A Journey of Strategies

by Ray Withers March 2

The outreach to immigrants, South Philadelphia English at Kirkbride (SPEAK), serves its adults utilizing ESL strategies to teach digital English lessons, verses, and stories from the Bible. Over the past year, we have experienced quite a journey.

Since the original ESL program for adults at the Kirkbride School (February 2019-March 2020) was taking place during school hours, we were not permitted to share our Christian faith. We couldn’t pray with our adults or include Bible stories in the curriculum. March 10, 2020 was our last day of classes at Kirkbride, due to the pandemic, but we were about to experience a significant turning point in this outreach. In April 2019, SPEAK’s teachers initiated the ESL Library online classes, employing leveled, digital lessons. Also, we began to ask our adults if we could share a verse at the end of each lesson and pray for them and their families; they were very receptive. This seven-week online semester was followed by a five-week online Bible story study. The curriculum, based on a children’s Bible story book, consisted of page spreads with illustrations and simplified text. Our adults’ responses were very positive.

Since caring for our adults’ spiritual needs is surely part of the mission, you should know about Anne. She was my intermediate adult when we initiated ESL Library online classes. At the end of each week’s ESL lesson, I asked Anne if I could share a sequence of verses from Psalm 91 with her. At this point, Philadelphia was shut down, and I believed that I could provide some comfort from God’s Word. As we worked our way through verses 2-13, we clarified essential vocabulary, such as refuge, fortress, snare of the fowler, pinion, shield, and buckler, with discussion and illustrations. Then we focused on stalks, waste, recompense, as well as tread on, and trample underfoot. What a privilege, one on one, to discuss God’s jurisdiction over any pestilence, his faithfulness, his promises to those who belong to him. Doing this study took extra time, but week by week, Anne affirmed my teaching of these verses, as well as my closing in prayer, thanking God for his vast provision, and asking him to care for Anne and her family. 

Another aspect of our mission is showing our adults patience and understanding. Esperanza, a pre-beginner adult who had received one-on-one tutoring when we were meeting at the Kirkbride School, agreed to join the ESL Library online program. To me, this was a very impressive decision for her to make; Esperanza had worked hard to learn English at Kirkbride, and now she was willing to grapple with the technology involved with continuing her studies. I believed that she would benefit most by continuing in a one-on-one setting, and so just she and I met weekly. Although Esperanza did not show her face on the screen, I could tell by her thanks and chuckles that she was comfortable with the digital lessons and pleased with her progress. When I taught the verse of the week, she agreed that I would read it in Spanish, and she would read it in English. Before praying for her and her family, I asked her several who-what-why questions about the verse–sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish–and Esperanza grew to participate confidently in these conversations.

Isn’t it amazing how the Lord has used a pandemic to open doors for us to more fully serve our SPEAK adults?

SPEAK is the Project of the Month for March 2021. During this month, please consider giving online, or by giving with a designation to the Project of the Month.

© 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Ray Withers. © 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org