Reaching Out To Teach: TESL28 Project Travels To Fort Pickett To Teach English To Refugees
Matthew 28:19-20 instructs Christians to “therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (NIV).
This verse is important many believers and is a powerful reminder that the Lord desires more for his children than just “being a Christian.”
For Liberty junior Natalie Kautzmann, the verse inspired her to make her dream of teaching Afghan refugees the English language a reality.
The TESL28 Project, started by Kautzmann in October 2021, consists of a group of volunteers who regularly travel to Fort Pickett in Blackstone, Virginia. There, the volunteers tutor the about 7,000 Afghan refugees in English and help them acclimate to a new culture.
Kautzmann first traveled to Fort Pickett with LU Serve Oct. 23 and then returned Oct. 30 after talking with leaders there about offering a way to help the refugees learn English. The project was up and running around Halloween, she said.
Kautzmann, who studies teaching English as a second language (TESL), also wants to use the project to open doors to share the Gospel with refugees.
“I think what we can do in teaching ESL (English as a second language) and meeting this need that they have in forming those relationships and making connections – that’s how we’re really able to be able to open doors for … the future, getting to share the Gospel with them,” Kautzmann said.
The project is still in the beginning stages. Because Kautzmann and many of those involved are in school, the group cannot serve throughout the week. However, that does not stop Kautzmann from dedicating many of her weekends and even her Thanksgiving break to drive to Fort Pickett to teach and interact.
When the group does go, it focuses less on formal classes and more on befriending the refugees and teaching English through genuine, natural interactions.
“Yes, you do want some structure because otherwise things can get too chaotic or it’s not really helpful for the adults if there’s not a little bit of structure in place,” Kautzmann said. “But at the same time, I think it’s better to just make it more easy and natural. So, what I really want our classes to be about are just kids coming in and having fun.”
Volunteers with TESL28 are enthusiastic about its impact and the opportunity it gives them to serve. Crosspoint volunteer Valerie Mackey said she loves getting to go and spend time with the refugees.
“We were so warmly received,” she said. “They were so full of joy and excitement to have us there and so eager to learn and practice their English. In spite of the language barrier, we all agreed that we felt so connected with these beautiful people. It was difficult to leave.”
Kautzmann understands that the window of opportunity for TESL28 to be possible is limited. She anticipates that after next summer, the door might close. However, she still wants to work with refugees and has considered continuing the project to help them as they find jobs and enroll their kids in American schools.
For now, Kautzmann is trying to do as much as she can while the door is still open.
“We just want to follow God’s will with this and just ask him to lead us how (he) wants to because it’s so easy for us to have expectations for how things are supposed to look,” she said. “It’s just trusting like we’re going to be faithful to what he’s given us in this moment.”
The group runs mostly off of personal expenses right now, driving themselves back and forth from Lynchburg to Blackstone. They have a fund set up through Kautzmann’s church in Lynchburg, Crosspoint.
They are also in need of kids’ books to help the refugee children learn the English alphabet and how to read English.
Kautzmann emphasized that what the group needs most of all is prayer.
“We really just ask for prayer, too,” she said. “That’s something that is really what will be in the fire in what we’re trying to do because the enemy is so intentional in trying to attack us. But again, we need to be covered in prayer because we can’t do it without him (the Lord).”
Students of all majors and disciplines, as well as faculty and members of the community, are welcome to get involved, Kautzmann said. If interested, they should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
SMITH is the feature editor.