There are various opinions of what constitutes outreach among churches of all denominations. Often outreach is considered just that, reaching out, or going out to help those in need. Outreach can also have an evangelistic focus, including visiting and serving in other countries among people who may not have heard the Good News. Finally, reaching others may involve an invitation to an event, or to offer access to a service through the church, thus bringing people from the surrounding community into direct with a Christian community.
Regardless of our opinions about how outreach should manifest, the church’s fundamental understanding of outreach should be informed and shaped by God’s own outreach to the world manifest, experienced and understood in the Incarnation - God in Christ. Knowing our limitations and need, God in his wisdom and mercy, came to us in the form of a man, Jesus of Nazareth. However, God not only came among us as Savior, but he also invited us to become one with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (John 17:20-23), members incorporate in the Body of Christ. God’s outreach included both going out and inviting in; coming into the world and inviting humanity to become one in God. It is the manifestation of God’s love in the Person of Christ Jesus that enables us to grasp at some level the amazing love and grace of God. And it is in union with God through Christ Jesus that we enter into eternal life with God and one another.
The Divine approach to outreach encompasses both a going out, and an inviting in; building bridges, if you will, between the church and the world. Jesus clearly commissioned the church to go into the world (John 20; Matt 28 & Lk 24). And, in addition he emphasized the importance of welcoming the vulnerable and the stranger into our midst (see the parable of the sheep and the goats Matt 25:31-46, in addition to numerous OT references highlighting God’s concern for the widow, the orphan and the stranger).
Several church members, sensing the need and the call to reach out into our surrounding community, have initiated and grown a program in our midst that provides English as a second language (ESL) classes to people from more than 25 countries. The ESL program, offered each week at St. John the Divine by church volunteers, has grown from a small nucleus of 5-6 people to approximately 100 students. The program includes three levels of ESL and a supplementary option called Chat-n-Chew, where students can practice what they’ve learned with English-speaking volunteers from the church. Chat-n-Chew is supported by more thatn 30 volunteers from St. John the Divine. The enthusiasm of the students and volunteers has been heartening. One student expressed his gratitude in a thank you note that said: "When you go to a new place outside your country, which is differnt than your culture, which is differnt than your language, it would be hard to figure out every new thing, and hard to get used to it. You were like a guide to make it easier with your warm welcome for each of us... we can't thank you enough for everything you've done for us."
To say that the reponse to the program has been amazing is an understatement. Yet, there’s more to the story. Having ESL students in our midst has provided the opportunity for parishioners to share their faith, love their neighbor, and to offer opportunities for our guests to learn about Jesus through Alpha, Bible Basics and other educational options. Recently several individuals participating in the ESL program and their family members committed their lives to the Lord Jesus and were baptized into the Body of Christ.
The Rev. Charlie Holt baptizing an ESL student and her daughter
The ESL program is clearly benefiting students in practical terms, however, it is also evident that students lives are being blessed and eternally changed by coming to know Jesus. God is clearly blessing the ESL ministry, which is one means of creating a bridge from the church to world.
Registration for the next ESL session has started and classes will resume on August 21st. If you know someone who may want to enroll in our ESL classes, or if you would like to volunteer to assist with the program, please contact Barbara Foxhall or Sarah McParland.