By K. Faith Morgan
When Jeff Sheriff and his wife, Laura, agreed to open their Dallas/Ft. Worth area home for an ESL ministry to internationals a year ago, they didn’t quite know what to expect. “It was new for us,” he explained. But the couple stepped out in faith to seek out opportunities and pursue connections. “Before we started we went around the neighborhood handing out cards in Chinese restaurants offering ESL classes and getting the word out,” said Sheriff.
“We are now holding ESL classes for Chinese speaking people, mostly Mandarin, in our home on Sunday evenings. We use Chinese-English Bibles, and so we teach from Bible stories focusing a lot of the creation to Christ,” Sheriff said of the process. “We’ll read a story in Chinese, and then we’ll read it in English and have a discussion about vocabulary words to make sure some of the words that might not be clear are clear to everyone.
“Initially, I did the teaching, but my wife has a master’s degree in education, and she loves to teach, so she’s really good at it, and everybody loves her,” said Sheriff of the Sunday evening class. “It’s a broad age range—I think the oldest student is 75—and a big range of education and economic class, too. It’s everything from unemployed young people to visiting professors with Ph.Ds. I now teach ESL Tuesday nights at church, too, and we have some of the same students.”
The results and relationships built quickly between the class and English tutors.
“Within the first month, God did something really special. We asked everyone to write a story. Their stories—full of broken English and grammatical errors—went something like, ‘I’m very thankful for my new friends who are teaching me about God. I’m thankful to learn how much He loves me and that he sent Jesus for me,’” remembers Sheriff. “It was—it’s making me cry to think about that. We had about 15 students in the room and another 10 leaders, and there were three or four stories in a row that were very similar to that. The theme was them being impacted for the first time by the gospel. They see that there’s something different about us—that we really care about them.”
For many of the students, it’s a sense of community more than the English lessons that keeps them coming back said Sheriff. “I think the biggest impact on most of them is seeing that we’re there for them every week, and we really care about them. A lot of them are lonely.” But beyond a sense of belonging—or even English skills—the Sheriffs are most excited about the response they have seen to the gospel.
“We only have a small handful of believers at this point. We baptized three since last August in our pool. We already have some sharing their faith via telephone and the Internet with their friends and family back home. That’s pretty fun to watch,” said Sheriff. “I think the next step would be to start doing some discipleship in small groups and then group worship. I’d love to see 100 house churches. That would be the end goal. There are a lot of Chinese in the Dallas/Fort worth area—maybe a couple hundred thousand, plenty here to start some house churches.”
Refugees and internationals come to North America seeking security, opportunity and prosperity. Genuine friendships offered by the church can help refugees and internationals get familiar with their surroundings and stay safe in their new home. Learn more about how to engage refugee and international communities.
Published October 12, 2017