A True ‘Just Love’ Story

I (Kristie) launched and lead the Agape English Program at King Street Church in Chambersburg, PA. We teach English to unlikely neighbors for free. What might surprise readers is that I am not a teacher nor do I have any formal training. Yet, our program has been recognized by the Franklin County Literacy Council awardfor its contributions to our community. Are you curious how it all started?

Back in the fall of 2010, my spouse and I joined with several Haitian families to form a bible study at church on Sundays. We studied together in Kreyol and English, and we prayed for each other. The Number One prayer requests week after week: English classes on Saturdays at no cost. After weeks of this, a friend turned to me and said, “You speak English. You teach us.” So with a few resources given to me by a friend who is a real ESL teacher, I started meeting with 6-12 Haitian ladies each Saturday to teach them English. Shortly after that, I met my Indonesian friend, Ruth. When she learned that I taught English, she asked if she could bring 27 of her friends?!?

To make a long story short, I approached the church, held a training, found a co-leader for the launch, and we took off two years ago this very month in March 2011. We have anywhere from about 30-50 students each Saturday evening, and 20+ kids. Our program is one of a few in our town, if not the only one, that is free with free childcare. Wholly volunteer run, we have sustained two solid years even with some comings and goings of students and helpers. Amazingly, our needs are always met.

What happens on Saturday evenings is rather magical. It is a highlight of my week. People born in different places around the globe, speaking different languages, and bringing their own cultural norms come together as friends. Our students hails from Mexico, Honduras, Brazil, Haiti, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, and Peru. We teach because we love, and we are blessed to be loved back. Incidentally, we believe most (if not all) of our students are marginalized. Each of them is highly motivated to learn in order to better navigate life in this new home. Here are a couple true stories about our students (names changed to protect privacy):

  • Carlos V: When learning English words for “family” (i.e. father, mother, wife…), Carlos said with a sadness in his eyes and voice, “I not see my wife and children for three years.” He said he doesn’t make enough money to travel to see them, to get them Visas, and that he has no options for employment back home in Mexico. After class recently, Carlos told us that because of the English he learned at our class, he was able to take and pass an exam to get a promotion at work. I exclaimed, “Woo hoo! More money! Good job!” And he said, “I no care about the money. I learning English.” We adore Carlos.
  • Julio J: Julio is new to our program. He probably has the best mastery of English compared to the others. He has multiple questions every week. He is funny and a wonderful addition to the class. Last week, Julio said, “I am sorry I ask many questions. I just want to know.” I replied, “No problem, Julio. We love it! Ask whenever you want to. We are here to help.” He said it is because he is so comfortable that he can make jokes and ask alot. He said he’s never had anyone to help him with those questions. I reminded him that we are not only teachers-students, but friends. And I am quite certain I saw a tear well in his eye as he quickly thanked me and turned to leave.

Cecilio-webSantiagoOllinca--web Sono-webThe photos above are from our “graduation” party last May. The students loved receiving their certificates of accomplishment, and we all enjoyed a fun time together.

If you are local and would like to visit our program to see what we do, please contact us. You don’t have to be a “real” teacher; I’m not. You only need to love unlikely neighbors and be willing to give your time to help them.

Additionally, we are looking to purchase an Oxford Picture Dictionary for each student for this year’s ceremony. At nearly $20/each, it is a lofty goal. But this one book is a primary text and we are asked often for a copy. If you would like to help us give them this valuable learning tool, please just visit our giving page.

All donations to ACR are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. ACR is entirely volunteer run and our actual overhead is less than 1%. That means we are blessed to assure that all donations go directly to helping the least.

Any funds received in excess of a project’s budget will go toward other current projects.