Summer Reflections 1

It will take some time to process everything that I saw and experienced this summer.  One of the images that stuck in my head is from our time in Paris.  We aren’t big sight-seeing tourists.  We prefer to savor ambiance and look for relational moments with people that tend to stick in our memories longer than what paintings we saw in which museums.  While we did more than our fair share of hoofing it around Paris to see some of the sights, what I appreciated most were those less stressful moments.

Our Thursday in Paris we visited the American Church.  Located on the Left Bank not far from the Musee d’Orsay (our previous stop on that Thursday), the American Church has an interesting history.  We went there because our guidebook told us that every Thursday they host an English conversation class for people to practice their English.  Since my wife and I launched this sort of ministry in Arizona 16 years ago or so (and it’s still going 11 years after our departure!), we thought it would be interesting to stop in.

We didn’t expect to be the celebrities of the evening, but that’s what ended up happening.  The conversation class has no native-English speakers, which shocked both of us.  Everyone there was a native-French speaker trying to learn or improve their English.  There were several people who were unemployed and saw English as an opportunity to improve their chances for employment – an actor, an architect from Iran.  Others were employed and wanted to improve their English to improve their skills in general, whether for their current job or future job.  But they didn’t have any actual English speakers to work with.  So we were an unexpected and very welcome surprise for the group of 20 or so students, ranging in age from late-20’s to probably mid-70’s.

We sweated away in the basement for an hour and a half, meeting fascinating people and rotating through conversations every 3-4 minutes.  We came away reminded that so many people want to learn our language, and Christian congregations can play an important role in that – a role that leads to relationship-building where real conversation can take place and the Gospel can be shared as part of our Christian identity.

But it requires English-speakers who are willing to give of their time because of the larger vision of working with international students.  We come to conversation for many reasons.  Some people simply expect to improve their skills or land a job.  But in the process friendships can be made, and conversation about the things in life that matter most can occur.  Knowing that the Holy Spirit leads and guides those conversations is so encouraging, and allows us to be patient rather than rushing or pushing people.  We remain in contact with many of those people today.

During our time in this sort of outreach in Arizona we developed a network of committed American volunteers who would come each week to sit with the students, befriend them, talk with them, encourage them, and in the process build relationships that were unexpected, and that several times led into discussions of faith and hope that led eventually to baptism.  We hope to begin offering this sort of thing through our congregation in the coming academic year.  If you think this might be a good fit for you or your congregation, drop me a line and I’d be happy to talk with you about different ways that you can be involved in building relationships you might never have imagined.

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