REFLECTIONS: WORCESTER, MA
(Liz is a native of Florida and graduated from Florida State University).
I came to Worcester knowing only a handful of Spanish vocabulary: about the same speaking level as the average 5 year old who watches Dora the Explorer. After nine months in Worcester I have only learned the word for shark: tiburón. So I was a little unsure that I would be able to teach a class of ESL. But since I wasn’t asked to teach a class of ESL until five minutes before that class began, I didn’t have too much time to be worried about it. I walked in, set my things on the desk, flipped through the book and asked the students uncertainly, “So, do you want to start with the vocabulary?”. With pens in hand ready to take notes they just said, “You’re the teacher.” I was completely intimidated. I wanted to correct them: I am not a teacher. I haven’t had any training. I don’t know how to teach English, I only know how to speak it!
I may have had my doubts, but my students didn’t appear to have any. They believed that I could teach them the difficult verb tenses, confusing grammar rules, and mysterious idioms. They greeted me each class with “Good morning Teacher!” and left saying, “Thank you for the class Teacher.” One of my students even brought me – not just one – but a bagful of apples every time we met. They were so eager and ready to work so hard to learn English and I was so touched by the faith they had in me to help them that I didn’t want to let them down. Before long I found myself enjoying the class and looking forward to Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Not because the past unreal conditional tense was so interesting to talk about, but because I had a front row seat to watching my students as they steadily worked closer to a goal that is so important to them: speaking English fluently. I am honored to have had even a small part in that process.
I am reminded of a quote by St. Philip Neri: “Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.” Working up the nerve to teach a small class of ESL may not seem like a very big triumph but like a lot of things this year it took a certain amount of trust. Trust in myself; that I was capable of more than I thought and more importantly, trust in God; that he truly would fit me for the work he asked of me.
(Afton is a native of Michigan and graduated from St. Mary's University in Notre Dame, IN).
Serving in Worcester these last two months, I have met so many people that are worthy of at least a one-page reflection in the AMA newsletter; everyone has taught me something, everyone has shown me the face of God in different ways. It’s really quite a challenge to narrow it down. In fact, I don’t think I can, so I’ll just tell you about the most recent person I met, if you keep in mind that I get to meet people like this almost every day.
On Wednesday mornings, I go to the food pantry at Saint Peter’s parish where we do most of our work. (On other days we teach ESL, we mentor, we help out with youth group and confirmation classes, among many other things.) Well, I was working at the food pantry this week, doing my job of taking tickets and handing out groceries in exchange for smiles and thank-you’s offered in different languages, when I was approached by a scruffy-looking black man. He was dressed in ragged clothes, his hair was wild and unkempt, he was missing his two front teeth and he had a small piece of paper in his hand.
“Are you a Christian woman?” he asked me. I raised my eyebrows and replied, “yes…?" not knowing exactly what to expect after a question like that and curious of what being a Christian was going to get me into with this guy. At my “yes”, he was immediately at his ease and his body language almost said “Great! You’ll understand this!” He showed me the small piece of paper he was holding and told me it was something that had come to him while he was waiting for his turn to get his food ticket. The paper was blank except for a few lines that said (something to the effect of):
“True love is going through every day, no matter how hard things get or how painful it is, and trusting that God will take care of you, because that’s why He came to this world”.
It was very simple, but profound nevertheless. Where did that faith come from? What made him think to write it down while he was sitting there? Why did he share it with me? It was almost as if he showed me his whole life in that little phrase. He gave me an asking look, as if he wanted my opinion of it. I told him that I definitely agreed, and he gave me a huge toothless smile, almost looked relieved, and told me that he had just found the Church. He had been lost, was wandering, was in trouble, and someone told him to come here. He had found God, and was looking for someone to share Him with, I suppose. He seemed so pleased that I had taken the time to talk to him about what was on his mind, what he thought of his God and to know that he could find some fellowship here. He was undeniably poor, probably had close to nothing and maybe nowhere to live, yet he seemed to radiate contentment as he walked out with his small bag of groceries. He was so happy having nothing but the love and security he found in the Lord and the fellowship he had been able to find at the food pantry that morning.
So far this year, I have learned that when you actually get to spend time with people who are different from you… they don’t seem so different from you. When this man approached me I saw him through the world’s eyes, as his situation would describe him. Soon, though, I opened my eyes and I saw that he was my brother in Christ, and a man that describes his relationship with the Divine as one of “true love”. I can see that I need to work on recognizing my neighbor in the people that I meet. I could have successfully brushed this man off and avoided talking to him if I wanted to, but I’m glad that I didn’t, because in him the Lord provided me with another teacher, another glimpse of His face, and another opportunity to learn to love like the Christian I claim to be.