by Helen Ortiz
Allow me to share with you the development of a ministry that has, over the years, become very dear to my heart.
When I arrived in Soria in 1983, it was a culture shock. I was thrown into the deep end of rural Spain as, at that time, Soria only had three or four foreigners living in the town, including myself! I had taken evening classes in Spanish, but now in Soria I became aware of my deficiencies in the language and started to search for further classes. Unfortunately, there were none. However, I came across one of the ‘other foreigners’, a Scot, who had an English academy.
Along with Spain’s newly functioning democracy, and its entrance into NATO and the European Economic Community (later the European Union), came a frenetic race to establish its place among the countries of Europe. Consequently, learning English became a necessity in all sectors of society. I would walk down the street and people would stop me to ask if I was a native English speaker and, if so, could I give them lessons!
Over the years I have given many free one-to-one conversational classes. Friendships have formed and there have been opportunities to share the gospel in people’s homes. I was also approached by the local primary school, where our three children studied, to give after-school lessons. When bilingual education was introduced for kindergarten I was occasionally asked to teach younger children. For some years now, English has been taught to children as young as three!
Throughout the 33 years I have been in Soria, the Lord has opened many doors of opportunity in teaching English. This increased when the local language school approached me to conduct monthly English conversational classes where our ‘chats’ enable students to expand their vocabulary and gain confidence. Two of our church members are teachers at the language school: one of them is an elder, Juan Luis Morales, and the other became a believer six years ago through Juan Luis’ testimony.
Further opportunities arose through special cultural events, such as St Patrick’s Day. For two years I led monthly conversational classes, open to people from every stratum of society. This led to classes at the university, for students specialising in bilingual education at primary and secondary levels.
Developments and Opportunities
We began to offer the same service on a weekly basis in our own church building, as an evangelistic tool to the community around us. Every other Saturday of the academic year, we also conducted English conversation classes in El Burgo de Osma, 50km from Soria, where there has been a constant testimony since a church plant was started in 1979.
As a result I developed a long-term friendship with a woman and her daughter, who are involved in new-age practices. Initially they would not allow me to speak about the gospel; however, after some time of sharing our lives, the woman accepted a Bible. Both she and her daughter have changed a number of their opinions. They have even requested prayer and the woman affirms that only God has the power to change lives!
‘Learn by Speaking, Help to Study’
The weekly conversational classes at Soria Assembly are now in their fourth year. The idea is to give people the opportunity to practice their English while they experience our church family. This can be accomplished by making them feel at home as we chat in our hall, or by inviting them to come with us on excursions, or to celebrations and special events, or just by being their friends. We have befriended people from every level of society who may otherwise have never entered our church, or even considered the idea of having an evangelical Christian as a friend.
The idea is to give people the opportunity to practice their English while they experience our church family
A wide range of people attend these classes, including bankers, civil servants, doctors, engineers, housewives, school and university students, school teachers and unemployed people. We ask for a donation of €1 per session, which goes to Ipusukilo Orphanage in Chingola, Zambia, to help fund the cost of the children’s education. Juan Luis and his daughter, Paula, have visited Chingola to see the work and trust the people there. As a result, we can tell our students where their money goes, which is important today with so many fraudulent organisations. People are happy with the link between Ipusukilo and our church, and to know that while they learn they are also assisting in the education of Zambian street children. Hence our motto for the classes: ‘Learn by Speaking, Help to Study’.
We occasionally hold classes in a coffee shop instead of our church building. We always celebrate Christmas with a special tea party, including the traditional game of ‘pass the parcel’, as well as an end-of-term trip.
Every conversation is an opportunity to get to know each other better. Invariably the topics of God, ethics and values arise as we chat about national and international politics, which leads to debate, discussion, feedback and reflection. I try to vary the content each week and usually begin with discussing a theme from the national or international news. Following this we may have a debate, a short sketch or scene to act out, a silly game, a song or poem to analyse or a task to do. All of these activities have the goal of expanding vocabulary and helping people to express themselves, and lose their inhibitions in speaking English. Many men and women have improved their level of communication and they often ask to talk about personal issues, as they feel comfortable and at home with us. After three years, one atheist attendee told us how he felt part of our ‘family’ and that God was good to him! We have seen such a change in him and he is now reading the Bible. Like many who come, he was a lonely person and we pray he will find God’s salvation. We use the tool of speaking English to offer friendship to people like him and welcome them into our lives in order to show them the Lord.
Last year we had four Turkish Erasmus students with us, who left Spain with a knowledge of the Lord through our conversations and relationships. Encouraged by the experience, and seeing the need they had to practise Spanish as well as English, we decided to inform the university of our classes and offer these opportunities to other Erasmus students. As a result, we have had over 20 attend the Spanish classes, held each Friday, with eight remaining for the English chats afterwards. Among the nationalities there are Belgians, French, Italians and four students from the Philippines, as well as some from African countries. We recently held an international ‘pot luck’ dinner and 40 students attended, along with some of our younger adult believers from the assembly. Some of us had an hour-long chat about salvation with the Philippine Erasmus students, as they were spiritually hungry. It is wonderful to see how the Lord is working in these students!
This is a beautiful ministry that the Lord has called us to, but we need the prayers of our brothers and sisters to sustain us. Pray for courage, patience and wisdom with these men and women, who have such potential to glorify God wherever they are, if only they would bow before Him. Thank you for your prayers. To God be the glory!