Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Retired English Teacher Teaches A Family Member English As A Second Language

Family Ties ~ The French Connection

At least 30 summers ago, there was a Fourth of July French family reunion and picnic at the home of one of my cousins.  A favorite cousin, one I had not seen in many years, was there with her three beautiful young daughters.

The day was a hot one.  For some reason, I asked the girls if they wanted me to put their hair up in French braids.  One by one, each sat on the floor before me as I brushed and braided each one's hair.  That is when I first got to know and to love my first cousin once removed named Annie French.  I think she was about eight years old at the time.

Unfortunately, I didn't see a lot of my cousin and her daughters while the girls were growing up.  The next time I spent any time at all with them was twelve years ago when we gathered in Cousin Mary's hospital room just before she passed away from ovarian cancer which was discovered very shortly before her death.  The girls were still so sweet, so beautiful, and so very young to lose their wonderful mother.  They were barely out of their teens and into their twenties.  My heart broke for them.

I knew Mary had given them a wonderful foundation. She, a single mom, had raised them to be strong, independent, yet loving, and caring young women. She also raised them to be strong in the faith that she had taught them.

Annie, the one I call Mary's mini me, always wears a glorious, winning smile just like her sweet mama did.  After her mother's death, Annie went on to graduate from college and to travel around the world as a single woman.  Most of her trips were mission trips.  She journeyed to Peru to take some seminary classes from a branch of the Calvary Chapel Bible College in Peru.  There, she met her future husband.

Thanks to Facebook, I have been able to follow her journey from afar.  I saw the photos of the beautiful bride that Annie was when she married her handsome smiling groom, a native of Peru, in Peru.  I read of their missionary work in Peru and in Costa Rica.  I was thrilled to see photos of the beautiful daughters they soon had.  I admired Annie's handiwork of sewing that she did for her husband, her home, and her daughters.  I was impressed by Darwin's work in the the ministry.

Perhaps, our lives would never have intersected again except at family gatherings when the Torres family might be stateside if Darwin and Annie had not come to the United States late this spring for an extended sabbatical.  Their plans were that they would return to Peru to plant a church in Cusco, Peru.  They were being sent out to do this work by Rocky Mountain Calvary Chapel in Colorado Springs.  They hoped that during the time the family was stateside, Darwin would also be able to take the test to become a U.S. Citizen.

A Springtime Meeting ~ An Answer to Prayer

In mid-April of this year, I wrote in my journal, "I am feeling stuck in a holding pattern of clouds and rain and storms...As I look out the window, I see patches of blue, lots of patches of blue as the clouds dissipate.  I got stuck in a storm pattern before the storm even materialized.  Our feelings really have next to nothing to do with reality."  I went on to write that I would be happier if I dug deeper into what made me happy and got unstuck from my holding pattern.  I prayed for opportunities to do more of what I love best: working with people and teaching.

Later, that very day, I got a message from Annie on Facebook.  Not knowing my professional background, she asked if I knew anyone who could teach her husband English so he could pass his citizenship test!  

Just prior to returning the the United States from Peru earlier in the spring, Annie had been working with Darwin so he could take the test for citizenship while they were in the States.  At home in Peru and in Costa Rica, the girls were learning English and were bilingual in Spanish and English.  Annie and Darwin communicated only in Spanish, and the girls spoke Spanish to their father.  This meant that Darwin's English was quite limited.  When he first took the test, he did not pass.  They hoped he could take it again soon, gain his citizenship, and they could return to Peru to begin their new ministry.

When Darwin did not pass the test the first time, Annie asked her aunt, my first cousin, if she knew  of someone whom might be able to help Darwin with English.  My cousin said, "Ask Sally.  She taught English.  She might know someone who knows how to teach ESL."  

I was beyond excited when Annie contacted me.  I told her I would be thrilled to help Darwin.  I told her of my background and even told her I had been praying for an opportunity to teach again.  We scheduled a time to meet at my home.  I dug out all of my old books and got ready to get to work doing what I love to do: teach English to speakers of other languages.  

I was a bit daunted by the task.  We didn't have much time.  Where should I start?  

At our first meeting, seated around my kitchen table that was covered with books on grammar, picture dictionaries, and other resources, I did an assessment to determine Darwin's understanding of and use of English.  Once that was complete,  we set our goals and objectives for the times we would meet.  Annie was my translator when Darwin and I could not connect.  I told them that the first goal would be that they would no longer speak in Spanish at home, but would use English.  I knew that we didn't have much time, so I wanted Darwin to use English for speaking and listening as much as possible.  I also suggested he start reading English storybooks to the girls at bedtime.

From there, we took off.  Darwin was such a gifted and willing student.  It was such a joy to work with him.  Along the way, we got to know each other and were able to share a bit more about our lives and about the faith we shared in common.  My heart became quite knitted together with the beautiful hearts that live in Darwin and Annie.  Darwin has a gift for language.  He is a bright and able student.  He worked so hard on learning English.  He expanded his opportunities to listen to English by going on a retreat with other men from his church.  He began going to Bible Studies taught in English.  He sought opportunities to have conversational English times with other men in his church.  

The French Connection ~ A New American Citizen

On June 20th, Darwin took the U.S. Citizenship test for the second time.  This time, he passed with flying colors.  Many prayers were answered.  He was not nervous during the testing.  He remembered what he had learned when the questions were asked.  He especially remembered the conversations and times we had when we went over "Who" "What" "Where" "When" and "Why" questions.  Those type questions can be so hard for second language learners.

Last night, on July 5th, Jim and I were able to have Annie and Darwin and the girls in our home for a celebratory dinner.  We grilled hamburgers.  I made potato salad.  We even had that American dish of apple pie topped with ice cream for dessert.  

My profession which has given me so many wonderful experiences over the years just keeps on giving back to me.  I am so grateful I was able to work with Darwin.  I am blessed beyond measure to   have taught immigrant children, young adults from other lands studying English as a foreign language, and adult learning English for various purposes.  To have the opportunity to work with Darwin in his journey towards citizenship will be one of my great joys.  I loved getting to know this wonderful young man of God.  I am excited about following his journey as he goes to Peru to plant a church.  I have been so richly blessed because our lives have intersected at this point in time.  I needed this experience of teaching him and learning from him and from Annie more than they will ever know.  Now our hearts are forever knitted together.  

Darwin and Sally photographed in our classroom setting: the kitchen table.

After my father retired, he spent much time working on family genealogies and gathering photos and stories about the French family history in the United States.  My paternal family history in the United States, the history that Annie and I share,  goes back to 1676 when our ancestor first came to these North American shores 

Now, 340 years later, I had the opportunity to welcome a new American citizen to our family.  He came from South America.  He married into the French family and became a much loved family member.  I couldn't help but reflect about the rich family history that keeps being written in this wonderful land that has been home to my family for over three centuries. 

A few years ago, I wrote a reflection on what it means to me to be a citizen of the United States of America.  You can read that post here:  I Am An American.  Now, I can add this chapter to my American story just as Annie and Darwin are writing their own American story.  

Our connections are deeper than that of family history.  We are more than cousins.  We are bound by our love of Jesus and by our Christian faith.  

I was reminded of Ephesians 2:19 as I thought of the connection that I now have with this family. are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household.  

The French Connection:  Annie, Darwin, & daughters with Sally

Darwin and Annie will leave to return to their new home near Cusco, Peru, in less than a week.  They will begin the work of establishing a church and working with those whom already are anxiously awaiting their return.  I will miss having this family as a part of life, but I am so happy that they are returning to the land of Darwin's birth to do the work they have been called to do. 

Thank you Annie and Darwin for including me in your journey.  Thank you for making me a part of the story you two are writing with your lives.  It has been my honor to work with you.  I love you.  My prayers go with you.  


  1. thanks you so,uch for sharing this wonderful story. God has everyone in the right position if only we would always realise it.

  2. Jean French BarrettJuly 7, 2016 at 7:17 AM

    Thank you for helping Annie and Darwin achieve their goal! We are all thrilled he passed the test.

  3. You were definitely an answer to prayer as was Darwin an answer to your prayer. God is so good to us.

  4. what a lovely experience, once a teacher always a teacher!

  5. I love this story on so many levels, Sally: finding new purpose, helping someone with so much to give attain citizenship and reconnecting with your cousin's "mini-me". It's so heart-warming!

  6. What a great story Sally. A good ending for all and also a new beginning.

  7. What a wonderful story, Sally, and how terrific that you were skilled in ESL and able to share that knowledge, especially at a time when your own life needed a boost. I love happy endings!

  8. What a wonderful story! Once a teacher, always a teacher.

  9. You did a great thing, but clearly you got a lot out of it as well (as most of us find out when we volunteer to help other people accomplish important goals.) So good for you ... and congrats to Darwin!

  10. How lovely. And also what a beautiful tribute to your remarkable mother.

  11. What a great story. I hope you'll be able to stay in touch with this lovely family and continue to be rewarded for your generosity in working with Darwin.

  12. Enchanting story. Thanks for sharing...:)


Thank you for visiting my blog. I love reading your comments. Comments are moderated by the author of this blog. It may take a short delay for your comment to be published. No anonymous comments are published, nor are comments that are offensive to myself or other readers.