Testimony by Bob Lawrence

Posted by West End Presbyterian Church on

For the last several years, I have had the privilege to participate in West End’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program.   Both the church’s staff and the other volunteers have been a pleasure to team with.  The highlight, however, is the wonderful group of men and women who have attended Bible ESL.  The ages have ranged from 20’s to 70’s or 80’s; the list of their native homes reads like the membership of the United Nations:  Ivory Coast, Nepal, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, Morocco, Myanmar, Venezuela, Cuba, Japan, Afghanistan, Colombia, South Korea, Japan, Congo, Viet Nam, Russia, Iraq, Mexico…you get the picture.  Primarily women. One husband & wife, one mother & son.  Mostly immigrants, legal or not, some wives of businessmen sent to the U.S. by their employers for multi-year assignments.  All wanting to improve or perfect their English. Very few Christians, many Muslims, a few Buddhists, many not devout in their beliefs, at least one committed atheist.

All of these dear people were willing to read selections from the Gospel of Mark and learn grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, spelling, idioms, and the vagaries of English as practiced by Americans.

What began for me as role to teach English using Mark rather than a secular text (this IS a church, after all), was intercepted by the Holy Spirit along the way.  I felt clearly led to depart from simply working on English and to unpack what was behind our readings in Mark.  By the time COVID interrupted our in-person classes, I was teaching “adult Sunday School” to my class with ESL curriculum thrown in!  And none of the students complained or left our program because of this outreach.  One of the Japanese ladies proudly told Heather Glissman, Lori Bowman and me that she had accepted Jesus during a Bible study with a Japanese friend!  Praise the Lord!!

The “parking lot” version of ESL this Spring was renamed Oral English Practice and was based on teaching a handful of Bible stories through oral recitation and drama.  Many of the cultures we deal with are based on oral rather than written communication.  Some of the students have never learned to read or write in their native language, so oral repetition is their normal practice.  This approach fit right into my preferred approach, since I could focus on what the individual stories meant and how they fit into the love story of God, from creation to resurrection.  I made several new friends in the parking lot and continued the relationship with one of my previous students.

How much I have learned about the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the mundane into something powerful if we only accede to His calling.