The first time I met Barbara Foxhall she came to our home to discuss starting an English as a Second Language program at St. John’s. She came in with her "no nonsense demeanor" and left a crate of ESL books on my kitchen table. And so the journey began. With a Masters degree in marriage and family therapy and a BSN in nursing, I became an ESL Level 1 teacher.

My learning curve was just ahead of that of my students, who represented approximately 11 different countries. My previous teaching experience consisted of teaching confirmation classes and parenting classes, and teaching physicians about the prevalence of lead poisoning in the city of Houston.

Barbara and the English grammar books gave me the structure and the 'how to', but the most unexpected gift to me in teaching English was the students. Every time their faces lit up with an "Aha!" because they understood a word, a concept, a phrase, my inner voice was saying, “Holy cow, I am teaching them English!” As their command of the English language improved, I had them write stories about their lives; whatever they wanted to share. Some of their stories would bring tears to my eyes as well as to their classmates. And through their eyes and voices I have taken a second look at America. With all its faults, I came to appreciate America as the land of opportunity that they stated over and over again as a constant theme in their reports.

One such student was Du Shiyu from China. Learning English was really challenging for Du - like landing on Mars and speaking Martian. Nothing compares in the two languages of Chinese and English to possibly help his communicating. And so his journey began. He was determined to learn, and would practice his word lists and review his notes before class. Then he started helping set up the classroom; carrying the books from the storage cabinets in another classroom and doing other kindnesses. Early in the semester an older Spanish-speaking gentleman befriended him and they would sit and work together. The next thing I knew, Du went to the board and wrote his homework sentence totally in Spanish. Priceless! And he and the class laughed at his learning yet a third language.

Du attended the “Boot Walk” that ESL participated in at M. D. Anderson and shared his own family loss from cancer. His wife and 11 year old daughter also came. They were such gracious people and everyone could see the love this family shared.

And then in March Coronavirus started its strangle hold on Houston. Du was noticeably upset as the source was his homeland. We held our last in-person class, then went home to quarantine. I received a text from Du wanting to bring me and my husband masks because he wanted to keep us safe. I thought he would mail them, but he delivered them to our front door. I in turn mailed some of them to my relatives out of state. Blessings all around.

ESL started classes on Zoom and Du continued to participate, but his plan was to go back to China as the epidemic there waned. Du contacted me about donating yoga balls to our church — 100 of them so our members could exercise, stay healthy, and keep their immune systems working. I arranged for this to happen. Once again Du showed his love and connection to our ESL Program and St. John the Divine.

It still amazes me that God took my talents and morphed them into the capacity to teach English. And through this volunteer opportunity, I am forever changed by knowing Du Shiyu and my other students who bless me with their eagerness, their incredible stories, their life struggles, and their optimism. They make me want to be a better human being.

  • Learn more about our ESL ministry and how you can be a part of it here.