We help you learn English. You help us learn Spanish. Together we study Baha’u'llah’s revelation in both languages.
That’s the arrangement Kalim LeBlanc reached with Ovidio Serrano one day four years ago in Santa Maria, California.
LeBlanc and a Spanish-speaking friend, Lorena Reyes, got to know Serrano when they were part of a group of Baha’is out looking for neighborhood residents who would be interested in activities aimed at building community.
LeBlanc added that, in his experience, when women and men are both part of such a group, “people may see you in a more peaceful light than they would see a group of boys or men.”
LeBlanc and Reyes were invited into an apartment, where six or seven men joined them in a living room. Some drifted in and out of the conversation but two listened intently.
Then one of the two turned and called out the name of a resident the visitors had not yet met.
It was Serrano. Momentarily, he appeared at the top of a staircase and began descending.
“His look was not only serious but intense,” recalls LeBlanc, and the younger men “looked to him with a deference that was visible.”
After listening to the visitors’ presentation for a time, Serrano spoke out in a soft yet firm voice in Spanish.
Serrano noted many people knock on their door making requests of them. But they have needs, too, he said. What about those?
“Lorena translated his words to me and I asked her to ask him what needs they had. He answered without hesitation that they needed to learn English,” says LeBlanc.
They made an arragement, and the first English lessons were led by LeBlanc’s wife, Jamie, an experienced teacher of English as a second language.
“That was over four years ago,” he says. “Since that time two of the original students have become Baha’is and three are enrolled in English classes at the community college after getting started with us.”
Reyes went to the first couple of meetings and helped get things started.
After that the LeBlancs obtained software and made CDs of oral English practice for their students’ homework.
“The group would be as many as six and as few as one,” he recalls. “It was evident that Ovidio was instrumental in inviting the other young men. Some were his relatives and some were friends.”
As the students learned English, they also were exposed to Baha’i prayers and writings — at first in Spanish.
Then, as it happened, they found out about plans for a Baha’i youth teaching project with Spanish speakers to visit the community.
“Shortly after a few firesides with two youths,” he says, Serrano and another student, Benjamin Bonilla “answered yes to the question, ‘Do you believe Baha’u'llah is the Promised One for today?’ We were overjoyed.”
Meanwhile, Kalim and Jamie LeBlanc were being exposed to more and more Spanish, which they supplemented with software and coursework.
“Of course, it was not sufficient for us to teach the Faith to our students,” he says. “But we persisted with the devotions in Spanish and then added Ruhi Book 1 [Reflections on the Life of the Spirit] in Spanish and English to the English language lessons.
“It has been a challenge to do Ruhi in Spanish. but with the help of a translation app, our tablet, an eight-week Spanish course at the community college, and our Spanish software, we have been successful in almost completing Book 1.”