Mississippi Girls JumpstartESL Ministry
By Nick Smirniotopoulos
Media Missionary in Oaxaca, Mexico
Mississippi and Mexico may not have much in common, but three girls sought to bridge the culture gap with their native language.
The girls, under the leadership of IMB Missionaries Jeff and
Liesa Holeman and John and Jenny McLamb,
taught English classes to local seminary students, church members and children
from a nearby village for six weeks.
Teaching English provided opportunities for those like
Kaylee Morgan, a junior at Ole Miss, who don't have foreign language
proficiency to minister effectively abroad.
"I'm not a good Spanish speaker in the slightest," Morgan said honestly. "Teaching English gave me an opportunity to connect with students and build relationships in my heart language."A typical class consisted of basic conversation pieces, like "What is your name?", pronunciation and application of learning through Bible stories. Students learned the creation story, the fall of man, the faithfulness of Abraham and others.
"It was a really good experience for me," Barthel said. "I learned that teaching English is a really good way to build relationships with people and meet some of their needs tangibly."
In addition to teaching formal English classes, the girls participated in "intercambios" -- cross-cultural conversation partners learning a second language -- with natives, presenting an opportunity to share the hope of Jesus with those who may not normally hear about it.
"It takes a long time to build relationships with students, but at the same time you can do a lot in a short amount of time," Barthel said.
The girls developed a special relationship with one of their intercambio partners. On most Monday evenings, they would find themselves at her house, sitting in rope chairs and eating "arroz con leche" (rice with milk).
The girls got to share the story of Zacchaeus, among others, with her to show that Jesus has the ability to transform hearts.
"Yes, I see that (Zacchaeus) put his confidence in Jesus Christ," she said. For
Ashley Crane, a recent graduate of Mississippi
College, the experience helped her realize that you can effectively minister
cross-culturally without language proficiency.
"As long as you're trying to share his word, he's going to open the door for you," she said. "Even though there's the language barrier, God still moves."
Morgan shared doubts of her effectiveness prior to coming, but her experience in Mexico led her to a similar conclusion to Crane.
"I've learned that God really is the promise maker and the promise keeper," she said confidently. "He's going to put people in our paths that we can communicate with. He was faithful to put people in my life that I got to have some very real conversations with."
For much of their work, however, the girls merely planted the seed. For many people they've formed relationships with, they had to say goodbye when it seemed like they had just begun.
They left only a week after one of their friends started reading the Bible. They may not get to see him grow in his understanding, but they have confidence in God's ability to work in others after them. In fact, there is already a team in place to take over where they left off.
"Even though we may not get to see the fruit of our work before we leave, we may be that number seven in a line of 15 before that person comes to Christ," Crane said. "Are we willing to be that number, no matter what number it is?"