel’s calling was to remember the long way the Lord had lead them out of Egypt and through the wilderness (Deut. 8:2). This emphasis on remembering was not just to remind Israel of his faithfulness in times of hardship -- for their sake, but it was to remind them that they were once slaves and immigrants too. Israel’s suffering was to produce in them a sensitivity towards those who were enduring their same struggle -- to produce a spirit of compassion, kindness and hospitality in their new land. We can’t forget this story, because it’s our story too. It’s a human story. Let’s not forget that we were all once immigrants in this land.
I’m beyond thankful for the opportunity to serve at Madison ELL. Learning a new language can easily be accompanied by fear and anxiety. However, it’s been refreshing watching walls come down as these dynamic parents laugh and gain confidence in their new language. The Lord has been healing me through this experience and reminding me who He is, and how much he loves when his children freely respond to those in need. The Lord will meet us in this type of endeavor every time. There is an unrestricted, open invitation to love freely with the gifts God has given us. So, let us love and give freely, with joy, and slowly He will heal our land.