Utterly Amazed

I love to travel, especially to foreign lands even though I speak no foreign language. I embrace the culture, the food, and even the inconveniences. My parents instilled this passion in me from an early age. We often hosted visiting missionaries and I would listen to their stories of God working in their lives and the lands where they lived. When I was six, my father took me with him on my first trip to Haiti where my job was to take my turn pumping water, mixing cement with a small hand shovel, and gathering the nails the local women pulled out of the boards so we could reuse both the nails and the boards to build a new worship center. The people were hungry for God’s Word. I learned early on that smiles, laughter, and hugs create a universal language all its own—a language spoken from the heart. 

In 1975, I witnessed Nicaraguan Guerilla warfare: the sounds of helicopters flying low over our compound by day and decimating the recently built Houses of Worship with gunfire by night. At 12, I lived the life of a Puerto Rican when I stayed with a family and their pre-teen daughter for two weeks. No one in their family spoke English, and during this time, I learned that although God made us unique in color and language, our hearts are the same. On another occasion while we were in Canada, I learned we can look very much alike yet speak a distinct language and have unique cultures. As a young teenager in Costa Rica, with the help of an interpreter, I shared my testimony publicly for the first time with other teens.

A few years later when I was in Mexico, I shared again with even greater confidence how Jesus Christ had changed my life. In Italy and Germany, I fellowshipped in the homes of locals and enjoyed simple meals without understanding a single word spoken. As a young woman, I sang and clapped to the beat of worshipping hearts on the Island of Dominica and learned that we may worship uniquely, but we still worship the same God. In China, I fell in love. Not with my husband—that love found me 20 years earlier—but with the Chinese culture and people.

When my husband and our girls moved to Columbia, SC, we attended a very mission-minded church. Our associate pastor accepted a call as a missionary to China and began an E-Friendship program there. This program matched local Chinese individuals who had shown a propensity for desiring spiritual understanding with a Christian Westerner who was willing to donate an hour each week to Skype and practice English with them. I agreed to take part and began meeting with my E-Friend, Ruzhen, every Sunday morning from 8 to 9 before I left for church. A special friendship developed, and Ruzhen and I have continued meeting since 2010. I have learned to be very intentional in sharing Jesus Christ with her during the short time we have together each week.

In 2001, our family moved to Fort Mill, SC, and shortly after this move, my friendship with a Chinese woman began. Amy owned and worked at the local Chinese restaurant. As the friendship continued, I made a bargain with Amy to keep her son at my home one night a week in exchange for a meal. Amy could not understand why I would want to do this for her. I would smile and remind her that friends did that for each other, hoping that one day she would understand English well enough for me to share about my Best Friend, Jesus Christ.

In 2013, my oldest daughter Jordan asked if I might help her find a place to serve so that she could determine if her desire to become a teacher was a good fit for her. We took the ESL training provided by the SC Baptist Convention, and both served for a year at an evening ESL program. During this time, I felt God tugging on my heart to start a ministry. Although I felt I had few leadership skills, had no formal teacher training, and also relied on others for transportation because I am legally blind, I realized God was asking me to take this step of faith. God continually put Habakkuk 1:5 in front of me: “Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” I found it hard to believe God was calling me to start a ministry without a single student or teacher. However, He and I have enough history that I knew He was true to His word—and I certainly didn’t want to miss being “utterly amazed”!

I told God “yes” and immediately asked Him, “Where will I find students?” He answered with Leviticus 19:33-34: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you should love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” My friend Amy was “the stranger” residing with me and, recalling my experiences in foreign countries like Haiti and Puerto Rico, I understood what it meant to feel like an alien in a foreign land both spiritually and literally. Throughout my entire life, I have been placed in situations where I was the one who did not know the language or customs. I knew God had been preparing me for this day. 

I started an ESL Bible study in my home. The group soon outgrew my kitchen table, so I approached my local church. Tuesday mornings at First Baptist Church of Fort Mill, South Carolina, soon found dedicated teachers, childcare workers, and a large group of ESL students laughing, smiling, hugging, eating, and sharing a faltering “hello” with their new friends. Some gravitated to those who spoke their native language and others sought those willing to struggle through a conversation in English. Regardless of home culture, language barriers, or age, they all came together to learn of God’s love for them.

When we started the ESL ministry in September 2014, we had 5 ladies show up, and by year-end, we had 27 ladies from 9 different, mostly Asian, countries. I was “utterly amazed”. These women were consistent, desired homework, and enjoyed getting into God’s Word. They came expecting to learn and to be fed, both spiritually and literally, and left with God’s Word on their hearts, minds, and tongues. 

Several classes of the ESL ministry at FBCFM continued to meet virtually when Covid-19 hit. The ministry ended the 2019-2020 on-campus school year, having touched the lives of 126 students from 35 different countries.  78 volunteers had supported 9 levels of classes, with 18 of those volunteers being certified ESL teachers. It was a privilege to see all that God had done, and I am still “utterly amazed” at how God blessed my obedience.

Was this an effortless task God had given to me? No way. I’ve just shared the highlights, the feel-good “Guidepost version” of my journey in starting this new ESL ministry. Was it worth it? You bet! I would not trade being “utterly amazed” by God for anything. Now my question for you is, how has God “utterly amazed” you lately? Is He inviting you to join Him in doing something greater than you could imagine yourself doing? Are you ready to be “utterly amazed”? If His Spirit is prompting you today, be obedient, and you too will be “utterly amazed”. 

Published by Author Heidi Gray McGill

Heidi and her husband of over thirty years live in South Carolina. Besides writing Christian fiction with relatable characters in life-changing stories, Heidi relishes time with family and friends. She enjoys scrapbooking, playing games, traveling, and building bridges with her grandsons that must fall with a loud crash and usually involve a monster truck.

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