November 8, 2013

Church Sees Need; Offers English Classes to Refugees

Refugees in English Language Class
Refugees from Bhutan and the Democratic Republic of Congo focus on an English language lesson at St. Luke's UMC in Lexington, Ky. All classes are led by volunteer teachers. Photo: Provided by Erika Iverson

The Rev. Reid Buchanan of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Lexington, Ky., knew there was a need for English language classes in the community, particularly those convenient to newly resettled refugees.

Through his collaborative work with Kentucky Refugee Ministries, a CWS affiliate, Rev. Buchanan also understood the church would need to address two barriers to participation: limited public transportation options and few affordable childcare providers. A grant through the United Methodist Committee on Relief in 2011, complimented his church’s resources to help the burgeoning ministry begin its service.

Church members at St. Luke’s decided to offer to pick up students in their church van, as well as hire someone to watch their students’ children during classes.

English instructor Marcie Barnett
Volunteer English instructor Marcie Barnett works with refugee students from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Classes are held once a week at St. Luke's UMC in Lexington, Ky. Photo: Provided by Erika Iverson

“I don’t think there’s any way some of my students could attend without that help,” says volunteer instructor, Marcie Barnett. “Public transportation here isn’t really that convenient, and all of our students right now are mothers with young kids.”

Indeed, the church focused on mothers. “We started to learn that there were Congolese women in the community who had resettled in the past few years who weren’t learning the language and weren’t really out in the community. They needed to stay at home to take care of their kids,” says Rev. Buchanan.

The mothers are excited to learn but, sometimes, struggle to manage their expectations. “They work hard but it can be frustrating for them since most don’t have someone to practice with during the week,” Barnett says. “They think they should be learning more quickly.”

The speed with which her current students are learning is limited by the fact that many of the students have never attended school of any kind before. “There isn’t any connection between written words and sounds, so we spend a lot of time working with the Oxford Picture Dictionary,” Barnett says. “We all just do what we can. We become a resource, and we do what we can.”

Of course, Barnett doesn’t just give. As a volunteer, she receives new insight, new friendships and new connections to her community. “[Volunteering] makes me look at my life a little differently. I notice things differently now…I’ve been so blessed by them. I just hope I’ve given them as much as they’ve given me.”

The work of Rev. Buchanan and St. Luke’s UMC was recently acknowledged in a story by our partners at UMCOR.