Blog Posts by Susan Morinaga

ESL Conversation Partners Update


During the summer, International Connection, the English as a second language program at RBC, does not have classes. Instead I match upper-level students who can carry a conversation, with volunteers from the church. Students benefit from having someone that they can regularly speak English with all summer long. We suggest meeting once a week or once every other week at a public place such as cafes, fast-food restaurants, playgrounds, the mall or parks.

Recently, I met with a good-sized sampling of the 26 pairs that I put together in June and we chatted about their experiences over the summer – both the students as well as the volunteers. Early on, I had heard some negative responses from those who had trouble maintaining communication with their students (this was the tiny minority) so I was not prepared for the inspiring comments that I heard from the partners who attended last week’s meeting.

One volunteer had waded into the bureaucracy of a government-run, low-income, home-buying program in which his Chinese student and his wife had found themselves. Imagine dealing with all of that government and real estate jargon in another language! The volunteer patiently helped them figure out what documents were needed and then also why they had not heard back from the agency in question. They finally ended up with an application that is now being processed and this couple will soon start the search for their new home! This volunteer also assisted the student’s wife as she tried to find books in the library that were at her reading level. All of these activities are intimidating to people not born in this culture.

Another volunteer helped her student navigate the complexities of scholarship programs available to her high school child – a task that she was eminently suited for as a Fairfax County school teacher!

Several volunteers mentioned the hard-working nature of their students and cited their international friends as admirable examples to their own children of perseverance not only in language acquisition but also cultural integration. These students were/are serious about living and working here!

Very often we take our comfortable lives here for granted and we do not realize the uphill climb it is for 99 percent of the immigrant population that choose to settle here. When we do not develop a personal relationship with an international person, we miss out on knowing the great highs and lows of the immigrant experience. My faithful volunteers got to see this and are richer and more empathetic people because of it. Thanks be to God!

Sowing Seeds at International Connection

In International Connection, the English as a second language program at RBC, we strive to meet 3 main goals as a ministry. They are:

  • To provide quality English classes to the immigrant community around us
  • To be a place of community where people can make friends and feel a sense of belonging.
  • To “sow the seed” of the gospel in a basic way – to let everyone know that God loves them.

We hold classes on Tuesday nights and on Wednesday mornings from September through early May for adult internationals, in four academic levels. Free childcare is also provided during class times as well as a Homework Club, which is tutoring for the grade school children of our evening students.   This fulfills the first goal on our list as we endeavor to improve our students’ lives through language acquisition.

The second goal – that of building community – is something that was evident this past spring in our morning advanced level class. They so enjoyed each others’ company and the English conversation practice that they organized their own weekly gatherings in each others’ homes for 8 weeks after the spring semester ended! They felt a bond of friendship with one another as well as with their teachers. They also needed a forum for problem-solving the various issues that they are met with every day of their lives in this newly-adopted country. Through the course of this felt need, seeds of the gospel were also interspersed – goal number three.

If this type of ministry interests you or if you have any questions about any part of this program, please contact me, Susan Morinaga, at As it stands now, there are few teacher and assistant teacher needs for Sept. 2015.

ESL & Emergency Preparedness

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With all that it takes to become comfortable and productive in Northern Virginia culture, it occurred to me that the internationals in our English as a Second Language program would benefit from understanding how to handle emergency situations.  One of our teachers, Ron Colan, has a son who is a deputy with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s office.  Deputy Colantonio was only too happy to come in and share basic knowledge with our students.  I also contacted the Loudoun County Fire and Rescue Squad and they sent a very capable public education manager, Lisa Braun, to provide training in all matters having to do with fire safety and calling 911.

For our two lower-level classes, I had to provide translators in order to ensure clear understanding of this important information.  Thankfully, I was able to find the right people for all the major language groups.  The presenters deftly maneuvered talking then pausing, over and over again, in order to allow the translators to work effectively.

Ms. Braun provided a 911 simulator which looks like a telephone and has a recording of the likely dialog that would be heard from the 911 operator.  It was great for the students to try to answer the dispatcher’s questions and listen for instructions.  When one is in a stressful situation, this may not be so easily done – even for a native English speaker!

Deputy Colantonio talked about what to do if one is pulled over by a police officer and also the procedure to follow should one have a traffic accident.  Students had many questions on other matters pertaining to the law that have either been misunderstood or not known.

We strive to give our students practical information about how to live here as responsible citizens.  Part of that is helping them to acquire the language and part of that is providing cultural insight including understanding the law.  The more we show our love and concern for them, the more likely we will have a platform for pointing them to the ultimate need they have in their lives – knowledge of Jesus Christ and His relevance to every person, whether born here or elsewhere.

An International Connection Thanksgiving

The RBC Club House room was packed with international faces and languages – children, adults, seniors – all chattering and eating.  The annual Thanksgiving Dinner for International Connection (our ESL, or English as a Second Language program) was a chaotic but lively and warm gathering!  We welcomed 168 guests, which made it shoulder-to-shoulder in that space.

The buffet area was set up with two rows of international cuisine – tamales, rice pilaf, spring rolls– mixed in with traditional dishes of turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing.  The International Connection volunteers (plus extra helpers) provided the traditional Thanksgiving fare to give our students a taste of North America.  The students proudly contributed the bounty from their home countries.  What a feast!

After dinner, the children were dismissed to take part in their own supervised activities while the adults remained to enjoy the program.  Pastor Ed Nalle led us in singing “Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart” and then performed “Be Ye Glad” to a rapt audience.  We watched a short video that presented the history of the holiday.  Then there were class presentations and individual student speeches – the highlight of the evening.  From the choral readings to the personalized expressions of why they are thankful, it was a time to count our blessings and then focus on the greatest gift of all – Jesus.  Mike Meyers, Children’s Ministry Director, reminded us to stop and recognize the good things right in front of us that are easily taken for granted.

Our students come from about 25 different countries and 14 language groups.  They are sometimes mystified by the new culture in which they find themselves but when they come to English classes here at RBC each week, they find an oasis where they can practice their language skills in a safe and caring environment and where they can learn about how to adapt to life in this country.  Many come for the English but come back for the friendship and more.  May God give us grateful hearts this holiday time as we think of those who are struggling to survive in the midst of so much upheaval

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Living Out the Gospel in International Connection Childcare

It is always a challenge to bridge the gap in International Connection, the English as a second language program at RBC. There can be language gaps, cultural gaps, faith gaps, or even gaps between kids and their childcare workers. We cannot presume that our folks have 100  percent understanding at any one time. It’s one of the frustrating/challenging/enriching aspects of ministry in the ESL world.

This past year, I had the pleasure of watching the Gospel being lived out between a kind-hearted childcare worker, L., and a 3-year-old Iranian boy, P., and his mother, M. They were new to the country and M. had signed up for English classes at the church last fall. P. did not speak a word of English, but he obediently stayed in the nursery while his mom was in classes Tuesday nights and Wednesday mornings. His mom, meanwhile, loved the community she felt in the classroom and sensed that she was gaining strength in her language acquisition.

In Jan., when M. and P. returned for the spring semester of classes, P. suddenly had a change of heart. He began to have panic attacks every time his mom left him in the charge of the childcare workers. These attacks were not just mild, they entailed kicking and screaming! This was a shock to the childcare workers who had seen a quiet and happy child in the fall transition to a very upset little boy in the new year. His mother was equally shocked to see this new behavior! She was unable to leave P. in the nursery without quite a bit of drama. Though it is against program policy to allow a child to stay in the classroom, it was allowed for a short time just to give him a chance to see that she was alive and well, not far away. But this was not a long-term solution. M. stopped coming to classes out of frustration.

One childcare worker, L., decided that she was going to find a way to bridge this new gap in the relationship. She decided to visit the Iranian mother and her son in their home, along with her own little daughter, in order to show them that she was a friend and not someone to be feared. They started to have little coffee times and lunches together to foster friendship and to also get to know one another’s culture. The Iranian mother confessed that she knew she was going to have to put her son into a preschool sooner or later and had no idea how to go about selecting one in the area. She was stymied with many other aspects of living in this country, so L. decided to be as helpful as possible in bridging the many gaps in M.’s understanding. This led to more and more conversations on various topics. Inevitably, M. wanted to know more about this church and about L.’s faith. What an amazing road to deep conversation that started from a seemingly insurmountable problem in the nursery!

L. is praying about how and when to give her whole testimony to M. With the help of some outside resources she trusts that the language and faith barriers will be bridged because now they have a foundation of trust and friendship to build on. Isn’t it amazing that God has used this former difficulty for His good and His purposes?

ESL Summer Conversation Partners

I am inspired by the many mission opportunities that RBC makes available to those who are willing to go abroad with the gospel. But for those of us who are not able to participate in an overseas mission trip, may I suggest to you that there is an alternative right here at home?

As most of you know, we have the world at our doorstep through the English as a Second Language program, International Connection. But since I like to give all of my teachers the summer off, we do not hold classes from mid-May to September. That is a long time for our students to be drifting without regular English interaction. It may be hard to imagine, but for some of our students, their time in class here is the only time that they speak English consistently throughout their week. It is more comfortable for them to speak in their first languages at home, in their neighborhoods, and even in their workplaces.

That’s where our Conversation Partners program fills in the gap. If you can manage to hold a conversation in English for an hour once a week for six weeks or more, I ask that you pay attention! I have a list of more than a dozen women (only women this time) in our program who would love to meet you. No lesson plans are required, just a willingness to meet with your international person once a week or every other week to speak English.  The emphasis is on building a relationship, not teaching grammar! I suggest a public place such as Starbucks, the library or a park where you can carry on a conversation. This will be the seventh year that we have implemented this program and some of my students have made long-term friends with RBC attendees through this simple method. If you have the desire for cross-cultural ministry, this could be the opportunity for you without the jet-lag.

I’ll be holding an Orientation session on Tuesday evening, May 21, and on May 28 you will be paired with your new international friend!

Please contact me, Susan Morinaga (, if you have any questions or would like to volunteer for this unique opportunity.

Update: I.C. Health Fair


The body of Christ came together in a beautiful way this week in International Connection, the English as a Second Language (ESL) program at RBC.  In order to make a Health Fair work, I was in need of healthcare instructors to deliver short talks on general good health habits to our internationals, and I also needed translators to assist in the lower level classes.  With the precision of a physically fit body, and by God’s grace, it all came together!  Students were divided into 3 groups, depending on their level of English.  Everyone rotated through 3 different seminars on health on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, instead of their regular English classes.

In the two days of health seminars, we featured a registered dietician, nurses, a dental hygienist and a representative from Medicare/Medicaid.  Students had their blood pressure taken, learned what those numbers mean and how to improve them.  They were also given vaccination schedules for their families and talks on general preventive medicine.  The dietician gave talks on eating appropriately from the five food groups and dedicated all of Wednesday’s seminars to diabetes education.  The dental hygienist used student volunteers to act as “teeth” as she used a giant brush to demonstrate proper brushing habits and a jump rope for flossing!  With our ESL students, the more demonstrations and visuals one has, the better!  The rep from Medicare/Medicaid spent time emphasizing how to live an active and fit life.

In addition, we had RBC attendees come alongside our presenters to translate into Spanish (our largest language group) all of the details of this important information.  They also spent time one-on-one with some of the students who had very specific questions for our health care professionals.  It was a beautiful thing!

I was blessed to have a very robust turnout for this unique event which leads me to think that it might be wise to have this on an annual basis.  I will be looking for more ways to serve our international community in the future and welcome any ideas that the church gives me in this regard.

Susan Morinaga
Director, International Connection

Click here to learn more about International Connection and our ESL program at Reston Bible Church.

International Connection’s Talk-a-Latte

Usually once per semester, International Connection (the English as a second language program at RBC) plans a “talk-a-latte” for both morning and evening sessions of classes.  This is a time when all four class levels meet together for the last 30 minutes of the class time in the Clubhouse room to have coffee (hence the “latte” part) and snacks, then sit around tables in their class groups with teachers to engage in a particular topic of free discussion.  The topic designated for February 14 -15 was “What do you think is the American (culture’s) view of love?  What do you think is God’s view?”

After I briefly introduced the concept of Valentine’s Day, I asked them to pause and consider another point of view by watching a music video.  We then watched Jason Gray’s video entitled “Remind Me Who I Am” in which many characters were shown holding signs that typified negative characteristics or characters, for example, “Anxious”, “Empty”, “I’m Angry”, “ Victim”, etc.  But the crux of the song was that no matter what we think of ourselves or what others may think of us, in God’s eyes we are His “beloved”.

On our tables, in addition to sheets with the song’s lyrics, there was a list of the main vocabulary words written and defined in order to enhance understanding.  For the ESL group, any time one can combine words with pictures or visuals of any kind, greater comprehension is achieved.  And when one adds music, it adds yet another dimension of interest!

The five tables of students and teachers set about recapping the meaning of the video and song and the lingering question:  What is God’s view of love?  The word “beloved” is rarely used these days and took some time for the students to grasp – but again, the contrast to the other negative labels mentioned in the song was helpful for gaining understanding.  Many of the students could relate to feeling under-valued, abused or “less-than” in this culture.  Incidents of discrimination are regular occurrences to the immigrant population here in Northern Virginia.  But it was the concept of being God’s “beloved” that surprised many of them.  One Buddhist monk came to me and asked for clarification, “Does it mean greatly loved?” he asked.  It does.

I closed the talk-a-latte sessions with a short devotional based on John 3:16 (which was made available to each student in his/her first language) and asked for those who are spiritually interested to continue the conversation with me or with their teachers.  Both sessions provoked deeper questions than the usual classroom lesson plans even for the first-level students.  Our prayer is that the questions will continue and that the Holy Spirit will bear fruit in our students’ lives.

Giving Thanks: International Connection

Picture the Clubhouse room in the RBC Children’s Ministry area with crowds of people all speaking different languages. Women wearing head scarves. Buddhist monks in their orange flowing robes. Children of all colors racing around. The smell of Thai noodles and Iranian pilaf. This was the scene of the annual International Connection Thanksgiving Dinner on Tues. Nov. 15th.

International Connection is the English as a second language program at RBC. We have classes on Tuesday nights and Wednesday mornings. Last year’s enrollment of adult students was a little anemic as local internationals had a hard time finding our new church facility. This year is an entirely different story! Student registration has been extremely robust. We finally had to cut it off when class sizes started to outgrow their effectiveness due to their growing sizes.

Every November, we put on a Thanksgiving Dinner for the students and their families. This year, the Bereans adult fellowship group provided the traditional Thanksgiving food (turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pies, etc.) and students brought dishes from their home countries. It was an outstanding buffet! Homemade spring rolls, pupusas, taquitos, rice pilaf and more! To make matters more complicated, we had the greatest number of participants ever – 160 bodies! The Clubhouse was set up for 150, but we stretched the limit and were forced to make a classroom the buffet room.

Before dinner, one of the teachers, Marca Fritzemeier, explained the 5 corn kernel story concerning the plight of the first Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock. Each place setting had a small cup of 5 candy corn kernels to illustrate the story.

After dinner, the children were dismissed to their childcare workers and we enjoyed a post-dinner program. A short video was shown on the history of the Thanksgiving holiday. This was followed by student speeches. A couple of representatives were selected from each class to tell what they were most thankful for. A surprising number of students mentioned their thanks to God and Jesus – totally unprompted by their teachers! Some expressed their thanks for our program, for their jobs, for their families and their health. One young man expressed his hope that someday soon his young daughter would be able to join him here from El Salvador. These were heartfelt words, and I was reminded of the
many everyday blessings that I take for granted.

Erik Palmer ended the evening with some well-chosen “Thanksgiving “songs that we all joined in on, thanks to the words on the screen. Appropriately, he also presented the gospel in a simple but thorough way and invited anyone who had questions to talk to him or I.C. staff later. It was a meaningful ending to a memorable evening. May God use our words, our relationships and our lives to reflect His goodness and love to these wonderful people.

An Indescribable Gift at International Connection

“Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15)

In International Connection, the English as a Second Language program at RBC, it is only occasionally that we have the blessing of walking a student through the doors of salvation (for a variety of reasons – various faith backgrounds, cultures, linguistic challenges, etc.)  This past year, however, one of our teachers had that very privilege with a woman brand-new to our program in September 2009.  B., though entry-level in her understanding of the English language, nevertheless managed to grasp the truth of the gospel very early on with the help of her teacher and other believers to whom she was introduced.

B. had other issues to surmount in her life. She lives in a women’s shelter due to a domestic abuse situation.  However, she was extremely motivated to make this country her home and to get to the point in her language ability to make a living for herself and her family.  She attended our program twice a week faithfully as well as that of another church-based English program.  She was promoted to our Beginner-level class from Pre-Beginner quickly.  She began to attend church every week and got into a Shepherd group.  In time, she had a devoted “family” of believers whom she could count on for love and support.

A friend of B.’s told her about her plan to go on the Brazil mission trip and asked B. to pray for her, including asking the Lord for financial provision.  The needs in Brazil are familiar to B. because, sadly, there are women and children who live on dumps in her home country too.  In addition to praying, B. wanted to contribute $100.  The only problem is that B. does not have a job because she does not have her green card yet.  She is limited to only working an occasional personal job, like babysitting.  Another friend of B.’s knew she was a certified beautician in her home country.  That friend asked B. if she would come to her house and cut, color and style the hair of yet another friend.  B. accepted and was delighted to earn the $100 she needed for her gift!

She emphatically and joyfully gave that income to the person signed up for the mission to Brazil this summer! A whole host of people who know her were touched by this generous and sincere gift – and the blessing will be extended to  another group of people far more destitute than B., thousands of miles away in Brazil.

We are in awe of the lessons God has shown us in this situation – that financial support can come from completely unexpected places and that He can use even brand-new, cross-cultural believers in the faith to inspire the rest of us.