Immigrants want to learn English!

by Hannah Hume, Bhutanese Teens Coordinator


“If they are going to live in America, they should at least learn English.”

Many of us have probably heard this statement spoken at some point or another. In fact, I can think of one at least one time that very statement left my own lips in high school. Now, several years later, I’m embarrassed to admit this because it reveals how quickly I can speak on topics of which I am quite naive. In this case, it was the topic of immigration.

Back in high school, I had never actually known an immigrant, nor had I investigated what God’s word had to say about how His people should treat foreigners. I was merely reacting out of frustration and parroting a blanket statement. However, my perspective has shifted a lot since then. So, what changed it? Talking to people and reading the Bible.     

Two days ago, I sat at my kitchen table with some Bhutanese teenagers, and I asked them what the four biggest problems facing Bhutanese teens were. The first one on their list was English. They told me that English hindered them in school, stopped them from getting summer jobs, and often strained the relationships between them and their parents. Their inability to speak and read English well was of great concern to them.

In fact, the majority of immigrants and refugees I have met want to learn English and to become an insider within American society. I have sat down with refugee students from Bhutan and Somalia and listened to their frustration as they struggle over homework. I have listened to a Latina co-worker’s anger at being called a foreigner by a customer because she mispronounced a word. But learning English is difficult. The types of jobs that are often available to those with limited English don’t usually have schedules that allow them to easily attend language classes. Sometimes the student-teacher ratio in classes can make it difficult to learn quickly, and people who don’t speak or read English have a difficult time accessing a drivers license or navigating public transportation to class.

When I uttered those words years ago, “Why don’t they just learn English,” I had no idea of the obstacles people coming to America from other countries face because I had never actually talked with an immigrant. I didn’t know that the answer to my statement was, “They are trying”. I also didn’t feel any obligation to welcome or encourage newcomers because I had never read verses like Leviticus 19:34You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”   

At Mission Adelante, loving foreigners is something we believe is both important and biblically mandated. If you have never investigated what the Bible says about foreigners, we invite you to join us in a 40 day verse challenge--one that most of our staff has taken themselves. Or, if you can’t think of one immigrant whom you could call a friend, we challenge you to expand your social circles. It could be as simple as learning the name of the immigrant who cleans the office where you work, inviting your child's immigrant classmate over for a playdate, or getting to know your immigrant neighbor up the street. My world has changed for the better through the influence of my own Bhutanese friends, and I would love for you to experience that, too.

 In other news
  • We have had a great first week of kids camp with our friends from Christ Church Anglican! Kids from both the Latino and Bhutanese outreaches participate. Pray for us as we head into the next two weeks of kids camp with our friends from Shoal Creek and Emmanuel Baptist. 
Prayer requests
  • Debate began this week on a Senate bill to reform immigration. Its passage would open many opportunities for most of our immigrant neighbors.  Please pray for a common sense, moral debate to guide this policy discussion, and remember to pray for our senators by name.  
Current Needs
  • DVDs appropriate for K-3rd graders to watch while waiting for bus transportation home from Kids Club on Tuesday nights.  For more information, or if you can help contact Kristen Maxwell at kristenm@missionadante.org 
  • We need several 4x8 foot ivory-colored cloth tablecloths to be used for events at the building. If you are able to provide these, please contact Jenny Dunn at jennyd@missionadelante.org.