In graduate school, I was required to tutor a person learning English as a Second Language (ESL). I decided to talk with the local ESL teacher, and she allowed me to sit in a few of her classes. I befriended a beautiful woman from Vietnam. She and her husband owned a convenient store. Her husband spoke English fairly well because he ran the cash register and had to communicate with the customers. However, since she spent most of her time in the back of the store taking care of her home and family, her English was underdeveloped.
We met a few times before class and decided that I would start visiting her weekly at her convenient store. I eagerly wanted to help my new friend with her English, and I would try different methods of teaching her during each of our first sessions. Once, I brought a children’s book with me and read it to her, but I could tell it didn’t really make sense. Another time I brought the game Scrabble, but that was too advanced. I tried several other activities and curriculum, but none of them seemed to help her communicate better.
Finally, I found myself sitting with my friend face-to-face, listening to stories of her life and to the thoughts bubbling up in her heart. I was patient with her broken English and gave her loads of positive verbal and nonverbal cues. I allowed her plenty of time to collect her thoughts and express her feelings in a language so different from her own. As the weeks and months passed by, my friend’s language improved and her confidence in communicating greatly increased. She felt comfortable talking with me, and her sense of security advanced her English language skills.
One of the stories my friend told me in her much improved English made a deep impression on me. The story took place when she was pregnant with her twin boys four years earlier. She was new to America and she didn’t know any English. She needed to make a doctor’s appointment at the large city hospital, but she wound up weeping outside on one of the building’s steps. She couldn’t read any of the signs. She couldn’t speak with any of the employees. She didn’t know where to go; and she felt lost, alienated and desperate for someone to understand and support her.
And I wonder if many new Christians feel like this. They begin a relationship with Christ and are suddenly plunged into this strange and amazing world of salvation. They don’t know the Christian lingo and they have trouble expressing their thoughts and feelings about faith. They may feel lost, alienated and desperate for someone to understand and support them. All they really need is someone to come alongside of them and help them find their footing in this new walk of faith.
I think the best thing we can do for new Christians is to sit with them—face-to-face—and listen to them with encouragement and reassurance. We can offer them the abundant grace and mercy that God has given us, so they can learn to feel comfortable and confident in their faith. Before all the curriculum, activities and expectations, we need to help them establish their security in Christ. And the best way to do this is to show them the same love Christ shows us.
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13.34-35 NLT).