What Do You Do, Exactly?
By Shane and Joy
People often ask, “What do you do, exactly?” The short answer is we do everything we can to meet people and build relationships, so we can share the good news of Jesus.
We are missionaries.
We are working to plant a church among the North African immigrants living in France. However, the word missionary often conjures up images of the Crusades when Christians and Muslims fought against one another centuries ago. So, while we do not hide the fact we are Christians (although different from those who attend mass and confess to a priest, as many assume), we introduce ourselves as teachers who work for an NGO. The Hanna Project exists to bring help, hope, and healing to hard to reach places.
The Hanna Project works in many places to meet physical needs, but the need here is education. We both hold education degrees and find one of the best ways for us to meet people is teaching English. English has become the language of the world. Does the North African community in France need English to survive? No, but they know speaking English will help them get better jobs. It will give their children an advantage in school, and will make travel around the world easier.
Teaching English provides an opportunity for us to meet many people while satisfying their desire to improve their language skills. More than that, it offers an opening to build friendships that could lead to conversations about Jesus—the true reason we are here. We want to share the good news that Jesus loves them. He created them. He came to the world and died for them, to save them. But we cannot tell them if we do not know them. We cannot know them unless we meet them.
The first year, we started with two English classes in a borrowed space but were told we could not openly advertise in North African neighborhoods. The second year, we rented a small room in a community center in a North African neighborhood for our four adult English classes. We stayed for a few years, adding English classes as interest increased and more rooms to rent became available. In the fall of 2011, God led us to the building we rent now (pictured below). The ministry center is near a bus stop in a North African neighborhood next to a hair salon and a pizza place.
As we met people in this neighborhood and built relationships, we discovered basic computer skills were needed. We added basic computer information classes, increasing their knowledge and, potentially, helping them in the job market.
We have taught French literacy classes for older North African women who never went to school. What an incredible privilege it is to help someone learn to read and write—to see the joy on her face when she reads a sentence for the first time! How proud we are when she says she filled out her own customs form when traveling to visit family in her home country. We demonstrate they are valued and loved by their Creator.
We also offer French classes for those who moved to France and need to learn to speak the language. People may move to France because they couldn’t find a job in Spain, they are students from Ukraine, or Brazilian families on work transfer.
When people learned Shane plays guitar, they requested guitar lessons for children and adults. Some literacy class ladies learned Joy loved to cook, leading to a class on baking snickerdoodle cookies. Many friends and contacts asked for English tutoring lessons for their children. This provided a unique opportunity to visit the homes of North African families, allowing us to further the relationships beyond the classroom.
As our opportunities for teaching increased, so did our network of relationships in the North African community. We met Ray* and Jay* through a mutual friend. Ray owns and operates a Tunisian sandwich shop. Jay worked for him. Ray was interested in learning English. Our city is quite international and many English speakers stop by his shop. Shane began frequenting Ray’s shop not only for English lessons and an occasional meal, but to simply hang out, drink tea, and spend quality time with Ray and Jay.
Conversations with Ray and Jay have gone beyond English grammar lessons to Jesus, His love, and His self-sacrifice to save the world. Both have read the Scriptures for themselves and discussed spiritual matters pertaining to life on earth and life after death. They have heard a clear presentation of the gospel and how Jesus gave His life for them. Ray and his wife agreed to participate in a regular Bible study that has been underway for several months. Teaching is a vehicle allowing us to travel to our destination of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the nations.
Larry* was the first person to call and sign up for an English class when we began offering them in his neighborhood community building. The retired 78-year-old simply enjoys studying languages. Shane and Larry have spent many conversations over coffee talking about history, politics, and religion. Larry agreed to a weekly Bible study. Because of an English class offered in a North African neighborhood, Larry has been exposed to the truth about Jesus Christ.
In Joy’s highest-level English class, she assigned each student a five-to ten-minute presentation in English on any subject. One student chose to speak about astronomy. He concluded all the planets, stars, human beings, animals, all of creation, are made up of the same substance. Everything that exists is composed of the same elements. This prompted questions from the class about the origin of mankind.
While it is illegal to teach Jesus and the Bible in our English classes, we are free to share our beliefs when asked our point of view. The class listened as Joy outlined her belief in one Creator who designed everything. This moment of truth occurred in an English class. That is why we are here. That is why we do what we do.
Other activities over the years have provided opportunities to share the gospel in unique ways. One example is the annual English Christmas Carol service in our town. Sponsored by an English-speaking church in the city, the service is a tradition more than 35 years old and attracts an attendance of around a thousand people each year. When asked to direct the choir in some traditional English Carols like “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night,” Shane agreed and, 12 years later, he not only directs the Christmas Carol Choir, but also helps lead and plan the event. He has an opportunity to ensure the gospel is shared and the name of Jesus proclaimed.
By meeting people, we build relationships with them. We pray for open doors to share truth. Over the years, the relationships have deepened. We have helped our friends move furniture, given rides to or from the airport or train station, shared meals, prepared a résumé or a presentation for work, watched movies together, and helped their children prepare for school English exams.
We cannot tell them about the One who died to save them if we do not know them. We cannot know them if we do not meet them.
*Not their real names.
About the Writer: Shane and Joy work in a creative access ministry in France. Learn more about The Hanna Project by visiting www.hannaproject.com.