ESL Evangelism in Vancouver, A Philadelphian Open Door?
Harold Summers, Vancouver, Canada
It is the responsibility of believers to preach the gospel to all the world, Mark 16. 15. Helping newcomers to our country to learn English and using this as an avenue to present to them the glorious gospel of the blessed God, 1 Tim. 1. 11, is one way to meet this responsibility.
Sixteenth Avenue Gospel Chapel in Vancouver first opened its doors in 1947. It was located on the edge of a large development of new homes occupied mainly by families with young children. A large Sunday School was started and was blessed by the Lord with the conversion of many children.
Over the years the demographics changed. The children grew older and the housing stock began to sell, often to recent immigrants to Canada. By the 1980s, a very large number of our neighbours were immigrants, mainly from south-east Asia. The assembly felt that this presented an opportunity for gospel outreach.
By 1992, two missionary sisters returned to our assembly from their former fields of service – Barbara Cummings, from service as a school teacher and administrator at Faith Academy in the Philippines, and Margaret Roberts, a mandarin speaker from youth work in Taiwan. The assembly felt that their complementary gifts and experience could be combined with the help of other believers for an outreach, teaching English as a second language (ESL) and introducing the students to the gospel. This would help us fulfil the great commission of taking the gospel unto the uttermost part of the earth, Acts 1. 8, as well as our responsibility to the stranger among us, Deut. 10. 18-19.
In the context of much prayer, we began. Our programme is both simple and flexible. Classes run from 10 a.m. till noon on Wednesdays and Fridays. Students are grouped according to their capability in the language, and instruction, with emphasis on conversation, continues for an hour. After a coffee break, classes resume with more instruction, and a consideration of a Bible passage.
The interest from the community was very strong. The numbers attending have grown steadily, largely without advertising, and over the years continued to rise towards one hundred. Most of our students are parents (usually mothers) of school age or university age children. We have been humbled and encouraged to be used to reach so many with the gospel.
There are several reasons for their interest. First is a genuine desire to learn the language of their chosen country. This is often encouraged by the requirements of immigration boards. The second is a desire for friends with whom they have things in common. These classes enable them to meet others with similar interests and problems, as well as to meet Christian teachers and helpers who seek to befriend them. A third is that they have time! Those new to a country are not yet booked up by the ‘cares of this world’, which so often keep people from the gospel. In addition, they usually have a great respect for the country they have chosen and the culture that comes along with it. Many realize that the Bible is a major foundation of our culture.
It soon became apparent that many were eager for more Bible instruction. Learning from regular sermons at the chapel was beyond the comprehension of most of these students so we introduced them to ESL Bible Studies. These are conducted on Tuesday afternoons, Wednesday evenings and, at the same time, we have Sunday School classes for children. The topics covered are the gospel, basic Christian living, and basic Bible knowledge.
The response has been as expected. Some have mocked and gone away, others have returned to hear more, and still others, by the grace of God, have believed, as was the case in Athens, Acts 17. 32-34.
It is common for new immigrants to move about, and so we find many of our contacts relocating to other parts of Canada and the world. This gives us a greater turnover than we would like, but the Lord is able to take and to use the word sown.
The interest was great in 1992 when we began this outreach, but it appears to be greater today. Immigration is increasing, and the Syrian refugee crisis is but one illustration. We recently prepared a flyer for distribution to our neighbourhood, looking mainly to increase attendance at our Sunday School but also listing our ESL programs. This was posted on social media by one of our sisters (who was recently saved as a result of this ESL outreach) to encourage some of her friends to attend. The result was overwhelming. There were so many wanting to attend the Wednesday and Friday morning classes that our building could not contain them. Rather than ‘send them away’ we have started similar classes on Tuesday mornings.
There appears to be ‘an open door’ and the Lord has promised that ‘the harvest is plenteous’. Please pray for the Lord’s blessing.