I love to travel, especially to foreign lands. Even though I speak no foreign language, I embrace the culture, the food, and even the inconveniences. My parents instilled in me this passion from an early age as we often hosted visiting missionaries in our home. I loved to listen to their stories of how God was working in their lives and the lands where they lived. When I was six, my father took me on my first mission trip to Haiti. Even at such a young age I sensed people were hungry for God’s Word.
In 1975, I witnessed Nicaraguan Guerilla warfare. I heard the sounds of helicopters flying low over our compound by day and decimating the recently built Houses of Worship with gunfire by night. At age 12, I stayed with a non-English speaking Puerto Rican family and their pre-teen daughter for two weeks. During this time, I learned that although God made us unique in color and language, our hearts are the same. In Canada, I learned we could look alike yet speak a different language and have very different cultures.
Although God made us unique in color and language, our hearts are the same.
As a young teenager in Costa Rica, I shared my testimony with the help of an interpreter for the first time publicly with other teens. A few years later, in Mexico, I shared again how Jesus Christ had changed my life. Fellowshipping in Italian and German homes, I enjoyed simple meals, not understanding a single word spoken.
As a young woman, I sang and clapped to the beat of worshipping hearts on the Island of Dominica and learned that we may worship uniquely, but we still worship the same God. In China, I fell in love, not with my husband (that love found me 20 years earlier), but with the Chinese people and culture.
When I, along with my husband and our girls, moved to Columbia, SC, we attended a very missions-minded church. Our Associate Pastor accepted a call as a missionary to China and began a program matching local Chinese individuals, who had shown a propensity for desiring spiritual understanding, with a Christian Westerner – one who was willing for an hour a week to Skype and practice English with them. So, every Sunday morning before church, I began to Skype with my E-Friend, Ruzhen, and a special friendship developed. Ruzhen and I have continued meeting since 2010. I’ve learned to be very intentional in the short time we have together each week to share and show her Jesus Christ.
Our family relocated in 2001, and shortly after this move, my friendship with another Chinese woman began. Amy owned and worked at the local Chinese restaurant. As our friendship grew, I prayed one day she would understand English well enough for me to share about my Best Friend, Jesus Christ.
Look at the nations and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.
– Habakkuk 1:5 NIV
In 2013, I was trained as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. During my first year of teaching, God began tugging on my heart to start a ministry at my home church during the day. Although I felt I had few leadership skills and relied on others for transportation because I am legally blind, it was clear God was asking me to take this step of faith. He continually put in front of me Habakkuk 1:5 (NIV): “Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” I could not believe God was calling me to start a ministry without a single student and only me as a teacher. However, He and I have enough history to know He is true to His Word, and I certainly didn’t want to miss being utterly amazed.
So, after saying, “Yes,” I immediately asked the Lord, “Where will I find students?” He answered with Leviticus 19:33-34 (NASB): “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you should love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” My Chinese friend, Amy, was “residing with me” and, recalling my experiences in foreign countries like Haiti and Puerto Rico, I most certainly understood what it meant to feel like “an alien in a foreign land” both spiritually and literally. God affirmed how He had been preparing me for this purpose, and a new ministry was birthed.
Was this an easy assignment God gave me to do? No way! Was it worth it? You bet. I would not trade being utterly amazed by God for anything.
The First Baptist Church Fort Mill, SC ESL program now has 65 dedicated volunteers including 16 trained ESL teachers. 66 students representing 21 different countries participate in seven level-appropriate classes and a specialized phonics program.
Heidi McGill lives in Fort Mill, SC. She has been married to her husband Bob for 25 years and has two teenage daughters. She is the founder of the English as a Second Language program at First Baptist Church in Fort Mill, South Carolina.