A Place To Belong

The English as a Second Language (ESL) program at the Scarborough satellite location started in 2002, when Rita Wong, the Chinese counsellor and program coordinator, saw a need for emotional support for the immigrant Chinese community in Scarborough. Though The Lighthouse is located in downtown Toronto, the ESL program takes place in Scarborough at Calvary Logos Baptist Church because this area has a large Chinese immigrant community.

The ESL program offers an atmosphere where friendships can develop, and it is a place where newcomers to Canada can share their culture while engaging with others from similar backgrounds. The ESL program provides a Christian atmosphere where the Good News of Jesus Christ is shared during times like Easter and the New Year.

Programs like the ESL class are vital to what The Lighthouse does, to provide essential services to help our clients settle and integrate successfully into the Canadian culture and society. For our clients, they found a convenient place to learn English that works well for their schedules, and have access to a strong community for emotional and spiritual support. This is a well-established ministry through which The Lighthouse has built strong relationships resulting in changed lives.

As a student intern at The Lighthouse, I had a great experience with the ESL program as part of the Chinese ministry. At first I thought I would help Rita out and be a conversational aid to the students. Unexpectedly I was then asked to lead a class. Though I have not been trained to teach ESL, I felt that with my past experiences with peers from around the world as well as my time overseas, teaching ESL could be a natural fit for me.

I loved this challenge and opportunity because it allowed me to practice speaking in front of people in a non-intimidating setting. This opportunity has also given me a chance to learn about the Chinese culture, as I was able to celebrate the Chinese New Year with the students. I learned about different Chinese foods while connecting with the students over an meal. Teaching ESL during my time at The Lighthouse has been a rewarding experience.

One of my favourite memories of the ESL program happened in the third week of teaching. We were reading an informative piece about Valentine’s Day; I read the piece aloud and had the students underline the words that they were unsure of. I then had the students write out five sentences about Valentine’s Day in English. For some of the students this was a big challenge, but as a teacher, it was rewarding to see them communicate successfully.

I was also thankful for my small class size, where I was able to give the students one-on-one help in sentence structure and grammar. While most students came to improve their conversational level of English, some were keen to improve their literacy skills. The small class size and one-on-one time allowed me to understand the educational goals of the students and help the students in achieving their goals.

Since many of the Chinese students are seniors who have immigrated to Canada in recent years, they were quick to tell me that their memory “isn’t so good anymore and learning is difficult with age.” Though they have been out of formal education for a long time, I conveyed to them that eager minds are teachable minds, and as long as they are eager to learn they will acquire the skills they need to get around in an English speaking country regardless of age.

I also had the opportunity to meet with some of Rita’s students who have graduated from the classes and are using the English skills they developed in their day-to-day lives. Graduates have expressed that simple things like going shopping or taking the bus have become much easier because their ESL classes. One student who has been in Canada for about 15 years now, said he has been coming to ESL for the last 12 years. He keeps coming back because he has found community here—he feels like he belongs, as he learns English with his friends.

The mission and vision of The Lighthouse is simple and is summarized in the short tagline: Helping People, Changing Lives. The ESL program in Scarborough accomplishes this by offering God’s love in an environment of respect and care.

When I started my internship one of the first tasks I was given was to write an introduction blurb about myself. I concluded an introduction about myself with 2 Corinthians 3:18. This verse has been a theme for my time with The Lighthouse. Reflecting on the work The Lighthouse and the Chinese ministry on a day-to-day basis, this verse is fitting to reflect on again in retrospect. It describes a present reality for Christians, who, by the Holy Spirit contemplate and stand in the presence of God’s glory. It is my prayer that The Lighthouse and the Chinese ministry may live this glory out in the everyday and may cause other hearts to realize the same glory may be theirs as well.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is Spirit.”

– 2 Corinthians 3:18