2 friends walk along a tree lined sidewalk in Dusseldorf

Bridging the Gap – part 5

What if you don’t speak the language?

You possibly will have noticed that the three examples of how my wife and I bridged the gap between an ESL/TESOL activity and sharing the gospel were with people whose language my wife and I already spoke.  But what can be done if no one in your program speaks the language of the students with whom you want to share the gospel?

That presents a difficult problem for any church/ministry trying to use an ESL/TESOL program to share the gospel because all the evidence points to the fact that comprehension of the gospel is best when the gospel is shared in the “heart language” of the listener.  However, this is not an unsurmountable problem.  Let me share some suggestions.

One of the first things anyone involved in an ESL/TESOL ministry should do is begin to pray that God will bring people around their ministry who speak the heart language of most/many of the students that will be attending the classes.  God can move His sons and daughters around to make them available to your ministry!  These could be people who live in the area who are already Christians, even members of another congregation that speak that language.  However, I would not recommend the use of non-Christian interpreters because you would not be sure of what they are communicating.  

If you have a lot of Spanish or French-speaking students in your ESL/TESOL ministry, you might recruit some spiritually mature high schoolers who are studying Spanish or French to become resource people to work alongside the teachers when the personal relation with a native speaker of one of those languages develops to the point where sharing the gospel would be natural.

Another option would be to have one or two people in your group accept the challenge of learning the target language of those attending the classes.  They would need to learn not only basic communication skills in that language, but also specific “religious” vocabulary in order to convey the truths of the gospel.  

Do not overlook the tremendous value of what I call “body” evangelism.  One example of this was mentioned in my wife’s description of the how several people from our church reached out to, and served Consuela and Ricardo when Consuela suffered a miscarriage.  Those church members did not speak Consuela’s language, but they showed love and generosity and emotional support, even when they did not speak her language.  Some of the best evangelism occurs when members of the Body of Christ, through friendship and serving others, break the ice by giving of themselves to a non-believer.  Each believer has a gift God has given them to function in the Body.  Some will be gifted in evangelism, others in generosity, others in hospitality, others in service.  Evangelism is not just an “individual sport”, but rather a “body sport”.  And the ones who are often “greater” in this ministry are precisely those who are more in the background.  

Another way to, at least partially, solve the language problem would be to have a series of “question-and-answer” evangelistic Bible studies (like the studies we use based on the Gospel of John) in both English and the heart language of the student with whom you want to share the gospel.  Even with limited English skills a person who has the printed Bible study and the Scriptures in his/her heart language can generally communicate in basic terms what he/she understands from the study.  The Spirit can use the Scriptures in that person’s heart language to show him/her the truth, and in simple English the one witnessing to him/her can clarify any doubts.

In any case, the ministry should have on hand copies of at least the Gospel of John or perhaps New Testaments in the target language, and supplemental literature (such as gospel tracts and evangelistic Bible studies) in that language.

Lessons to be Learned

  • The most basic step to creating a bridge to sharing the gospel is to cultivate relationships with at least a few of the students in a TESOL, ESL program (or sports or women’s club, etc.).  Relationships are what open doors, and without them, any attempt to share the gospel will most likely fail.  Two people had the same opportunity to build bridges to the Fernandez [1] brothers.  One condemned and separated himself from them; I sought them out, prayed for them and developed a relationship with them.
  • How that relationship will start has an infinite number of possibilities.  How I did it, or how Wilma did it, might not work for you, but you must find some common ground with which to start a relationship.  As you have seen in this article, even the topic of sex can be used by God to help build that bridge.
  • Although eventually the doctrinal aspects of the gospel will need to be highlighted, people need to get to know Jesus Christ as a person.  They need to see how He interacted with people in the Gospels, they need to understand that He loves them.  In short, they need to be put into prolonged contact with the Scriptures.  The Spirit uses the Scriptures to draw them to God.  It doesn’t matter if they don’t believe the Scriptures are inspired by God.  The Word of God is still sharp and powerful as a two-edged sword and strikes to the heart of the person.
  • I would recommend that you read my article “Communicating the Gospel Cross-Culturally” on this site, if you have not yet read it.

[1] Names have been changed to protect these individuals’ privacy.

This article is 5 of 5 in a series.

2 friends walk along a tree lined sidewalk in Dusseldorf

Bridging the Gap – part 4

“What’s with those girls?”

Our student ministry building was just across the street from the Dental School of one of the largest universities in the world, and their volleyball team needed a place to practice.  We had a basketball/volleyball court behind our building, so when the coach asked if they could practice on our court, my answer was “yes, of course.”

What follows, as you can see, did not happen in an ESL or TESOL ministry, but it does illustrate how to take any circumstance and use it to open a door for sharing the gospel.

I often watched their practices and soon became intrigued by the fact that one of their best players on the team was a very short guy.  After one of their practices, I introduced myself to that player and he told me his name was Iván[1].   One afternoon when the team was practicing one of the men in our Bible study group from our church came by to see me and noticed Iván playing volleyball on our court.  His comment to me was, “What in the world is Iván doing here?  He lives in the apartment just below ours.  He and his brothers are wild, and I mean really wild party animals!  They have wild drunken sex parties all the time!”  I asked him if he had ever tried to share the gospel with them.  “Share the gospel with them?  Not on your life!  They are troublemakers!”

When the university’s intermural volleyball competition began, I started attending some of their games, thinking I might find a way to witness to some of the players.  After one of the games, I walked onto the court and struck up a conversation with Iván.  I asked him how was it that he, a very short player, was one of the best on the team.  He shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know . . . perhaps his enthusiasm and commitment to the game.  We talked a little about what chance he thought the team had in the league with other schools on the campus.

I finally asked him what he liked to do in his free time, besides volleyball.  Iván brightened and said that he and his two brothers had a music group and they loved playing music.  When I asked him what kind of music they liked most, he said Andean music, which was a little surprising because that style of music is not well known in that country.

I think Iván was a little surprised, but also excited, by my next comment.  I told him that from time to time we have groups of American students come to our student center for a week to help us, and if they would be open to it, I would like to invite them to come play the next time a group came down (which was only a little over a month away).

That group of American students were coming to help us do evangelism on campus and in our student center.  There was only one problem.  Just before that group arrived, the university students went on strike and there was nothing for the American students to do because the university was completely closed.  However, I decided we would have a party at our house and invite Iván and his brothers to provide music.

When the Fernandez [1] brothers showed up at our house that Friday night for the party they were about half drunk, and spent most of the night, when not playing their music, flirting with, and trying to touch or hug the girls.  Fortunately for us, the girls in the group were spiritually mature enough to know how to turn the boys away without making them feel rejected. 

The following Monday, all three of the Fernandez brothers showed up at my office.  The American students had already returned to the U.S., but the brothers wanted to talk with me.  They apologized over and over again for showing up half drunk, and I assured them that it was not a problem.  To my surprise, they said they had a question about the girls.  “In all our years and experience with girls, NO girl has ever turned down our advances! Not once!  What was going on with those girls?”

I smiled and told them, “Let me explain something to you guys.  Jesus Christ has transformed the lives of those girls and they now have a very different concept of sex.  They have decided to save the beauty of their sexual experience for the special man God has for each of them in the future.  They want to bring honor to God with their sex life.”  That completely blew the mind of those three young men and they began peppering me with all kinds of questions and just could not wrap their minds around that whole concept.

I asked them if they would be interested in studying the Bible with me to help them understand what made those girls so different.  They were somewhat non-committal, and it took us several months to get them to agree to study the Bible with us, but when they did accept, they asked if we would be willing to drive down each week to a small town south of the university to do the studies there, so their mother could also join the study.

Once a week for the next three or four months we met them at their mother’s house to study the Bible. We went through four studies based on the Gospel of John and another four studies called “Encounters with Jesus,” mostly based on Luke’s Gospel.  The mother was the first to accept Christ, but the three brothers eventually gave their lives to Christ.  They later lead their divorced father and his new wife to Christ.

[1] Names have been changed to protect these individuals’ privacy.

This article is 4 of 5 in a series.

2 friends walk along a tree lined sidewalk in Dusseldorf

Bridging the Gap – part 3

Celebrating Important Milestones

by Dr. Lloyd and Wilma Mann

I met my wife, Wilma, in Costa Rica as a young, single missionary.  Her university training was in teaching elementary students, but she has prepared herself extensively in teaching English as a second language.  She taught ESL at the local community college for some eight years, until the COVID pandemic shut down that program.  The following is her description of one of the ways she makes the transition from a secular ESL program to sharing the gospel.  She writes:

During one ESL semester, the group of students was very integrated and got along very well.  The size of the group was not too big nor too small: just eight students.  Among them was Consuela[1], who was well along in a pregnancy.  Sometimes her older daughter, who was bilingual, would accompany her to make sure she was fine.  As time drew near to her due date and she was still attending classes, I suggested to the class that we give her a baby shower.

The students decorated the class, brought goodies, cake and presents.  She arrived, as always, to find herself the center of attention as everybody yelled “Surprise!” And it was a real surprise!  She was overcome with tears of joy and excitement.  After delivering five babies, this was her first baby shower.  The party went on for some time, and when it was time to go, I asked the students if I could pray for Consuela and her baby.  Everyone agreed so I prayed a simple prayer for them.  She turned to me and said, “That is what I needed.”

She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and I went to visit them at their house.  We talked about God and she had many questions, so I offered to study the Bible with her. She happily agreed, and I gave her a Bible.

The next week I arrived at her house we began a Bible study from the Gospel of John.  It was a joy to work with her over the next three weeks and see the Holy Spirit work in her life.   After the third study, when I asked her if she would like to accept Jesus as Lord she responded: “Yes, with all my heart!”  I was so happy that there was a new child of God.  There was joy in heaven!

We continued to meet and soon she started attending church.   Her husband, Ricardo[1], was not at all interested so he stayed home with two of their children who were autistic.

Consuela and I prayed for her husband.  As time passed, he started watching her and noticed her new life in Christ full of joy and peace.  I gave her a little booklet that contained Christian truths.  She left it on a table where he could see it, and one day, he finally read it.  He surprised her soon after when he told her that he was going to visit the church with her the next Sunday.  He was very impressed with the service and became very motivated to continue attending.

Sometime after, they suffered a crisis in their family: Consuela had a miscarriage and both she and Ricardo were very sad.  But in this time of sorrow, several members of our church reached out to help them.  Ricardo and Consuela were very thankful to have experienced the love and support of the church and through this experience they learned to trust God in every situation that He allowed to come into their life.

They continued being part of the church and were very faithful in attendance.  After a few months, Consuela decided to obey the Lord in baptism.  After the service was over, Ricardo came to my husband, Lloyd, and told him: “If the pastor had asked one more time, I would have gone forward to be baptized too.”  Lloyd told him that the next Sunday there would be baptisms again and suggested he could be baptized then.  Ricardo said that first he wanted to meet with Lloyd during the week sometime.  He came to our house and Lloyd explained to him the meaning of baptism and who can be baptized.  He asked Ricardo if he wanted to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  He said he did.  He was excited about declaring his faith in Jesus.  The next Sunday He too was baptized. 

Before the service started, Ricardo gave Lloyd a little box to hold.  After the baptisms were over, he asked Lloyd for the box and went to the front of the sanctuary.  The pastor told the congregation that Ricardo had some words to say.  He told the congregation: “I have just been baptized, as you saw.  I want to do what the Lord asks of me.” He went and knelt in front of Consuela and asked, “Would you marry me?” She was completely surprised, and of course very happy.  The whole congregation started applauding with joy and everybody was crying with excitement.

Ricardo and Consuela had lived together for many years and they had seven children together, but they had never married.  So, at that moment he was, for the first time, asking her to marry him.  The church gave them a beautiful reception when they married a few weeks later.   

That happened about ten years ago and they have been faithful to the Lord, and in these years have reared a beautiful family.  One of their daughters just returned from her second mission trip to Guatemala in two years.  This is a beautiful family that serves Christ in their church, and all this began with a baby shower in an ESL class at a secular university.

[1] Names have been changed to protect these individuals’ privacy.

This article is 3 of 5 in a series.

2 friends walk along a tree lined sidewalk in Dusseldorf

Bridging the Gap – part 2

Friendship and an Invitation to Study the Bible

When I met Alejandro[1], the first thing I did was get to know him on a purely social level, outside the religious context of the church.  I could have chosen any number of activities from sports, cultural events, or inviting him to spend some time with my wife and me in our home.  In this case, he and I chose to meet for coffee several times over a period of a few weeks.  During that time, I wanted to get to know as much as I could about him as a person, as well as feel out his depth of spiritual interest and experience.  Alejandro was a student at one of the local state universities, majoring in international finance.  We talked a lot about political situations in Latin America and specifically about what was going on in his home country.  His political convictions were quite different from my own convictions and there was a lot of back-and-forth discussion with him challenging my beliefs and me challenging his.   

During these times together I asked about how he came to attend our church and I casually tried to ascertain whether he was a born-again Christian.  Since he grew up in a predominately Roman Catholic country, his basic spiritual formation was Roman Catholic, but he had been attending our church for over a year.  He told me he had given his life to Christ during that time.  However, from our experience in working with Roman Catholic and evangelical university students in three different Latin American countries, we never take for granted that even “evangelical” students are actually Christians.   So, after a few weeks I asked him if he would be interested in studying the Bible with me.

Even with pastors’ and deacons’ children we always begin by doing a series of four evangelistic Bible studies based on the Gospel of John . . . because we have had pastors’ and other church leaders’ children, after going through those studies with us, admit that they had never really given their lives to Christ.  We sometimes discover little difference between Roman Catholic-background and evangelical-background students.  Often, both have a religion, but not a relationship with Christ.

The leaders of that ESL ministry wanted to start a spiritual ministry to Spanish-speakers and to plant a Spanish-speaking church (or campus) sometime in the future.  However, several years into that ESL ministry, there was no visible movement toward accomplishing that goal.

As we did the evangelistic Bible studies, it was evident that Alejandro had in fact become a believer, although his moral life had not changed much, and we spent time talking about some of his struggles in that area.  He soon asked if he could invite a couple of friends to join us in Bible study.  Those friends began to invite their friends, and within a few months we had our living room filled each Friday night with young people who came to study the Bible.  During the next year and a half at least a third of those attending were non-Christians.  What really blew my mind was that those non-Christians really seemed to enjoy the Bible studies.  Never in all my experience in Latin America had I ever seen non-Christians who loved studying the Bible.  Gradually some of those non-Christians gave their lives to Christ . . . while some others rejected the gospel and gradually distanced themselves from the group.

With a group of around 30-35 attending the studies (not all at the same time!) we began considering starting a Spanish-speaking campus for our church.  At that point the leaders of the ESL ministry joined forces with us (though none of their students ever attended the once-a-month services with which we soft-launched the campus).  Those 20-25 Christian students (several of them new believers) from our weekly Bible study became the core leadership group of the campus when we officially launched the weekly Spanish-speaking worship services.

I eventually came to realize that it was not so much that those non-Christian students and young professionals loved studying the Bible.  I realized that all those young people were separated from their friends and families in Latin America and they felt drawn to our weekly studies because they longed for close friendships . . . and enjoyed the food we always shared together after the studies.  They saw in those Christian students attractive examples of young people who knew how to enjoy themselves in wholesome ways, and were surprised to see Christians who accepted them, loved them, and did life with them.

Today that Spanish campus runs nearly 300 in attendance each Sunday and has grown way beyond a group of young people to include young couples, families with children of a wide range of ages, young professionals, day laborers, and even many elderly people.

[1] Names have been changed to protect these individuals’ privacy.

This article is 2 of 5 in a series.

2 friends walk along a tree lined sidewalk in Dusseldorf

Bridging the Gap

Has your church/ministry decided to start an ESL ministry with the hope of opening doors to share the gospel with non-English-speaking people in the community?  If so, the million-dollar question is: how to move from just teaching English to using the ESL ministry to open doors for sharing the gospel?

When a church or ministry moves outside of what most would consider “normal” church activities (regular services, revivals, Sunday School, children’s and youth ministries, etc.), it has been our experience in over 50 years of sharing the gospel that churches tend to struggle with how to make the jump from less “religious” activities (like a n ESL ministry) to the desired goal of sharing the gospel.  Whether that activity be a women’s club, a sports program, a tutoring program, or an ESL ministry, most churches struggle with knowing how to build the bridge to sharing the gospel.

A recent personal experience of mine will illustrate a solution to that problem.  When we retired from our ministry as missionaries in Latin America, we began attending a fast-growing, soon-to-be multiple-campus mega church.  The area where we live has a large immigrant population composed of many nationalities.  However, the most visible effort the church had made to reach any of those immigrant groups was a small ESL program started and staffed mostly by dedicated young people that met in a different church’s building in an area of the city where many Latin American immigrants live.  

The leaders of that ESL ministry wanted to start a spiritual ministry to Spanish-speakers and to plant a Spanish-speaking church (or campus) sometime in the future.  However, several years into that ESL ministry, there was no visible movement toward accomplishing that goal.

Since most of our ministry in Latin America was centered around evangelizing and discipling university and high school students, one of the first things I did when we started attending the church was to look for any Latin American youth/students in the worship services.  I finally spotted Alejandro, a Latin American university student and invited him to get coffee with me one afternoon.

To be clear, you will notice that my experience did not begin with a TESOL program, but what I did as I got to know that young man is illustrative of how to bridge the gap between a secular activity and our spiritual objective.  My wife, further on in this article, will share her experience with a secular ESL program in our city and how she reached an entire family for Christ.  Then I will share another example of how I used a sports activity to reach an entire family for Christ.  

This article is 1 of 5 in a series.

A large group of different people in a line together at sunset

Integrating ESL Students into the Church

Connecting with the Worship Service

Many ESL ministries want to figure out how to best integrate their ESL students into the church. This is a significant question that requires prayer, thought and planning. Some ESL ministries may partner with a local non-English language church (Spanish, Korean, Chinese etc.) and direct their ESL students to a church in their home language.  This is a viable option and encourages the students to worship and be discipled in the language most comfortable for them. 

In our ESL ministry, there were no first language churches that most of our students could attend, therefore, we needed to integrate the students into our English-language church.  In addition, the children of our students spoke English and were a part of our children’s ministry.  Because of this, we were left with the question of what to do with the parents? How could we integrate them into our church?   

This is not a question for the faint of heart.  It is not easy to suddenly try and integrate a group of non-English speakers into English language churches.  Your ESL students come from different cultures.  They will possibly look different than your other church members.  They may have a very different socio-economic status.  Often, their way of relating to others is different. The differences can quickly add up; leaving everyone discouraged as they try to unite as one Body of Christ.

In our church, one of the values is “unity in diversity.”  Finding unity in diversity takes work, even more so when there is no common heart language.  We have to be patient with each other as we navigate towards unity.

There are, however, some practical steps for achieving unity. In our ESL ministry, we decided to have an extra “class” after the official ESL class.  In this class, we introduced the Scripture for next Sunday’s sermon and gave a simplified summary of the meaning of the verse.  Because we also were able to speak the language of the majority of our students, we had a short explanation in their first language.  We gave about 10 English vocabulary words that they were likely to hear in the sermon and reviewed those words with them.  We then allowed time for them to ask us questions.  

Recently, I attended one church that did a fantastic job of utilizing resources that can help English language learners (ELLs) connect with the sermon.  This church provided several visual aids that can help an ELL gain a better understanding of what the sermon is about.  The church gives each person a simplified outline with the main points of the sermon. ELLs are probably not going to comprehend every part of the sermon, but an outline will help them follow the main ideas.  The church also projects the Bible passage and uses tools that allow them to underline and circle key words.  This allows people to both see and hear the message.  The following is an example:

These ideas help English language learners connect to the worship service and feel a part of the Sunday worship time.

Connecting with the Body

English language learners not only need to connect with the worship service, but they also need to connect in a personal way with the Body of Christ.  At our church, we had one lady who was our “ELL Superhero.”  She naturally gravitated towards any new ELL and talked to them before or after the service.  She also made sure that she brought them to the pastor so that he greeted them too.  When we had dinner after church, she would invite them to sit with her and her husband.  

If we all looked out for who is new in the church, we would not have a problem integrating new people into the Body.  However, even at church, people are busy with responsibilities.  If you plan to have students from your ESL ministry come to church, make sure that you recruit some volunteers who will be on the lookout for these students.  They can make sure that the students know where to go, what to do, and feel welcome.  A smiling face and Google translate can go a long way.  

Welcoming new English speakers into the Body takes time and thought.  Can your church provide a small group or Sunday School class for new ELLs?  What kinds of Bible studies and activities does your church have already that would best be suited to a new English language learner?  Can you include the home countries of ELLs as a part of your prayer requests when there are big events happening in those countries? Are there areas where the ELLs can serve?  

Serving together gives people the opportunity to bond.  ELLs can serve with other church members as greeters, as part of a hospitality team, on a church workday, or any special event participation.  It is important to make sure that your ELLs get connected to appropriate ways to serve together with others.  If your church participates in a sports league or packs food for a regular food drive, these are other avenues for English language learners to be involved with church members.  A vast vocabulary is often not needed to play soccer or basketball or pack food together.  

Any church group or activity that is focused on “doing” instead of “speaking” is a great way to begin involving ELLS in the life of the church.  The above are just some beginning ways to begin thinking about how to incorporate ELLs into your church body and give them the feeling of “home” here in the US.

**Activity** I highly encourage you to visit a non-English speaking church, possibly one that speaks the language you studied in high school or college.  As you go through the service, think about things that would help you worship even when you don’t understand much of the language.  

Laurel Bohrer is an ESOL teacher and adult second language learner who enjoys seeing her students gain confidence in their ability to use English.  In her free time, she loves to spend time with her husband and 2 daughters. 

Senior adults sitting on a park bench looking at the ocean

Mental Wellness Support for Older Adults

Caring for older adults in one’s family is often a stressful experience, even under the best of circumstances. When older adults appear to be suffering from depression, anxiety, or symptoms related to grief, it can be hard for their children and other concerned family members to know what to say and do to help.

The purpose of this blog post is to encourage you! There are mental health and wellness strategies that can help your loved one deal with distress. I will tell you about a few of them, and point you in the direction of some free resources to learn more.

Mental Health Symptoms are Not a Natural Part of the Aging Process

One reason family members or medical professionals don’t always think to recommend mental health care for older adults is because of assumptions they carry. One assumption is that depression, anxiety, and extreme responses to grief are a natural part of aging. This is not true (Sadavoy, 2009)! According to Sadavoy,

“Old age is inevitably associated with various stressful life events and it is well recognized that many elders become depressed under their impact. Despite the fact that depression is arguably the most common psychiatric disturbance of old age I suggest that it is surprisingly uncommon, when one considers the array of challenges posed by old age. Because the majority of elders do not become depressed, it stands to reason that the stressors associated with aging only induce depression if mediated by other vulnerability factors in a given individual.”

Sadavoy, J. (2009). An integrated model for defining the scope of psychogeriatrics: the five Cs. International Psychogeriatrics, 21(05), 805

Two Widowers

When older people experience mental health challenges, it is for the same reasons as younger people. Here is an example. Let’s say an 82-year-old widower has to sell his house. His wife recently died, and he is ill and has financial problems. He may not like his options; he may not see a positive future ahead for himself. He does not want to downsize his possessions, especially because they remind him of beloved family members who have died. This man starts to show symptoms of depression, like sleeplessness, hopeless thinking, and irritability with the people around him.

Now, let’s take the example of the same situation with another person. What if the same situation were to occur for a 33-year-old widower? He also has to sell his house because he is ill and because of financial problems. He doesn’t like his options, he doesn’t see a positive future ahead, and he doesn’t want to get rid of items that remind him of his beloved wife. He might also have the same symptoms of depression as the 82-year-old. The difference is, people around both men might have different theories about his experience. It is more likely they will consider what the 33-year-old is experiencing as an understandable response to a bad situation, and that what the 82-year-old is experiencing is just part of the aging process.

Both men need help and counsel. Will they both get it? Or will the pain of one be disregarded more than the other? Like younger adults, many older adults respond to difficult life experiences with experiences of depression and anxiety. It is not aging that causes these symptoms, it is adversity (Bhar, et.al, 2022)

What are Anxiety and Depression?

I want to start with some definitions of anxiety and depression, and how they are different from just feeling sad or worried. First of all, they are distressing, internal experiences that happen most of the time instead of some of the time. They also affect the whole body and lead to challenges with sleeping, eating, and daily activities. Anxiety and depression can also contribute to physical problems, like stomach aches and headaches. These states actually make people physically ill, and they can put a strain on meaningful relationships.

Depression is a sense of feeling low all the time that doesn’t go away. When a person is depressed, they may not be able to have happy feelings, even when a happy thing is happening. They may find themselves pulling away from other people more than they used to, and they stop doing activities that used to bring them joy. Depressed people might start sleeping all the time, or be unable to sleep. They think thoughts of low self-worth and hopelessness, like “I’m worthless,” or “It’ll never get better, or “Everyone is better off without me”.

Anxious people, on the other hand, can’t turn off the worrying part of their brain. They are constantly wondering, “What if?” And the what ifs are often fears of personal failures, like “What if I mess up?” Anxious people make predictions that bad things will happen if they take any action at all, or if they don’t take action at all. When things go wrong, anxious people think it’s because they made mistakes and worry even more. To make matters worse, worried people can be so distracted by their worries they make more mistakes or miss more information, which just increases their worries about more bad things happening. And even if things go right, they might think, “just wait- things are going to fall apart any minute.”

To learn more about anxiety and depression, check out the downloadable pamphlets from Beck Institute.

If Aging Doesn’t Cause Depression and Anxiety in Older Adults, Then What Does?

As I mentioned above, older people respond to challenges in much the same way as younger people, and sometimes that means symptoms of anxiety, depression. However, older people specifically experience these things sometimes because they are grieving the loss of significant relationships, and having to say “goodbye” more often than other age groups. They attend more funerals, and see more death than many younger people. Older people are also likely to be making stressful decisions, like moving, downsizing their possessions, retiring from jobs or volunteer opportunities, or being away from family (Sadavoy, 2009).

Another reason older adults may experience anxiety or depression is because of identity transitions (Sadavoy, 2009). A lot of people find meaning in their careers and in their families. Older adults are retiring, and their relationships with their children change. Suddenly, the job or the family role can’t define who you are anymore. That can make some people feel lost for a while. This is a normal stress that comes with any major transition, and most people work through it well. But for some, especially if they have a history of trauma or previous mental illness, they are grappling with chronic physical illness, or they are in a really tough situation, they may not find new roles or a new sense of identity easily. Sometimes, when people struggle through identity transitions, they experience depression or anxiety, even for people who may never have had significant struggles with them in the past.

Older Adults Are Open to, and Benefit From, Mental Health Help

Another common myth is that older people will refuse counseling. The research shows this is not true (Bhar, et. al, 2022)! One challenge that they do face is not that they won’t accept help, but that the way that help is offered needs to be considered carefully. By asking older adults if they want to “gain health and wellness”, for example, rather than telling them they are “mentally ill” and need help, they are often very willing to accept mental health help.

Additionally, since older adults in mental health services attend consistently, they are likely to have positive outcomes. This is because consistent attendance is an important factor in whether or not therapy can help a person. Additionally, social connections are often highly valued by older people, and they can gain immediate improvements by feeling less isolated and noticed.

Why Pursue Mental Wellness?

Let’s talk about the goals of mental wellness for older adults. The goals of mental wellness are not to just be less depressed or anxious. Instead, the goals are to help people continue to grow, to find opportunities to serve in their communities, and live full and vibrant lives, their whole lives. Mentally well people live longer, and they live healthier and happier lives. On average, mentally well people also recover from illness more quickly, and experience less physical pain. They are also more helpful to their families and friends, and neighbors.

What Kind of Mental Health Care Can Help Older Adults?

Reading this blog is a great starting point in considering how you can support your older loved ones. However, I strongly encourage you to talk with them and their doctors about whether a mental health counseling referral could help. Counseling is cheaper and has fewer side effects and risks than medications, so it could be a great place to start if an older adult is showing signs of depression or anxiety. Naming the symptoms your loved one is experiencing as possible depression or anxiety can help medical professionals make appropriate recommendations. Additionally, simply learning about anxiety and depression, and learning to understand your own challenges, or the challenges of your family and friends, helps people to feel less alone. It can also help a person decide what actions they want to take to feel better. Just discussing with someone you trust about whether they are experiencing anxiety or depression, and what to do about it, can help them take next steps. They might choose to ask their doctor about talking to a counselor, or to reach out to a trusted friend or pastor.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Older Adults

There are certain therapies that can help older adults regain a sense of purpose and identity when they reach times of change, and that can help them reduce anxiety and depression and become more connected to others. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) interventions, for example, have been demonstrated to be beneficial for older people (Bhar, et. al, 2022).

Planning and Engaging in Enjoyable, Realistic Activities

One CBT intervention that helps older people is planning and engaging in enjoyable and realistic activities (Bhar, et. al, 2022). This is called behavioral activation, or activity scheduling. This might take a bit of thought and creativity, especially if the things they used to like to do are things that are harder to do now. However, the research indicates older people also will benefit from trying new activities, and going back to old activities that they enjoyed in the past if they can.

Amazingly, research that indicates physical activity increases lifespans and quality of life as well (Mora, et.al, 2018). The same activities that can help you feel mentally stronger can help you live longer. God designed both our minds and our bodies to move. The more older people are encouraged to continue to be active, the more they will benefit both mentally and physically.

Planning, and engaging in, pleasant activities also include intentional connecting with other people. Older people can schedule and engage in opportunities to make new connections and to invest in the lives of other people in unique ways.

Make sure to consider singing and music, laughter and humor, when scheduling enjoyable activities!

Problem Solving

Another intervention that helps is problem-solving (Bhar, et.al, 2022). Encouraging older people to talk through their problems with you or another trusted person can significantly reduce experiences of anxiety and depression, because it increases a sense of hopefulness and reduces a sense of isolation.


Reminiscing can be incredibly powerful (Bhar, et. al, 2022). Talking about past experiences with other people, using items from the past, or reconnecting with the past through music, can be very powerful. Reminiscing may help reduce depression and apathy, help improve social interactions and quality of life, and increase interest in the present and future.

Some simple questions you can ask an older person to help them reminisce in a helpful way are:

  • Who was your favorite athlete or actor?
  • Tell me about your first pet.
  • What was your favorite food as a child?
  • What was your neighborhood like growing up?
  • What is one of your happiest memories?
  • What is the story of your name?
  • How did you meet your best friend?

Remember to ask questions about the people in any photographs the person might have displayed, or about artwork they have in their home. Personal items usually carry important memories that can help people recall precious memories and their own strengths.

One helpful way to reminisce is to recall specific problem-solving successes. Try the following activity:

Think back over your life and try to remember times when you managed to solve a problem, which required some effort or creativity on your part. Can you describe the problem you faced? How did you solve the problem – What did you do? How did you think of the solution? What qualities did you show, which helped solve that problem?

Discussing past problem-solving successes with older people can help them remember the solutions they already know.

“My Dear Friend”

Another tool that can help is called “My Dear Friend.” This is a form of Socratic dialogue, another CBT intervention. When talking with an older person who is struggling with depressed or anxious thinking, ask him or her, “suppose you had a friend with the same problem- what might you say she/he should do?” Sometimes it is easier to come up with solutions for others than for ourselves. Encourage older people to do the same for themselves that they would recommend for others.

Free Resources

Swinburne Wellbeing Clinic has a variety of free online trainings for helping older adults maintain and improve emotional wellbeing.

Beck Institute has many resources on mental health and wellbeing! One great benefit of Beck Institute is the international resources. You can find mental health information and support from all over the world in their International Resources page. If you have a loved one whose first language is not English, you might find a page with resources in their own language that help them feel more comfortable reading and learning about mental wellness.


Depression and anxiety are NOT outcomes of old age. There are many reasons older people struggle with depression and anxiety, and they are for the same reasons anyone of any age might struggle with them. Times of transitions and change, times of grief and uncertainty, and times of adversity and challenge have the potential to affect people of all ages. There are mental health treatments that can help older people to thrive that don’t involve side effects. Older people can benefit from exploring the causes of their depression and anxiety, from scheduling enjoyable activities that connect them to other people, and using their past experiences to inform their responses to current challenges. They can also benefit from problem-solving, reminiscing, and giving advice to themselves they might give to their friends.

Be Blessed, and Be Well!

Carolyn Cummings, LMFT


Bhar, S., Koder, D., Jayaram, H., Silver, M., Davison, T (2022). Addressing Mental Health in Aged Care Residents: A Review of Evidence-Based Psychological Interventions and Emerging Practices. Advances in Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, 2022, Volume 2, Issue 1, pgs. 183-191.

Mora, J. C., & Valencia, W. M. (2018). Exercise and Older Adults. Clinics in geriatric medicine, 34 (1), 145-162. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cger.2017.08.007

Sadavoy, J. (2009). An integrated model for defining the scope of psychogeriatrics: the five Cs. International Psychogeriatrics, 21(05), 805-812

woman looking at a globe

Reaching the Nations . . . from Your Front Porch

Internationals: Who Are They?

How far are the nations from your front porch? They’re closer than you think. The nations are all around us. To reach them, we must understand who they are. Just like us, internationals are not all the same. Here are just a few of the types of internationals among us:

  • International Students – Around 975,000 students from other countries are studying at universities in the U.S. Over 57% of them are from just four countries—China, India, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
  • Immigrants – The number of immigrants and their children born in the U.S. is approximately 80 million, or 25% of the total U.S. population. The number from Asia now roughly equals those coming from the Americas.
  • Refugees – As symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. has long been a target destination for people seeking refuge from troubled countries. In FY 2015, the U.S. admitted 70,000 refugees. More than one-third came from the Near East/South Asia (esp. Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, Syria, Afghanistan). Another one-third came from Africa (esp. Somalia, D.R. Congo, Sudan, Eritrea, Burundi), and one-quarter came from East Asia (esp. Burma).

How Can We Connect with the Nations in Our Midst?

Getting involved with the internationals around us is quite simple, but it requires intentional effort. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few ideas:

1. Start up a conversation with the clerk at a convenience store. If you go into a convenience store and the clerk’s name tag or appearance or accent gives you the impression they are from another country, they just might be. Introduce yourself and ask them where they are from. Decide to become a regular customer to get to know them better. Who would have thought that buying gas at a local convenience store could turn into a cross-cultural encounter?

2. Visit an ethnic market. In some cities (and even some smaller towns), you can find a grocery store or market that caters to international people from Asia, Latin America, Africa or the Middle East. Make a point to go shopping at that store and ask a clerk some questions about the international products. (Tea, coffee, and snacks are great conversation starters.) After the store owner or clerk recovers from their shock that a non-international would enter their store, they’ll be pleased to have you as a customer. They’ll be even more amazed if you try to build a friendship with them.

3. Befriend an international student. Many international students (some say 70-80%) never set foot in an American home. You can change this statistic. Universities often welcome volunteers from the community to serve as “friendship partners” with their international students. Go to the university’s website and search on “international student programs” to see what type of friendship programs are available. You might be just the friend that an international student is looking for.

4. Share a Meal Together. People all around the world love to eat, believe it or not. Inviting a student into your home for a meal can provide the context for fruitful discussions. Universities often have programs where you can bring an international student over to your house for a meal. NC State University, for example, offers a program called “Breaking Bread” through the Office of International Services to give students a “taste” of American culture. Internationals also love to share food from their country with Americans. Sharing a meal together might even give these students a hunger for the Bread of Life.

5. Help a refugee family. As illustrated in the article “Assisting Refugees Opens Doors for the Gospel,” (link to article on the PNDNC website) your church can demonstrate the love of Christ in practical ways to refugees. Organizations such as World Relief would love to have your involvement in helping a family coming to the U.S. from very difficult circumstances. The World Relief office in Durham, NC, for instance, has numerous ways to provide assistance. Serve on a “Welcome Team” to greet the refugees at the airport and welcome them to the U.S. with open arms. Recruit some other families from your church to form a “Good Neighbor Team” that will visit a refugee family on a regular basis. Become a friendship partner to assist a refugee in their adjustment to the U.S. Relatively small acts of service can make a significant impact on a refugee family.

6. Give the Gift of Language. Maybe you’re not a teacher (or maybe you are), but if you’re reading this you have a gift that many internationals desperately need: English. Share this gift by becoming a conversation partner with an international neighbor or friend. Some universities have “conversation clubs” where local volunteers can hang out and just talk with international students. You can develop skills in ESL (English as a Second Language) by attending a workshop or enrolling in a certificate program. Perhaps your church could start an ESL program to minister to the needs of internationals in your community. And what about learning another language yourself? Making the effort to learn another person’s language goes a long way in building relationships.

The peoples of the world are next door. To reach them, we just have to step off our front porch.

Billy has an M.Div. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Alabama. Billy serves as an adjunct instructor at in the ESL certificate program at SEBTS. He has taught ESL for Westminster Theological Seminary in the Mastering Theological English Program, for North Carolina State University in the Intensive English Program, and for Messiah University in the TESOL certificate program. Billy and his wife, Mary Jo, and their three children, lived in Taipei, Taiwan for nine years, where he served at Overseas Radio & Television, Inc., a Christian media ministry.


On International Students

1. http://www.wsj.com/articles/international-students-stream-into-u-s-colleges-1427248801

2. http://www.iie.org/Services/Project-Atlas/United-States/International-Students-In-US

3. http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors/Data/Fast-Facts

4. http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors/Data/International-Students

On Immigrants

1. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states#Immigrant%20Population%20Change

2. http://www.businessinsider.com/baml-immigration-state-map-2015-8

3. http://www.ibtimes.com/immigration-us-2015-reaches-new-record-immigrant-population-421-million-people-study-2053038

On Refugees 

1. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/refugees-fact-sheet

2. http://www.state.gov/j/prm/releases/statistics/251285.htm

3 girls from Xingjiang

The Role of ESL in a Church’s Ministry to Internationals

ESL in the Bible

Is ESL in the Bible? Well, sort of. Jesus never really addressed the issue of language teaching, but He did talk about loving our neighbor. Matthew 22:34-40 highlights a question Jesus was once asked: “Which command in the Law is the greatest?” In His answer, Jesus pointed to two commandments: 1. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. The Old Testament context for the second command is found in Leviticus 19, where it appears in two different contexts: loving your fellow countrymen (Lev. 19:17-18) and loving the stranger residing among you (Lev. 19:33-34), “for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Since the Israelites knew what it was like to be foreigners, they were called to welcome the strangers in their midst. And as citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), aren’t we all aliens living in a strange land? Teaching ESL is simply a practical application of the the command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

ESL Myths

What is ESL, anyway? Maybe you have heard something about it, but you’re not really sure what it looks like. Let’s begin by dispelling several common myths:

1. You have to speak Spanish to teach ESL. After all, doesn’t ESL mean “English-Spanish Language”? Not exactly. ESL means “English as a Second Language,” so you can teach ESL to people from any language background. (Besides English, that is.)

2. You have to know the language of every student you’re teaching. Similar to #1, this is probably based on the notion that language teaching is just translating from one language to another. There was a time when the Grammar-Translation Method was the prevailing method of teaching English (Hint: A very long time ago), but not anymore. The focus these days is on providing a communicative environment for students from all language backgrounds.

3. Teaching ESL is just teaching English grammar. And so, if you’re not comfortable with English grammar, you’re not eligible to teach English, right? Wrong again. Teaching English is much more than just helping students master grammar rules.

A Snapshot of ESL

Basically, ESL is a way to help students from other language backgrounds gain a functional proficiency in English. ESL can also be a very practical way to demonstrate the love of Christ to the nations in our midst.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you were living in a foreign country (not just for vacation or a business trip, but as an immigrant), and you didn’t speak the language well, how would you get along? And how would you feel if a group of people offered you a warm welcome and a place to learn the language in a non-threatening environment? You just might feel loved and accepted.

Fitting ESL into the Bigger Picture

Here’s the key point: ESL should be part of a church’s ministry to internationals. It’s common for churches to make two strategic errors with regard to ESL:

1. Putting all of our eggs in one basket. A church sometimes puts too much weight on ESL. Leaders may think that if they have an ESL ministry, that is the sum total of their ministry to internationals. Well, it’s a good start, but ESL cannot be the whole picture. 

2. Leaving out the golden egg. In seeking to reach the nations around them, some churches may neglect ESL and try to do it through other means. It’s difficult to imagine how a church can effectively reach the nations around them without dealing with language barriers. For immigrants and other internationals in our midst, language learning is not just a nice hobby; it’s a matter of survival. Maybe ESL isn’t really a “golden egg,” but you get the point.

Guiding Principles

As you prepare to integrate ESL into your church’s ministry to internationals, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Train the volunteers — If you already have teachers who are already trained in teaching ESL, that’s great. If not, take advantage of weekend workshops provided by the Literacy Missions team of your state convention. You can also find experienced ESL teachers in your area who can come and offer guidance.
  • Decide on the curriculum — Depending on your church’s vision, you may want to use a general ESL curriculum focused on daily life skills, or a Bible ESL curriculum that uses Bible stories or spiritual principles to center each lesson on the gospel.
  • Keep the bigger picture in mind — Remember that the goal is not just helping people learn English, but making disciples and integrating them into the church.

Let’s be honest: one hour a week will not help people master English, but it can provide a safe place for people to practice their conversational English. If it can help build bridges of friendship, ESL can be a great door-opener for the gospel.

Billy has an M.Div. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Alabama. Billy serves as an adjunct instructor at in the ESL certificate program at SEBTS. He has taught ESL for Westminster Theological Seminary in the Mastering Theological English Program, for North Carolina State University in the Intensive English Program, and for Messiah University in the TESOL certificate program. Billy and his wife, Mary Jo, and their three children, lived in Taipei, Taiwan for nine years, where he served at Overseas Radio & Television, Inc., a Christian media ministry.

woman in a field of yellow flowers with arms raised in worship to God

Easy Gratitude: A Mental Health Therapist Tries “Three Good Things” for a Week

In this blog, I will share my experiences with a positive psychology activity that helps people feel more grateful quickly and easily. First, I’ll briefly discuss gratitude and its benefits, and then my experiences trying a simple activity (Three Good Things) that helped me experience more gratitude and joy in my life.

Why Should Christians Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude?

Before his crucifixion, Jesus tells his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV). Pain, suffering, and hardship are part of the experience of disciples of Christ, and will be until his return. Sometimes as Christians, we struggle with bitterness, anger, and depression. These experiences can weigh down our hearts and make us feel old, cranky, and unmotivated to participate in worship or to forgive others. Gratitude can be difficult to muster, when the skies are cloudy and families and communities struggle.
Yet we are instructed by Paul, despite our suffering, to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, NIV), and to live in constant thanksgiving, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20, NIV). Living a grateful life is important for believers in Christ.
Additionally, positive psychology researchers have found substantial evidence that turning our attention to gratitude has some tangible emotional and physical benefits (For more information on the research on gratitude, check out The Neuroscience of Gratitude and Effects on the Brain (Chowdhury, 2019). They explain that small tasks can make a big impact on our overall mental health. One such task is turning our attention to gratitude in simple ways every day.

Three Good Things

Last August, I was feeling run down after several years of dealing with COVID and its after effects on the American public school system. Even though I have so much to be thankful for, I was having trouble connecting with the real successes and blessings God was bringing into my life. So, I made a commitment to try a short, simple activity called the “Three Good Things” activity, for one week. You can learn more from this video by Martin Seligman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOGAp9dw8Ac (Seligman, 2009). This activity can be done with a piece of paper and pencil, or you can download free apps for your phone that do the same thing.

All you need to do to complete this activity is to write down three good things that went well that day. Then, reflect on why they went well.

The Difference it Made

These simple journal entries made a big difference in how I viewed what was going well in my life. It turned out quite a bit was going well, and I had been undervaluing the blessings God has brought into my life.
Completing this activity every night informed my prayers and helped me experience more thanksgiving and joy. Many nights, it was difficult to stop at just writing down three good things! This simple commitment helped me remember just how abundantly God has blessed me. I began to feel more grateful and happier, and I began to think of myself as a lot more successful than I realized. It also me realize that a lot of the little mistakes and challenges that caused me stress were a lot less important than I thought.
I also noticed a lot about how I actually define success for myself. Most of my “good things” were social- nice times with my family, friends, and making an impact in my work with clients and students. It motivated me to move toward taking care of my family, friends, and community.
I committed to one week, but one week turned into four months! Right away, I noticed this simple activity was improving my ability to feel grateful for the little things in my life. Some things that went well were quite small, but others were quite remarkable.

How This Activity Helped Me Pray

Although this activity doesn’t directly instruct people to pray, I found it immensely easy to add to my nightly prayers. I wrote down things like, “I rested when I needed to rest.” Then I could pray, “thank you God, for opportunities to rest”. Or I might write, “there was peace upon leaving my house this morning.” Then I could pray, “Thank you God, for peace at home.” This was a simple way to meditate on God’s goodness and to thank Him for the many, many blessings in my life.

Would I Recommend You Try “Three Good Things?”

Yes! I can heartily recommend trying this simple gratitude activity, especially in the midst of the turbulence of holiday season. I hope you will try it for a week and see what you discover! I also hope you will use it to help you meditate with a grateful heart on the many ways God has blessed you.


Seligman, M. (2009, November 19). Three Good Things [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOGAp9dw8Ac

Chowdhury, M. (2019, April 9th). The Neuroscience of Gratitude and Effects on the Brain. PositivePsychology.Com. https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/

Carolyn Cummings is a marriage and family therapist, adjunct professor, and doctoral student. More importantly, she is the proud wife of a wonderful husband and mother to three unbelievably cute daughters. Carolyn enjoys dark chocolate, coffee, butterflies, and singing for the Lord.