Expanding My Family Tree

I have often said mission trips are my favourite vacations. When you get to spend 24/7 doing God’s work, feeling fulfilled by loving others and potentially get a tan at the same time … what could be better?

I went to Manchay, Peru to serve at an English as a Second Language (ESL) camp for two weeks this past January, to help students learn conversational English, and most importantly, share the love of God. This trip was different from other mission trips I’ve been on; our focus was more on building relationships and sharing the story of Jesus then completing a specific task or project. I had been to Manchay a few years before with a smaller team; it was wonderful to see God at work in the classrooms and in the church were we served, watching students come to know Jesus. I was excited to experience that again.

I was hoping that through this trip we would be able to open some doors to better schooling and employment opportunities for the future of the students by sharing God’s love and encouraging them in their English. What I didn’t expect was how fun teaching and learning another language can be! Activities, songs, stories, and our version of the Olympic Games all could be disguised to help teach English.

Making ESL fun

I thought I was going to be handing out papers, erasing smart boards and doing photocopying. Instead, I was the scribe for vocabulary games, the fashion model for a clothing words game, and a team captain for the curling event – needless to say, there was a lot of laughter!

We were a team of ten (pictured above), offering beginner and intermediate ESL classes; one course in the morning and another in the afternoon, plus an art class. Before each class, we sang worship songs and told Bible stories – everyone heard the story of creation, Jesus’ life, and His love for us.

Eliana was one of the students I connected with. She was so excited to learn more English. She’s a mom with two children. Her dream is to take her kids to Canada to give them better opportunities. She had worked as a caregiver for a Canadian couple who were in Manchay, but they had recently returned to Canada. Eliana was so interested in learning about Canada – the weather, what kind of houses we lived in, what work was like. It reminded me how truly privileged I am to live here in Calgary.

My heart is in serving, but it’s never easy. Through serving others, I often experience hard lessons about myself. On this trip, the struggle for me was made very apparent during one of the classroom vocabulary lessons. We were learning about family, and the assignment was to draw your family tree and share it with the class. My family tree is not your usual looking one – there’s only me. No children, a few ex-husbands, one sister, a few step-siblings … not exactly the idyllic family. I was afraid to share my family tree with the class. Wouldn’t they judge me? Or reject me? For me, that’s where I’m at. I’m not ashamed, but it seemed like in Peru, everyone has big families; I saw no single people. To my surprise though, after we all shared our family trees, I discovered that mine looked a lot like some of the other students’! God saw my fears and showed me acceptance. My heart was so full that day – not because I was serving them, but because they accepted me. I learned my fears are often unwarranted; I am accepted and loved.

Teaching ESL in Peru

One of our big events during the ESL camp was our Olympic Games day. We came up with creative ways to run four events: bobsledding, speed skating, curling, and of course … hockey! We divided students into different teams representing various countries to compete in each event. Everyone received the coveted medals (which where actually imported Canadian chocolate bars). The best part was that each student was encouraged that with hope and hard work, they could travel and actually see other parts of the world like the countries they represented! We wanted them to know that they don’t have to be limited to the small town of Manchay. If a city girl like me can travel to Peru to share the love of Jesus with students … then anyone can.

The amazing part of the whole trip was that many of the students we built relationships with came to know Jesus as their personal Saviour. We made sure to connect them with the local church to help them grow in their new faith and begin to discover God’s plan for their lives. Who knows where their new ESL skills and trust in Jesus will take them? They could even come to Calgary.

Written by Michele Flynn