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"Those People Became My People." Bob's Story

Updated: Apr 12

"I grew up among a lot of raging racists. Some of the things that I heard in my youth were more than slightly offensive. From high school onward I really worked on counteracting those attitudes in my own life, and I guess I can confess that I was a little bit proud of myself for being able to escape all that had been presented to me in my formative years. I considered myself pretty enlightened by comparison.  But as Upper Arlington Lutheran Church started working with Festa, some of those old prejudices started bubbling back up - those people, those immigrants. I wasn’t interested in associating with them.  I had bought into common misconceptions about many of the immigrants in our country. At the same time, I was around a lot of guys who had come back from the wars in the Middle East with extremely negative attitudes concerning the people in those regions. 

"For many years, I’d done a lot around the church. At the time when UALC was planning to bring Festa's Family ESL Program into the building, I was on the Missions Committee and my second term on the Church Council, so I was familiar with the prayer and leading of the Spirit that went behind bringing this program in, but I had zero interest in participating. It was outside my comfort zone, although I was unsure what exactly was causing my reluctance to get involved."

Then somebody invited my wife, Christie, to volunteer at the ESL program, and her experience was very positive. She began to bug me, saying: “You know, you really need to pray about this.” And she is the person I respect the most in my life, so I did that. I started praying a lot about it.  After a year, I was softened up enough to at least go and give it a try. As I volunteered that first couple of months, it was obvious that God was working in a miraculous way in my heart, because if you’d gone back a couple of years from that first semester and told me I’d be volunteering at an ESL program serving those people, I would have said: “NO WAY, NO HOW!"

Christie and I committed to helping at ESL on Tuesday nights, and since we had become empty nesters, Thursday nights were our set date night.  One Thursday evening, we were sitting at a restaurant and we both looked at one another and said: “There’s something better we could be doing with our Thursday nights than sipping margaritas and munching chips.” That's when we committed to volunteering both nights each week.

I’m not going to speak for Christie, but that was the moment when God cleaned my heart of all of the misgivings, and I was all in. I have come to love and respect those people; they have now become my people.

Christie and I pray that we will reflect the light of Jesus to our students.  As a bonus, we’re doing something practical that they truly need and want in their lives. I no longer judge people and situations based solely on my sheltered upbringing. I’ve gotten to know many different people who have immigrated from countries all over the world. Our relationships and their stories continue to enrich my life in many ways, maybe even in more ways than I think it has any of my students’ lives.

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