Every 9 am on Wednesdays at the Vineyard Community Center, I lead an ESL women’s conversation hour for students who are interested in practicing their English-speaking skills and in building community. In this space, we talk, cry, laugh, and celebrate with one another.
We talk about the importance of being kind to each other despite our religious and cultural differences.
We cry listening to each other’s life struggles. Recently, one of our students lost her child at 35 weeks pregnant. Another shared that she couldn’t attend her dad’s funeral because she didn’t have the resources to fly home. And another lady shared that she has not seen any of her family members for over 5 years.
We laugh at our pronunciation mistakes. We may not always understand each other, but when the person sharing is laughing we all laugh together.
We celebrate when one of them is able to fill out a job application for the first time by herself. Or when another, after having many job rejections, finally gets a phone call that she has the job. Or when another passes her GED test and begins taking classes at Columbus state.
Like them, I came to this country to find better opportunities that my home country hadn’t given me. Getting this job at Vineyard Columbus was like winning the lottery. I came to the US to teach Spanish at a Christian School in a Mennonite community. This community welcomed me, embraced me, empowered me, and supported me when my dad passed away. I wasn’t alone when circumstances were challenging. I found people who were patient enough to carry on a conversation with me with my heavy accent, and who drove me to Columbus, and who helped me to find a family doctor. I noticed when people would avoid me because they didn’t know how to say my name and feared they would say it wrong.
As a church we are starting a new series based on the book of Ruth. The book of Ruth starts with the story of a family that migrates to a different land to find better opportunities for themselves but instead find great sorrow. However, God meets them in the midst of loss and lament, weaving a story much bigger than they could imagine.
As we begin studying the book of Ruth together, I invite you to do it with a humble and learning posture, remembering that in a way we are all immigrants. May we keep our hearts open to the ways God is inviting us to embrace our immigrant neighbors.
There are many practical ways we can help our immigrant neighbors. Be a listening ear for those who don’t understand how things work and have many questions. Drive your neighbor to their doctor's appointment. Invite the newly arrived family you met at church last Sunday to your house for pizza or coffee. Teach English at one of our campuses, or participate in one of our ESL conversation groups.
Slow down when you speak to people who do not speak English as their first language.
What will you do to embrace the immigrant neighbor this New Year?