I’m Not Qualified
It’s Thursday afternoon again. It’s almost time for me to go.
But should I go? Do I even want to?
I volunteer as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher each Thursday with a local group of Christians who want to share the love of Jesus with others in our community in practical ways.
Teaching free English classes is one way to love the foreigner as ourselves (Leviticus 19:34).
We’ve all been a foreigner somewhere, in some way. Then, as now, we needed others to treat us with compassion, with dignity, with attention.
I’ve wanted to teach ESL for awhile, ever since three short-term mission trips over three summers to El Salvador and Guatemala. I practice my Spanish a few minutes every day at home with Duolingo. I use Spanish sporadically at Manna House when I need to translate, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But of course I speak English fluently. It’s my native tongue.
So I’m ready to teach it, right?
Just because we know something doesn’t mean we’re qualified to teach it. That’s what I hear in my head every Thursday.
That’s how I attempt to talk myself out of going each week.
The Voices Say . . .
What voices keep you from showing up?
In my own language, I clearly hear these voices say:
- “You’re too tired.”
- “You’re not cut out for this.”
- “You don’t know what you’re doing.”
- “You should let someone else do it better.”
- “You already have too much to do.”
That’s when God reminds me of the agreement we share:
“Just show up.”
He’s been telling me this the past seven years: Just show up. When I feel too shy or too afraid or too lazy, he says if I’ll just show up, he’ll show up, too. And he will do the heavy lifting once we get there.
So I get in my car. One more time. And I go. Just this time, I’ll do it again.
I’ll just show up. But God will have to do the rest.
How God Shows Up
The women in my classroom open their workbooks.
When I feel nervous, I remember that they’re more nervous than me. I see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices. They have more to lose, and more to gain, by learning English. They have a lot riding on these lessons.
But they are also more courageous than me. They have shown up in a foreign country to create a better life for themselves and their children. Some were fleeing violence; others, poverty. Some were following a spouse. Or seeking more opportunity.
They dare to show up as humble.
- They show up at the doctor’s office when their baby is sick, knowing they’ll struggle to understand instructions they’ll hear.
- They show up at the store to buy food, wondering what all the labels mean and if they’re calculating the cost correctly.
- They show up at school for the parent/teacher conference, aware of the effort it takes to comprehend the teacher’s words.
- They show up at work for their employers, despite worries about having confusing conversations with co-workers.
And they show up at ESL class, thinking that they’ll sound foolish for not pronouncing “th” and “y” correctly or for knowing only a few English words.
And I question if *I* should show up to speak a language I’ve known since birth? As one with power and privilege? As one holding the gift of words they so desperately need?
Maybe it’s not about me at all. Maybe it’s about God. About God wanting to show up.
- To provide knowledge to these adults seeking to know more.
- To welcome those who often hear “you’re unwanted” here.
- To show love just by showing up.
Maybe the Lord shows up to the foreigner (Psalm 146:9) when we show up to them.
This You Can Do
Our class is over for tonight. My five students had repeated pronunciations after me (“participate”, “about”, “talkative”). They practiced connecting sentences with “and” or “but.” They asked good questions of me, some I could answer easily (what is “laid-back”?) and many I struggled with (what’s the difference between “I wish” and “I want”?).
I still feel inadequate as their teacher.
Even when you’ve been speaking it your entire life, English is a difficult language to learn and to teach. But Jim is excited about the latest curriculum we’ve just begun. He says I can take the new book home to get familiar with it. I’m excited.
I tell myself, “Maybe next week I’ll do better.”
But improving as a teacher or not, I remind myself of the main thing: Just show up again.
I realize God can do this work without me; he can help these beautiful hermanas without my help (Esther 4:14). But he’s inviting me to participate in what he’s doing right here.
There are many things I can’t show up for. And many that I just don’t show up for, even when I can. But this, for now, I can do.
- I want to show up for God.
- Show up for my new friends.
- Show up for myself.
So for now, I will just show up. I’m always glad when I do.
* * *
Do you ever struggle to just show up? What motivates you to go? Please share in the comments.
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