The English Language Learning (ELL) classroom is the perfect place to personally connect with local internationals by teaching English, building relationships, instilling confidence and independence, and ultimately pointing them to Jesus. Two Knox County ELL programs have facilitated incredible friendships, impacting lives on a deeper level along the way. They began with different target groups, but have the same beautiful story of network collaboration!
by Bobbie McClain
West Hills ELL started their program in West Hills Elementary School Cafeteria after Northstar Church asked KIN to help them carry out their faith journey in fall 2022. KIN provided a teacher and encourager (teacher assistant), while Northstar volunteers formed program teams and worked with school staff to share about the class with parents of ELL students. God also brought a new couple to Knoxville, and to Northstar, at just the right time, as they were seeking a church where they could carry out their calling to teach ELL.
Kevin and Lynne Quinn taught upper-level students the first year and are now the program co-directors. Kevin says, “If you can speak in English, you can help an international student navigate their new environment!” Lynne states, “Our lessons lead to conversations that help students talk about their experiences here and in their home country.” Last year, West Hills ELL had students representing 10 countries and 7 languages!
They all began doing things together outside class, and with their families, such as attending Northstar’s “Family Day at the Farm” in Lenoir City. The class bonded that night as they scaled ropes, wandered through corn mazes, rode potato sack slides, and went on hayrides. Another memorable event was the multicultural Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day. All who attended stated it was the first time they had been invited to a traditional Thanksgiving meal and they were honored and excited to receive such an invitation.
Building trust is often difficult for some as they come to this new country, so the ELL classroom provides a safe place to encourage taking those steps. After one Afghan student’s house was hit by three downed trees during a recent storm, she and her husband hired someone to remove the trees, paying a 50% down payment - only to never hear from them again.
The team provided guidance on responding to the scam and offered to help them clear the trees and repair damage. This family is now learning to trust because they are finding caring friendships. Lynne states, “a question can lead to a conversation and every conversation can open a door to share love and build trust.”
One Ukrainian student shared that her 1st grade daughter struggled with reading; so one of the volunteers started going to her house once a week to help. During one visit the volunteer noticed a very loud sound from the pipes and expressed concern. The response was, “It’s always like this - ever since I bought the house. I have no money to fix it! It is what it is”. So the volunteer went to Northstar’s Home Improvement Ministry (HIM) Team, which included an experienced plumber. He went out, fixed the plumbing, and when the student asked how much she owed, the plumber happily responded, “Nothing! You don’t owe anything. I am not here on behalf of my company but on behalf of Jesus and Jesus paid the bill! He then prayed with her, all deeply touching this international single mom, which led to the decision for her daughter to attend a joy-filled week at Northstar’s VBS. This family had no previous understanding of God…and now they want to know more. All because of the ELL classroom.
West Hills ELL recently relocated to a neighboring church, Middlebrook Pike United Methodist Church, whose space will provide more flexibility for activities & meeting times, easier access to a playground, and continuity in the West Hills community… adding another partner to the beautiful collaboration…. volunteers, Northstar Church, Middlebrook Pike United Methodist Church, and West Hills Elementary School caring for local internationals together in the name Jesus.
Read the stories of Knoxville's local internationals and the volunteers who have impacted their lives. Get a first-hand view of what it's like to move here and/or to serve those who've moved here from other countries. Discover how KIN has impacted life and culture in metro Knoxville.