Saturday, November 3, 2012

"This is America!"

The other night at ESL class, two of my students were talking, and though I didn't catch the context, I heard the boy say to the girl, "Is o.k. Remember: dis eez Ah-meh-ree-cah!" The girl started to protest or give some sort of exception, but the boy stopped her - put his hand up, closed his eyes, shook his head, and in a mock-solemn voice that reminded me of an addictions counselor, he said slowly, "No, yoo don' un-der-stan'. Dis... eez... Ah-meh-ree-cah. So no problem. No worry. Is ok. Dis eez Ah-meh-ree-cah."

I couldn't help but think of dancing mice in that classic American Tail: , and I just cracked up. I love that, whatever the issue was, its comfort and resolution was in the fact that "This is America." 'Nuff said.

Later on in class, I gave a reading response assignment for everyone to do on their own, and the boy seemed distracted and bored, so I asked him if he was finished already. "Oh, Miss Connie," he said in surprise, "We do alone? I think we do together!" I said, "No sir, we will check together later, but first you need to do your own work - in-dee-pen-dent! After all... this is Ah-meh-ree-cah!" Which led to the whole class laughing and mimicking: "Dis eez Ah-meh-ree-cah!"

I think we have a new class motto. :)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

trudging through legal jargon

Sometimes I think the term "missionary" might be synonimous with "miscellaneous servant." It seems like every day affords me a new, unexpected, and thrilling challenge. At first, it knocks me off my feet like an ill-placed banana peel, but then I remember that the Lord is my strength and my song, and I delight to get back up and allow him to teach me, grow me, and be glorified through such an unlikely character as myself.

Today I can add one more thing to the resume... I'm just not really sure what to call it! Case manager? Government assistance assistant? Social worker? Tax payer advocate? Legal jargon translator?

My student came this morning at 10:00, and I was prepared to teach her English - something I feel pretty well equipped and qualified to do. She was prepared for me to help her apply for a job, fill out tax forms, report income for food stamps, battle the idiocy of the Medicaid office, and apply for a different phone service. I am SO unqualified for any of this. Though I have gotten somewhat prolific in some of these areas over the past year or two, it is only as a single person. Try doing all this for a widowed mother of three (one with special needs) who speaks little English and lived many years in a refugee camp, and it becomes ten times more complicated! My reflex was to run to my dad or the nearest patient and kind and experienced adult I could find... whichever was closer. Then I took a minute, as I surveyed the pile of legal forms and notices that she plopped before me, and took a slow and deep breath and prayed for divine understanding. And the adventure began.

Together we consulted her little notepad of her family's private information, then googled some legal jargon, then followed the IRS's papertrail through forms for dependents, child credit, etc. We had some questions, but we wrote them all down and found out where to go to get the answers, so she's on a mission this afternoon, and hopefully by tomorrow every blank will be filled. I don't know if it made her nervous that I wasn't experienced, or if she was comforted that it really was that confusing even to an English speaker. But we were able to laugh together and cheer with every form we completed.

For those of you out there who do know how to navigate the complexities of tax forms and Medicaid requirements... please pray about using your knowledge to serve and assist internationals in your community. It is difficult to find employees in government programs who are patient and compassionate toward speakers of other languages. Even if you do not speak other languages, use pictures, diagrams, gestures, and simple words to decipher these hard-to-read notices and forms for them. The fact that you will take the time to sit with an international person and trudge with them through it all will speak volumes about your love and care for them, and will bless and encourage them tremendously.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An ESL Memory verse

This month my Sunday ESL class has been learning Psalm 67:2: "My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock and my refuge."

The first time we read it together, there were some words they didn't understand, which led to them not understanding the truth of it, so we spent the month of October breaking it down... it was such a powerful study, even for me, that I wanted to share it with you. Sometimes words are so familiar to us that we don't take the time to chew on them and experience their richness...

Week 1: He is my mighty rock and my refuge!

This is a rock. Mighty means very strong and powerful. A mighty rock is like a mountain or cliff or boulder, that does not move or change. God is my mighty rock - he does not leave me or fail me or ever change!

Many of my students are refugees, and said that being a refugee means leaving a dangerous place to come to a safe place. So I taught that a "refuge" is a safe place. God is my safe place, and I can run to him and find help and protection and life.

Week 2: My salvation

If you are drowning, and someone throws you a line, they save you from dying. We are all drowning - dying - because of sin. We cannot save ourselves - we need someone to save us. The person or thing that saves me is called "my salvation." God is the only one who can save me from sin and death - he is my salvation! (Cool note: That week our Bible story was about Abraham and Isaac... and the sacrificial ram!)

Week 3: My honor

Honor is the good inside of you. When you do good for others, you say good things, you think good thoughts, and your intentions are good, you are honorable. But because of sin, we cannot have honor on our own... it is only through God and from God that there is anything good in us.

Week 4: ...Depend on God...

Our visual this week was this: my classroom assistant stood next to me and leaned heavily on my chair. As long as I was strong and stayed in one place, she would be able to stand. But if I moved away... she would fall. She couldn't stand without me holding her up. If we try to stand without the Lord, we will fall. We cannot save ourselves, and we cannot do any truly good thing on our own - we must ask God to do these things. That is what the verse means: "My salvation and my honor depend on God..." And why can we depend on him? Because he is mighty, he is our rock, and he is our refuge.

Our Bible lesson in week 4 was about Esau exchanging his birthright for a bowl of stew. We discussed the value and lasting implications of stew versus an inheritance, and we asked the question, "What is the most important thing to you?" Many of the students said it is God. I reminded them of the story of Abraham and Isaac and asked, "What are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of God?" And then I reminded them of Esau and Jacob and asked, "What do you value so much that you would exchange the gift of God for it?" One student said, "Nothing! I would not give up my gift from God!" When asked why, she said: "Because my life depends on God..." and others picked it up too: "He is my salvation..." "He is my honor..." "He is my mighty rock!" "He is my refuge!"

With a powerful response like that, who needs to teach or preach more? All I could say, in overwhelmed awe and wonder, was: "Amen... Amen."