She looked to young to be a mother. I was at an ESL (English as a Second Language) Conversation Café this past week and had just met the people at my table. Two of the women were immigrants from Albania and two were from China. Fortunately for my sake, this was a level three class and they all spoke enough English that I could understand them and we had a great conversation. The woman sitting across from me that looked too young to be a mother was from Albania and actually did have a child, a husband and a strong desire to learn English. She also had a very winsome smile.
As the conversation got going, I learned a lot about these ambitious women. All of them had families and most of them had jobs. Some had immigrated to the USA quite recently, but most had been in America for a few years and had just heard about this program or had just gotten up the courage to give it a try. They seemed to be enjoying themselves and were not annoyed that these classes added onto what was already a long day for most of them. Instead, they were almost competing with each other to practice their English with me and to understand the things that I was saying. At one point we discussed how much harder it was for the Chinese women to learn English as their language is so different and the written language looks nothing like our alphabet. One of the Albanian women asked a Chinese women to write her name in Chinese and then tried to copy the writing herself, but could not get the hang of it.
It was clear that many things motivated these women to study English, but as I asked them why they had come to America in the first place, the answers were remarkably similar. All of them had come for a better future. For some this meant their children and grandchildren and for others this meant themselves as well. Already this desire was being fulfilled as one women who had been in the USA for a while had a daughter who had recently graduated from a prestigious university in Washington D.C. and a son that had gotten into the best high school in the city. She was clearly proud of both of them. She herself worked at Subway, but did not see that as a hardship. Instead, she was grateful for the opportunity for work with her limited grasp of English.
As I reflected on these conversations later in the week, I could not help but remember the hundreds of cars parked by the side of the road in Trinidad to watch the bodies being burned in the traditional Hindu funeral ceremony. Each of those people and even the ones who had died had a similar hope and desire. They wanted a better future and were going to do everything to make sure their relatives had a proper cremation with the goal that they would be reincarnated as a better person in a higher caste with more opportunity and status. What a sad state of affairs to be locked into an endless cycle of reincarnation where one wrong step could lead to the opposite.
Truthfully, it is easy to cast aspersions on other religions when some of us Christians have similar misunderstandings. We come to faith in Christ and assume that our lives will improve, things will get better and our future is bright. While on one level this is true – our future in eternity with Christ is something to look forward to – our life on earth is not guaranteed to improve. In fact, as we grow in our faith, we begin to see that often we are called into a life of suffering and sacrifice just like the one who died to save us. This can be very disheartening and even faith shattering for some.
As I spoke further with these women around my table, I realized that I shared a lot in common with them. I am a striver, I want a better future and I am often doing whatever it takes for that to happen. In a great irony, Jesus is calling all of us to the same future – to put our complete faith and trust in Him. This can be frightening, overwhelming and even seem quite foolish to those who eyes have been blinded like mine once were. His call is to a life of surrender, not striving, to dependence not self-improvement. As the conversation came to a close, I could not help but notice that English was not the only thing these women were learning. They were interacting with Christ followers every week and their eyes were being opened little by little to the only lasting hope that truly exists and an ultimate future better than they could have imagined.