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Melissa Pawl Uses Second Language for Ministry Outreach


NOVI, MI (April 4, 2007) – For more than a year, members of Christ Covenant Church, led by a North Park alumna, have been reaching out to people from around the world through conversations held at a local restaurant.

The Conversation Partners ministry pairs English speakers with others for whom English is a second language, says Melissa (Murakami) Pawl C'96, who started the ministry. Cultures represented include Japanese, Korean, Mexican, and German.

"This particular metro-Detroit area has a sizeable population of people who are here on work contracts for a few years," Pawl says. "We have met some internationals who are very isolated due to the language barrier, so we thought of starting a conversation partner program here."

The group began meeting once a week last summer at the local Panera Bread Company cafe. The ministry has spread purely through word of mouth, Pawl says.

"Depending on the time of year, we have had anywhere from two to eight native English-speakers and about the same number of friends for whom English is a second language," Pawl says.

"We simply allow people who want to improve their English an opportunity to have an everyday conversation," Pawl says. "We talk about anything - our families, countries, experiences, travels, foods, beliefs, traditions, customs, feelings, children, spouses - and even embarrassing moments." She adds, "Laughter is truly the universal language!"

"It is great over time to see language speaking abilities and confidence improve," Pawl relates. "We see the conversation partner relationship as a way to give to people what we ourselves have been given at one point or another - the friends who can be our advocates if needed and the language to function well in a new country."

Pawl explains the idea grew out of her personal experience at North Park University and while living in Mexico during her study-abroad program.

At North Park, English-speaking students were paired with international students who wanted to improve their language skills. Pawl was paired with a Korean student. "We became good friends, meeting weekly at a restaurant or cafe for conversation," she says.

Pawl became the recipient of help when she traveled to Mexico. "I really saw firsthand the benefit of having a Spanish-speaker with whom to practice my Spanish," she recalls. "Having a face-to-face conversation is so much different than learning a language from a book! My host family spent countless hours patiently allowing me to practice and improve my second language. I have always remembered this kindness."

Pawl says she also was inspired by another church member who had been ministering to the foreign nationals. The women have reciprocated the kindness. The Korean and Japanese women invited Pawl and her friend to a restaurant serving Korean and Japanese food.

"We had a wonderful time," Pawl says. "Our families also enjoy getting to know one another at holiday dinners, such as Thanksgiving and Easter."

"We want to form good ties with our international friends," Pawl says. "We don't want them to be taken advantage of, as we have seen happen to others who may not speak the language well."

She adds, "We want them to know - as we want all to know - that we are Christians by our love."

Melissa is married to Nathan J. Pawl S'97 G'97 and mother to Madeline Grace. Her parents are Glenn and Nancy (Tournell) C'70 Murakami of Chicago, Ill.

This article first appeared on the web site of The Evangelical Covenant Church.