I'm feeling a tad lazy today, so here's a little article I wrote yesterday for the church newsletter, modified slightly to remove some personal information.
I first came to Christ Presbyterian in the spring of 2010, but it wasn't until this month that I attended one of CPC's signature programs: the Friday night English Conversation Time. I'd taken part in a handful of International Outreach events – an International dinner, a trip to Second Harvest, the most recent tour of Madison – but since the idea of socializing with people I don't know scares me, I had allowed that fear to keep me away from the conversation sessions.
Nevertheless, I finally decided to bite the bullet and give it a try. Partly, it was because as someone serving in a leadership position, I feel obligated to take part in the life of the church to as great a degree as possible. I was also influenced by two books I'd recently read: Adele Ahlberg Calhoun's Invitations from God, which (as Grace H. wrote of in Tidings last month) speaks of God's invitation to experience the presence of other people; and Brad Brisco and Lance Ford's Missional Essentials, which argues that we are all called to be sent into the community to share God's love. Lastly, I can't deny that I was drawn that first night by the promise of free pizza. Who doesn't like free pizza?
I quickly realized that my fears were entirely unfounded. For one thing, I did know several of the other people in attendance, so it was hardly the roomful of strangers I'd feared. It also helped that I was able to reconceptualize it as less of a social event and more of an opportunity to assist people who were asking for help. I'm not always comfortable asking for help, but giving help is something I'm always up for.
That said, the social aspect is a lot of fun too. I've truly enjoyed the conversations I've had with the international students I've met, especially when they turn in unexpected directions and result in interesting questions. That first night, for example, a discussion of fishing licenses led one student to ask, if anyone can get a license, why issue a license? The following week, the presence of a large group of Mennonites on State Street prompted questions about what they were doing and why they were there, and also a request that I explain the difference between God and Jesus. Nothing like a short discussion of hypostasis to enliven an evening!
One thing that's become clear even after only three sessions is that there can't be too many native speakers. The first two weeks, the internationals outnumbered the native speakers five-to-one or more. The third week was closer to parity, which allowed for smaller groups and offered an opportunity for one-on-one conversations for those who desired it. Your presence will be valuable whether we have a lot of native speakers or just few, so why not give it a try yourself one of these weeks?
English Conversation Time is currently held at Pres House, 731 State Street in Madison, every Friday starting at 6:00pm. For further details, contact Jean-René Watchou, Director of International Outreach by phone or email at [redacted]. Hope to see you there!