How to help migrants meet Jesus

Mar 6, 2020 | Faith

Alberto was an accountant and Ana a school teacher. They were visiting Australia to improve their English. They were happy to meet at a church to study English but, from their experience, church was irrelevant. At the ESL (English as a Second Language) class, they were stunned by how fresh the stories of Jesus were.

“Don’t just go back to church but meet Jesus.”

For the first time they were encouraged to discuss the Bible and ask questions. They saw the Bible could relate to their lives. Alberto said, “This is the most treasured thing I’ll take back with me. When I return home, I plan to go back to church”.

The ESL teacher replied, “Don’t just go back to church but meet Jesus.”

Samira is from the Middle East. She came to Australia to be with her daughter who’s studying here. She comes regularly to ESL and Bible study. One evening after Bible study Samira said, “I love Jesus. I love his miracles. I see he’s very powerful. But is he God? I don’t think so. But I don’t know. I wonder? So, I keep reading the Bible.”

Ying has come to ESL for years. He came to Australia disenchanted with life in his home country. When he first heard the Bible stories, he didn’t believe them. But each week he closed his eyes and listened intently. And each week he “believed a little bit more”. Last year in front of other students, Ying stood up and said, “Jesus opened my eyes to understand that the Bible is true. I went to church to learn more and decided to be baptised.”

ESL classes have mushroomed in churches across the country. People come to these classes for different reasons. Obviously, they come to learn English. Even if only here for a few months, they seize this freely-provided opportunity. Many come just because they’re lonely. They know very few people in Australia and their poor English inhibits making friends. Unfortunately, many have not found the ‘natives’ hospitable. Few have been welcomed into an Aussie home. Some people also come with spiritual hunger.

For some years my wife has been involved in an ESL class at our church. I’ve been thrilled to hear of people’s responsiveness to the stories from the Bible. Each week, students take home a simple English Bible provided by The Bible Society and the Gideons.

It seemed to me, and others, that a further resource would be useful — something to help students in the next step in their search for God.

Why not begin with a book that introduces the person who stands at the heart of the Christian faith, the Lord Jesus?

I faced three challenges in writing such a book. First, I couldn’t take for granted any prior knowledge of Jesus. While some readers would be familiar with the Christian faith, many others would know almost nothing of Jesus.

Second, I had to assume that some would have limited ability in English. On the one hand I didn’t want to write a book that sounded childish. Many of the prospective readers would be educated professionals and they needed to be treated with respect. At the same time, the words and concepts had to be both simple and simply-explained. Finally, as implied by the book’s title, Meet Jesus, the purpose is not just to provide more information. My opening words are, “I want you to meet a friend of mine. He’s someone who wants to meet you”.

Meet Jesus BSA

Meet Jesus is a short book in four sections. The first is ‘The Early Life of Jesus’. In four brief chapters, we look at the birth of Jesus, the visit of the Wise Men, the baptism of Jesus, and Jesus beginning his work.

In the second section we see five examples of ‘The Words of Jesus’, particularly emphasising what he taught about salvation.

The third section shows five examples of ‘The Works of Jesus’. In my original version I omitted Jesus’s exorcisms. A friend helpfully reminded me that many people from other cultures inhabit a world where belief in demons, spirits and ancestor worship is rife.

It is important to demonstrate Jesus’ power and authority over all the forces of darkness.

The final, and longest, section is “Jesus Dies and Rises Again’. Here we look at the Last Supper, Jesus’ death on the cross, the forgiveness of the dying criminal, his resurrection, the Great Commission, and the ascension.

It is important to demonstrate Jesus’ power and authority over all the forces of darkness.

Each section follows the same format to help non-English speakers to get to know Jesus. A Bible passage is written in easy English before a ‘Did you know?’ section, where unfamiliar words are explained (for example, a ‘manger’, ‘twelve disciples’). Then, the meaning of the story is discussed before asking, ‘Who is Jesus?’ Each chapter is designed to help us to better understand who Jesus is and why he came, with questions and discussion starters to prompt individual reflection or group discussion.

The book concludes with ‘Where to From Here?’ where readers are invited to ‘meet Jesus’.

For decades God has been bringing the world to Australia. They’re our neighbours, work colleagues, and fellow students. God calls us to love and befriend them.

In easy-to-read English, Meet Jesus has been written to help migrants and overseas visitors come to know Jesus, God’s Son, who loves them and gave himself for them.

Bible Society Australia is a keen supporter of churches running ESL programs within their communities because they not only provide the social good of providing linguistic but also fulfil the Bible’s instruction to welcome and love our neighbours. And, of course, ESL classes provide a wonderful opportunity to open the Bible to people and introduce them to Jesus.

That’s why Bible Society Australia is partnering with with Koorong bookstores, to support churches and individuals undertaking ESL work, by making Bibles in different global languages more accessible.

From March 1 to April 5 2020, Koorong is offering a selection of Bibles in 16 different global languages for churches and for individuals at 30 per cent off RRP while stock lasts. Plus, a free copy of Mike Raiter’s ‘Meet Jesus’ resource will accompany every purchase.

Discover the Bibles available here (for churches) and here (for indiviuals).