Students from the English as a Second Language program at the community center of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Charleston, S.C., hold signs for various places (bank, gym, etc.) in a game that helps them practice location prepositions.

studying English as a Second Language (ESL) and prepping for naturalization at the community center adjacent to St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Refugees, asylum-seekers, local entrepreneurs, students and visiting scholars come three times a week to classes taught by community and church volunteers. Questions from the citizenship test are regularly

incorporated, said Hayden Shook, ESL program manager and instructor. “It’s an important part of the acculturation process, and [it] helps show students how they will be an important part of the process once they take the oath of citizenship.” Their presence is a gift that opens

trips outside the U.S., and other topics that are part of the final interview. “Lots of times people have trouble coming up with the right words,” he said. “I have to be patient and polite and not fill in the blanks for them while they practice what to say.” Raised in a house just three doors away from St.

“ Thanks to God, I am a citizen”

minds and hearts, she said. “In this climate, how many people meet someone from Saudi Arabia?” she asked. “Or have a conversation with a refugee from Haiti?” Sunday af ternoon clas ses at St. Stephen

Lutheran Church in Silver Spring, Md., serve a largely Vietnamese population. Curiosity about the contents of the naturalization test and a desire to help people prepare for citizenship prompted longt ime member Norman Knut sen to assist the class. His role is coaching students through mock

interviews. Playing a USCIS officer, Knutsen sits opposite a student, asking about family members,

Stephen, Knutsen has enjoyed getting to know his neighbors. “You want to make people feel welcome in a new country, and they want to be part of the country. It’s an honor to prepare them.” St. Stephen is hosting the classes

while the nearby library branch is closed for remodeling. Lamar Bailey, pastor, hopes the congregation will stay engaged in citizenship preparation

after the library reopens. “Part of our baptismal covenant is being a light

to the world and loving our neighbor,” he said. “It’s messy, serendipitous and involves risk. We do that because of what Christ has done for us.” For that covenant, Hurtado is grateful. “Thanks to God, I am a citizen,” he said.

Anne Basye is a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest.


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