Pilar Dominguez Betancourt Grateful for Her ESL Teachers

by Barbara Kinney Black

Having taught ESL now for almost 30 years, I’ve had the privilege to meet an extraordinary amount of students from around the world.  It’s been my privilege to interact with their lives and to see them succeed.  It has also been my privilege to now count among my personal friends two of my students who were in my first ever class in 1990:  sisters Pilar and Martina from Mexico. 

            When Pilar first arrived in Miami, she worked as a housekeeper.  One of her employers, Betty Harris, invited Pilar to attend the English classes at her church.  Although Miami was full of Spanish speakers, Pilar felt the need to practice speaking English, and she felt .very thankful that she had been invited by her employer to do so.

            Once Pilar and Martina invited the English class to their home for dinner.  As we were enjoying the delicious Mexican dishes, I kept noticing the special looks that were passing between Pilar and her neighbor, Jerry.  So, I wasn’t surprised when shortly afterwards, that handsome Cuban became Pilar’s husband.  Jerry is fond of quoting the Scripture that says we have to love our neighbor, when he describes how he and Pilar met! 

            Pilar recalls her time in English class, particularly the lesson about all the different places in the U.S.  One of the assignments was to write to a state tourist board to request travel literature.  This opened Pilar’s eyes to the vast opportunities for travel in the U.S. and created a desire in her to see many great cities and the beautiful countryside.  One of Pilar and Jerry’s, dreams for retirement is to see the U.S. by train stopping in great cities and enjoying the picturesque passing countryside.

            One year for our Spring banquet, the students performed a skit called Hotel Heaven.  Different people try to enter Heaven by various means such as buying their way in, being righteous, doing good works, etc.  As each one approaches the gate of Heaven, St. Peter asks, “Why do you think you have a reservation for Hotel Heaven?”  The person gives all their reasons, and then St. Peter checks the reservation book, but the person’s name is not there.  So they are accommodated, “three flights down.”  As they leave through the door with flames surrounding it, the Scripture Angel reads the passages explaining why that person was not admitted to Heaven.  Playing the Scripture Angel was the first time Pilar spoke in front of a crowd of native English speakers.  I was so proud of her. 

            I asked Pilar if she had any advice to share with newly arrived internationals.  She said, “Look for God first, then look for people that can help you; American people who can instruct you.  It’s also a good idea to find a good husband or wife!  They can help you a lot in learning English!”

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Pilar Dominguez Betancourt

Pilar and Jerry

Monica's Story

Monica proudly displays her newly received Citizenship Certificate

Monica proudly displays her newly received Citizenship Certificate

Monica was in my Adult Education class beginning in 2010.  She had studied industrial design in her native Mexico, but now in the U.S., she needed to learn English quickly.  She entered my class at a low intermediate level.  Every semester after her first time in my class, the school administration changed my level, so I had the privilege of following Monica’s progress from low intermediate Level 3, to high intermediate Level 4, then Advanced Level 5 and finally Academic Skills.  Monica was eager to learn.  She explored the possibility of learning to teach Spanish as a Second Language using the techniques she learned in my workshop on how to teach English as a Second language.  Monica completed this 16 hour course in addition to her work in the Adult Ed class.  Recently, Monica became a U.S. citizen.  She texted me with the good news after her swearing in ceremony:  “Good afternoon Mrs. Black:  Today I received the notification about the date of my Naturalization Oath Ceremony.  Thank you so much for your help and prayers!  It was a big help—your classes and knowledge.  God bless you!”  Then a few weeks later:  “There were 150 people becoming citizens of the United States from 18 countries; only two Mexicans.  I’m so thankful for this country for giving me the opportunity to have a great family and a new life.  God bless America!!!”   Monica has a great future ahead.

Gladys: Her Love of Learning English Led Her to the Love of Her Life

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Gladys understood the power of prayer. At my home church, we had prayed for 12 years to begin an ESL ministry. We were a brand new church without a building and, therefore, no place to hold classes. 
After 12 years, we finally had a building and were ready to begin our classes. We advertised in the community and Gladys was one of the 140 students who responded.  
Gladys was a widow raising three teenaged sons on her housekeeper's income.  She had no time for English classes, but she was eager to learn. She prayed for classes that she could attend close to her home. When our program opened, just one day a week, and only about five blocks from her house, it was an answer to her prayer.  
After two years of ESL classes, we began a Sunday morning International ESL class studying English from the Scripture. Gladys was our first student. She also brought several other students that she knew from her work. We studied the life of Christ and then moved on, as the students progressed in their English, to studying key events in history through the Book of Genesis.  
One day Gladys said, "I would like to marry again. Would you pray for me to find the right man?"  We said, of course we would pray. After some time of prayer, one morning, for some reason, our conversation before the class began was about eharmony.com. Gladys asked, "Do you think that will work for me?" Of course, was our reply. The next Sunday she invited us to lunch at her house after church. After completing a most delicious lunch, Gladys then said, "Help me get on eHarmony."  My husband and I were eager to help Gladys. Six hours later we had completed the application.  We were very careful to be quite satisfied that she fully understood each question. Once we submitted the application and some potential candidates came back, we left Gladys on her own to do her own communicating! We didn't hear anything from her for about two months and then one Sunday a gentleman followed Gladys into the Bible study class. My husband and I smiled at each other seeing an answer to prayer in front of us.
Gladys and Richard were married five months later, and they have been married more than 5 years. Gladys' English has improved dramatically as Richard did not speak Spanish!
Any faith-based ESL ministry needs to be completely surrounded by prayer. And what a result you can expect when you are faithful in prayer. Gladys is the perfect example.

Martina realizes the American Dream

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Martina, first row right, was in my first ESL class in 1990.  She worked as a housekeeper for well to do families.  One of Martina’s clients announced that she was ‘moving back to the farm’ and asked Martina to relocate with her.  Martina’s client had been so kind to her that Martina felt she couldn’t refuse to the client’s face, so she asked her husband, Reuben, to decline the client’s offer on Martina’s behalf.  At the meeting where Reuben was to decline, he said, “Thank you for your kind offer.  We accept.”  Martina was stunned.  They owned a house, a business, and had two teenaged children established in school.  How could they leave all that behind to move to a farm?

Barbara standing next to Martina and her husband, Reuben

Barbara standing next to Martina and her husband, Reuben

Well, the decision had been made.  There was no going back on their word now.  So, they moved with the employer to ‘the farm’ which turned out to be a huge ranch for breeding Kentucky thoroughbreds.  Martina’s employer gave Reuben a job in his field of construction.  The employer built a house for Martina and her family.  After several years of living on the horse ranch, the employer decided to relocate to Kentucky to raise the Kentucky thoroughbreds on Kentucky soil.  This time Martina wholeheartedly followed her employer.  In Kentucky, another massive home was built for Martina’s family.  When we visited recently, we met Martina’s housekeeper—provided by her employer—as Martina was no longer a housekeeper, but was functioning as her employer’s personal assistant.  My first ESL student, Martina, is truly realizing the American dream.

Martina and husband, Reuben at their home in Kentucky