Early in September my family was invited over to the home of one of Central’s families to celebrate their daughter’s birthday 1. At one point during the meal my wife brought up the recent spike of families in Palmyra schools who do not speak English as their primary language. This is a new phenomena for the borough, which has had a stable population for decades. Over the years many Palmyran’s have typically either moved into the homes in which they grew up, or into the same neighborhood as their parents. That trend seems to be abating, so there are more properties on the market. As the population has now begun it’s inevitable shift, it will be interesting to see how Palmyra responds.
At any rate, during the conversation I made the statement, “You know, if this really is a trend, Central is going to have to seriously consider running some ESL 2 classes.” There was a general nodding, but nothing more was said. Central has embraced the idea of doing a few things very well, so we tend to chew on new ideas before jumping on board. We don’t often move fast, but we’re learning to walk both deliberately and deeply.
Well, it seems some of my deliberation got a good, swift, poke.
Two weeks ago I was bopping around Central as we awaited worship to begin. I looked up and saw a family peaking around the door. Each people bearing a look which communicated, “I’m not sure where I’m supposed to be, but I think this is the place.” I quickly made my way over to the family 3 and introduced myself. They warmly accepted my greeting and we chatted for a bit. It was immediately obvious the family weren’t native English speakers, but I didn’t have a chance to delve deeper into their background before getting called away to other pastoral matters.
I spoke them again during our worship’s greeting time and was pleased with how many folks were making sure to introduce themselves to this family. As I tried to inquire about what brought them to Central that morning, the wife smiled and said, “We are from Brazil 4.” This was very helpful to me on two levels. First, I knew this family were almost certainly native Portuguese speakers 5. Second, ABCNJ has an excellent relationship with Brazilian Baptists and I got to drop some names with them to see if I got any “pings.” Not only did I hit pay dirt, the husband actually brought up a name of one of our ABCNJ pastors, Simonal Lima. In fact, he said Simonal had recommended Central to him as a place to visit.
Following worship we chatted again and, as an added blessing, I got to invite the family to our “Circle Up” pot luck. Before we headed down Ronnie, the husband, said, “I am a pastor from Brazil.” He struggled searching for a word a short while but then communicated that he’d come to plant a Brazilian church in the area and was looking for a space in which he might do so. During lunch he shared a vision he had of the Delaware River full of people riding jet skies and sailing and playing, but who didn’t have life. He shared how he saw how many people from his country who had come to the United States and knew Jesus, but were like suffocating fish because they didn’t have communities among whom they could worship. I held up one of my images of the Delaware from my phone 6 and said, “You’ve come to help it have breath.” He nodded.
I introduced Ronnie and family to a number of folks from Central and told them of Ronnie’s hopes. To my delight the reactions from folks were overwhelmingly positive. I fully expected this to be the case, but occasionally it’s nice to have expectations met.
During Annual Session I got some more of the scoop on Pastor Ronnie’s goals and vision. In fact, he was in attendance at Annual Session with Rev. Lima and the head of ABCNJ’s Latino Ministries, Rev. Dr. Luciano Marquez. Pastor Ronnie had come hoping restart a mission which had previously existed in a town not too far from Palmyra. He and his family were planning to continue attending Central as they prayed and worked through the potential for the restart. They felt it was important for the folks at Central to get to know them rather than simply showing up and saying, “We want to use your space for a church plant.” Sure enough, today they were once again in worship, and folks at Central are beginning the process of embracing them as part of the family 7.
One thing is certain, however, if we want to help this family in pursing their calling, ESL really going to have to be part of our future.
I’m pretty cool with that.
- Our daughter’s are good friends, this wasn’t a “oh but the pastor must be here” type of thing. I actually don’t like those kinds of moments, to be honest. ↩
- English as a Second Language ↩
- Over the years I have deliberately trained myself to squelch my natural instincts to run and hide. It’s more helpful when visitors arrive. ↩
- The barely-suppressed academic in my finds cross-cultural communication fascinating. Peculiar linguistic idioms do not cross language barriers in a one-to-one ratio. The relationship between the way cultures perceive the world and linguistic idioms really do change the very nature of our communication. ↩
- Gotta get the right language set in Google translate, right? ↩
- The not illegal ones. ↩
- Again, we move deliberately, but there’s a depth to the steady pace. ↩