I got off the train today and walked home through the town centre and out into the suburbs. First I walked past a Nepalese Gurkha veteran in his electric wheelchair, followed at an appropriate distance by his wife. Passing through the taxi rank, I scanned the long line of taxi drivers – dozens of east Asian and west African drivers. Onto the main road out of town I waited in vain to hear any English as I counted six Polish Delis, a Jamaican food-store, a Turkish grocers, seven Halal meat outlets and a Portuguese café.
That description could be true for most of us as we walk through our local towns and cities, and increasingly even our villages. One of the most attractive things about living in a UK town is the hugely multicultural community that we are part of.
Following David and Maura’s return from missions in East Africa in 2007, it wasn’t long before they realised that the Lord was presenting local UK churches with yet more ways to engage in global mission. When their sending church asked them to head up the church’s international outreach, Bridges was conceived and born.
For most people coming to a new country, the first six months after arrival is the critical period, determining how well the integration process takes place. However, most government assistance is only offered after the person has been able to demonstrate that they have been legally resident for MORE than six months. Whilst waiting, people adapt to their new circumstances and learn how to navigate multicultural Britain without learning English. Ineligible or waiting for state provision, many new immigrants become increasingly isolated, lonely and dependent on their mother-tongue communities.
Even when the government-backed schemes kick in there is a strong leaning towards formal, assessment based English learning with demonstrable targets and goals. All good stuff, but there is an evident gap: a clear window of opportunity and a niche which local churches can fill. Church are perfectly positioned to teach informal conversation classes – even a few days after somebody arrives in the country.
At one Bridges session a mother brought her son to register direct from the airport! He looked a bit surprised, as were we, but was so glad to have met friends on his very first day in the UK.
Church-based English conversation classes have huge potential to change lives. Students are supported in their process of integration into the culture and customs of UK life; helped as they prepare for work and are also given the simple joy of speaking English together with friends.
Relationships of trust develop automatically in the classroom. Bridges teachers and helpers enjoy the privilege of developing some wonderful relationships with students and their families. The gospel is shared in both advertised events which may take place off the back of classes, and also informally over tea/coffee in homes. Unlike secular Brits, people from most other countries are only too happy to talk about faith and think that it is completely normal. What a wonderful opportunity to tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.
Agnieszka Tennant, Associate Editor of Christianity Today, says:
“Teaching English may well be the 21st century’s most promising way to take the gospel to the world. It’s the globalized world’s equivalent of a cup of water for the thirsty.” (The Ultimate Language Lesson. Christianity Today. December 9, 2002).
She goes on to testify to the power of Christ’s love brought through the common language of English “I was one of many young Poles wooed by God in the world’s most popular and powerful language. Eager to wake from a communism-induced malaise, my generation … studied English hungrily. Soon after the Iron Curtain lifted in 1989, we abandoned the foreign, yet eerily familiar, Russian language. Instead, we took up the tongue, it seemed, of Liberty herself: the sensuous, many-idiomed, supple English. Along with countless numbers of learners worldwide, I was in for a surprise: many of our teachers from English-speaking countries were believers in Christ. The words they taught us led to the Word. The Word took on flesh, and dwelt among us. The English- speaking Jesus, not democracy, turned out to be our salvation.”
Can we help you?
Many UK churches find themselves in multicultural communities. Members may have a burden to reach out to those around them but perhaps don’t know where to start.
We are very happy to talk with individuals, pastors and leadership teams who would like to investigate the possibilities of starting English conversation classes or something similar.
We have some simple ‘set-up’ documents, which will help you to get started and we would love to support you in those first stages of vision planning and set up, and then through the early months of piloting your classes and finally, God willing, in getting them established.