There is a little place in downtown Wheaton where “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40) are served every day. The People’s Resource Center may not look like much on the surface. You might not even notice the old building. But mighty work takes place there each day and night. People in need can enter through its doors and receive food, clothing, education, books, computers, and so much more.
What sort of people are served there? Well, there are many immigrants and refugees trying to make a new life for themselves with dignity. There are native-born Americans who need help finding work, or who need to improve their literacy skills to find a better job. There are people who want to learn English, so they can live and work in the United States. Where are they from? Why are they here? Where do they hope to be? Each one has a story to tell, and the truth is I don’t know much about any of the people who come through those doors. I don’t even know their names. But God does, and He is providing for them through the workers and volunteers at the People’s Resource Center.
When my class visited the PRC last week, I wasn't sure what to expect. I saw the food pantry, the clothes closet, the computer lab, and some of the administrative offices. But the high point of the evening was a visit to an adult ESL class.
We didn’t observe much of the actual class or teaching process. We came in at the end of a discussion of the difference between “how long” and “how often.” The instructor greeted us and introduced us to the students who seemed quite excited to have visitors. I wondered... What would we be doing? What would I be doing?
Well, we were divided into two groups, both the ESL students and the TESOL grad students. I went with four of my classmates into a room across the hall where we sat around a large table with several ESL students. We were given our instructions. No assignments or worksheets. Just...talk.
I found that I had three female ESL students looking expectantly toward me and I thought, I am the native English speaker here, so I probably should be the one to start.
I asked each of them where they live now. They answered. They asked me where I live. That’s how it all began. Before too long I felt as if we were long-time friends. We shared pictures of our kids, talked about their native countries and our local schools here. I may have convinced them attend the St. Charles Scarecrow Festival. It was all good fun, but there was something more important happening. I was learning their stories. These women were not just random ESL students at the PRC. They had stories to tell, and they were very eager to share them.
And this is the beginning of a ministry. The center is not a Christian organization; it does not have any religious affiliation at all. Still I would classify the work they do there as ministry. I’m learning as I go along in my studies that teaching English can be a ministry too.
The People’s Resource Center provides for physical needs as well as the educational needs of the students and non-students. Education is just part of their ministry. If we look to the greatest of teachers, Jesus, we see that he always provided for the needs of those he met: food, healing, water, and kindness. Then he would teach them about God’s kingdom and the way in which they should live.
This is the approach I would use in my future teaching context.
Get to know my students. Come to understand them and their needs. Develop a relationship. Help them to learn English, of course. Pray for them.