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Culture Day brings nations together in Cullmancomment (0)

June 10, 2010

By Kathy Dean

With eight nations represented in the English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at First Baptist Church, Cullman, the adult students have many different ways to say “thank you.” But there was no language barrier as the students shared foods, customs and costumes of their native lands with the West Cullman Baptist Association church’s Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) during Culture Day on May 17.

“The students wanted to show appreciation to the missions groups and say ‘thank you’ for supporting us,” ESL instructor Kathy O’Dillon said of the inspiration for the event.

WMU donate funds that provide coffee, snacks, craft supplies and groceries for cooking activities for the ESL classes.

Most of the students are women in their 30s and 40s who moved with their families to Cullman for their husbands’ jobs at Japanese and German manufacturing companies or in the chicken industry. The students hail from Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Mexico, Germany, Uzbekistan, Israel and United Arab Emirates.

For Culture Day, they worked together to set up display tables featuring information, foods and objects from their native countries.

As WMU members and other church members arrived, they were given a “passport” to bring to each table to get stamped.

O’Dillon said Culture Day marked the first time the ESL students and WMU members had interacted as a group.

“We do our classes and they support us but we haven’t melded together. Hopefully this is the start of that,” she said.

WMU Director Carolyn Sharp agreed.

“I think all of us felt that this [was] a launching pad to do more,” she said.

In addition to introducing WMU members to the world, the event provided an opportunity for the ESL students to get to know their new neighbors.

ESL student Sachie Asaka of Japan, who wore a kimono and brought some cookbooks, toys and decorations to display, said she enjoyed learning about her fellow students’ home countries and customs and getting to meet Americans.

That’s something she said she doesn’t have the opportunity to do much and appreciates about the classes.

“Sometimes I talk with my neighbor, but the ESL class and church give me many opportunities to have many times with American people,” Asaka said.

Asaka, who describes herself as “basically Buddhist,” is one of several Japanese women who also participate in the church’s handbell choir.

“I am not good at music, but I like to play music, so I keep playing because it’s fun,” she said.

“Sometimes we play in the church in a service on a Sunday. It’s a very good experience for me during the church service.”

And it’s a very good opportunity for the congregation of First, Cullman, said Senior Pastor Ed Hayes.

“[The contact with other cultures] is exposing our people to our responsibility to share Christ with all people groups. This is the world coming to us,” he noted.

“It is our opportunity to reach people of other language groups right here in our community.”

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