Caroline Greaves shares with 2:19 some of the joys and challenges of running English classes in Croydon.
When and how did you become interested in English Language teaching?
I’ve been interested in English language teaching since doing a gap year with BMS World Mission in 2002, working on the ‘Circus of Hope’ in Brazil. This was an evangelistic tent mission reaching out to poor communities. I got a little taste of teaching English to children there and this love of other cultures and people groups went on into my university days at Bournemouth, where I got involved with welcoming international students as part of the Christian Union and linked with Friends International. I had the privilege of I had the privilege of befriending and sharing the gospel with a South Korean student, and giving her her first Bible. She gave her life to Jesus, went on to Bible School in London and then returned to South Korea with the gospel! It wasn’t until 2014 when my family moved to Croydon to help plant Croydon Vineyard church that the time and circumstances came to re-train and do a part-time CELTA, which I had had on my heart to do for a long time. It is amazing how we can serve God with the things we love doing already. I had in mind that teaching English would be a fantastic way of sharing the good news with internationals in Croydon. And just at the same time as my husband and I were asked to begin working for the church as Community Pastors, the Refugee Crisis began, and we felt sure that teaching English would be an ideal way for outreach.
What is Croydon like and how has this influenced the kind of classes you have started?
Croydon is home to the Home Office, the country’s immigration headquarters. This is where internationals must go to renew visas or claim asylum and so on. We have the world on our doorstep! There are at least 85 different languages spoken in Croydon. Many people seeking asylum stay temporarily in Croydon before they are rehomed somewhere in the country, if granted refugee status. As with many internationals, some are only with us temporarily, so we keep our classes quite informal and conversational based, so that we can place relationship building high on the agenda as well as bringing the gospel and God’s words of life into people’s hearts. We tend to spend the first hour with a skills focus around a particular theme. Then after coffee and snacks, the second hour focuses on speaking practice, bringing a Bible story/discussion using the target language of that lesson. We find the students eager to talk about Jesus and share experiences.
You don’t have a church building, so when and where do you hold your lessons, and how did this come about?
After looking into various cafes and halls for hire, we heard of a Christian contact at the council. When we got in touch, we discovered he was the manager of the Welfare Department! So we had much favour from the council- he wanted to meet us and give us the council’s classroom based in Croydon Central Library for free every week! Similarly the Library management were glad, because gaining more volunteer groups at the library helps them with their statistics and in turn keeps their funding coming. Both the council and library are keen for us to make more use of the space as and when we have time and resources to do so.
How has the separate venue affected friendship building? Have there been any connections made between the English classes and church life?
My family moved to Croydon as part of a small team, planting Croydon Vineyard church three years ago. It’s been amazing seeing the church grow and we’ve made many good friendships, one of our closest being with a Brazilian guy who joined the church very early on. He became our lodger/family member two years ago. We are now just beginning to see students from the English class coming to church on a Sunday, or for a meal midweek, or being visited by various church members.
What has been the most encouraging thing for you in this process and what has been the most challenge?
The biggest challenge for me was, and usually is(!), trusting God that he would answer my prayers and bring people to the class! My vision was to reach refugees, asylum seekers, and those in need. So for me, a high point with the class happened several weeks ago when I was setting up the room with the team and had a phone call from someone, saying her and a friend were walking to the class and needed directions. When they arrived they shared how they had walked 50 minutes to get there as they had no money. They were asylum seekers staying in a hostel temporarily until their cases had been decided; they had both fled abusive relationships and it was not safe for them to return to their husbands in the UK, or back to their home countries. The English lesson that week was based around love, as it was Valentine’s week. We shared verses about God’s love for them during some reading and speaking practice. They came to church the following Sunday and requested Bibles in their own languages. Members of the church rallied with car lifts, welcomed them, visited them in their hostel to pray for them when they were unwell, and are accompanying one of them to their case hearing this week. For me, it has been such a privilege sharing in these ladies’ lives and also watching how the church has welcomed them with open arms. I believe this will be the beginning of many others from the hostel coming along, and it’s my prayer that as these precious people are housed around the country, we can link them in with local churches in whichever communities the Home Office send them to. In terms of gathering students, I’ve found that flyers/posters in various library and supermarket notice boards have brought people in, as well as the Facebook page. We also advertise for it when we serve free tea and coffee outside the Home Office each week, and in the Refugee Day Care.
Since this interview in 2017, the classes have seen record numbers of up to 50 students! The other development is that they now have Discovery Bible Studies following each lesson, which are optional.
Caroline writes: “We tend to get between 10 – 14 learners staying, from all faiths and nationalities, exploring the Bible together over a free lunch. We have also begun a Discovery Bible Study of a Wednesday evening in our home over dinner. We have a ‘monthly munch’ meal for any students visiting church for their first time, to then come and share a meal together.
We have seen this year 4 English class students do the Alpha course, then afterwards didn’t want to stop, so are doing a follow-on Alpha in one of their own homes, led by someone from church, where they’re going through the material more slowly, because of the language barrier causing them to not quite catch everything the first time round. The person hosting this was our first ever English class student (he is now an ex-student, as he is working). He invited Jesus into his heart last week! GOD IS GOOD!”