Refugee Week 2019: A Language Lesson!

By Major Jonny Smith

I have to be honest with you and declare at the beginning of this post my language inabilities! Yes, I perhaps represent many English people by declaring that I only speak my native language. So, with this in mind, it’s fair to say that whenever I go abroad I am as good as useless when it comes to understanding another language. I often find myself in restaurants not having a clue what to order, and ending up with something I really did not want!

I can laugh about this, but what about people who, through no fault of their own, have come to live the UK and do not speak or understand English? This is the position many refugees and asylum seekers find themselves in. In some areas access to language support can very limited or non-existent for particular groups. This can lead to already traumatized people becoming even more marginalized. Vulnerable people can find themselves in difficult situations simply because they are unable to understand what is being communicated to them.

When we study the bible, time and time again God makes it clear to us that we need to look after those on the margins of the community in which we reside. In response to this and also to what I see happening in so many communities, I wanted to create opportunities for corps to put on professionally run English classes. Importantly, I had a vision that these classes would be an opportunity not only for English to be taught, but where people from corps and community could come together, enter each other’s cultures, and as a result of this journey, learn more about each other.

With a lot of help from the Legacy Department, funding was identified. As a result several corps have now applied and had funding approved: Bootle, Camberwell, Liverpool Stoneycroft, Manchester Central and Sutton to name but a few. I have had the privilege of visiting some of them and seen for myself the beautiful sight of people from different backgrounds gathered together – some who speak English as a first language sharing time together with those who speak little to no English. It has been uplifting to see community being built, English being learned, and lives being changed for the better.

Captain Annette Booth, Bootle Corps, has used the funding to start some English language classes specifically for those seeking refugee status. She excitedly reports:

“This all started with a prayer and an understanding that our new family ministry would come from people of other cultures. We are currently praying for God to send us children workers so we can start a story time using Christian story books to teach English with our student families and maybe open up to other families in the area.

Annette and the Bootle Corps have been on this journey for a while, yet she is still blown away by the opportunities that God is presenting to her each day…

“We continue to be amazed at the opportunities we have with our students and their families. We could have never have imagined the challenges, the learning and rich blessings our students would bring as God unfolds his work here at Bootle – but what a  privilege is ours!”

Importantly, this money is not just for a select group of corps – it is for any group that is looking to positively impact people in their local community who do not speak English. If you want to find out further information on how to apply, please email me at: jonny,smith@salvationarmy.org.uk

Major Jonny Smith is The Salvation Army’s Intercultural Mission Officer

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