First Candle of Advent
by Nicole Arnoldbik
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear
Last weekend as we lit the Advent candle representing hope, a story from one of our ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes came to mind.
Several Wednesdays ago, I volunteered in the Learning Center as a group of English language learners poured over a paragraph about Corrie Ten Boom. That day, their instructor had written several simple sentences describing how Corrie was her role model because she never lost hope in God. The paragraph emphasized how Corrie trusted that God was present in her darkness - even when the Gestapo arrested the Ten Boom family and Corrie witnessed the death of her sister in a concentration camp during WWII. Seated two per table, the students – many of whom are Muslim - worked together to grasp the sentences about Corrie and God and to respond to the writing prompt.
After meeting four days a week since September in Learning Center classrooms organized by For the Nations, a nonprofit ministry to refugees, asylees, and immigrants, the students’ reading comprehension was growing, as was their familiarity with conversations about God. And yet, one man seemed extra quiet. Like many of the Muslim students attending these classes who are from the Uyghur ethnic group, he fled Western China (which Uyghurs refer to as Turkistan) because of religious persecution. When I turned around after giving him some time and space to write, I saw tears in his eyes. His English instructor had come to his side, noticing sooner what I had not – that his writer’s block was actually grief. As he began to talk about his experiences, we realized that this Uyghur student had identified instantly with Corrie’s darkness and wrestling with her faith. In fact, he appeared to welcome a story about someone who also felt estranged from home and family. “This is what they are doing where I come from,” he said, pointing to the word “camps.”
Much could be written about the Uyghur students who meet in our church building and the burdens they carry because of China’s harsh policies toward Muslims. However, a recent BBC article already provides a window into the conditions that ultimately led these students straight to our doorstep. (Watch the video and pray for our students’ families in Western China!) What struck me about that brief moment in class is the image of an entire people group longing for consolation. The heaviness that I felt gave me a greater sense of wonder over the words, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel;” an intense longing for those in “lonely exile” to see that God is present in their darkness just as Corrie Ten Boom experienced him in the camp at Ravensbrück.
How fitting it is that The Falls Church Anglican, a church that has been navigating a long, uphill journey to a permanent home, is able - even in transition - to welcome other sojourners. Only the God of hope could have orchestrated such a connection, enabling this congregation to open its doors and overflow with resources for others during its own season of upheaval. What a privilege to share this building with students from one of the largest communities of Uyghurs outside of China! As we support and work alongside For the Nations, may God continue to give us the resources and the words to assure our Uyghur neighbors that although they may feel that God is far off, Emmanuel is actually not far from each one of us.
Come meet our students! They would love to meet you. Next Wednesday, Dec. 12, For the Nations is hosting an open house in the Learning Center from 1:30-3:00. All are welcome. Interested in helping with English classes? For the Nations is looking for experienced ESOL teachers, classroom helpers, a database manager, and a volunteer bookkeeper. Contact email@example.com.
ON THE MEANING OF HOPE
In a message written a few days after our church lost its original building and land in April of 2013, John Yates quoted 1 Thess. 4:13, reminding our congregation that we “do not grieve as others do who have no hope.” He then went on to explain what this would mean for The Falls Church Anglican in the “sojourning” years ahead: