One of the problems these 60 Chinese people here on Jeju Island face is the lack of language resources. This cuts two ways. First, they are living temporarily (2.5 years so far) on a Korean island where Korean is the local language, and they don’t speak Korean. Second, they want ultimately to land in the U.S., but they don’t speak English.

As for the Korean language, they don’t speak more than the few phrases they have picked up to get by, to use on their jobs, etc. Everything here is written in Korean in a different alphabet than Chinese or English. Many of the signs have English subtitles, and some of the stores and restaurants have English names. I guess English has marketing value here. I’ve never seen as many coffee shops as I’ve seen driving through the city of Jeju (pop. 634,000) and most of them have English names. Back to my point – the Chinese folks don’t speak English yet, except for some of the youth, and they don’t speak Korean, either.

This lack of local language isolates them. There are a few Chinese people living on the island, but they tend to keep a low profile for political reasons – mainland China is right there 300 miles to the west, after all. There is no one who is willing to volunteer to translate for them while we are here, for instance. Mostly the teenage son of the pastor and one teenage girl try to keep up with the translating, but their skills are limited. A Chinese man volunteered to come all the way down from Seoul last Sunday morning to translate for my sermon during the worship service, but this great and unexpected blessing was a one-time thing. Generally, we are spending a lot of time on the Google Translator App.

As to the English gap, the adults have no English at all and are in the beginner class that meets one hour a night, M-F. It is hard to teach much English at that pace of study. The teens are in the Intermediate-range of English studies, but even they have a long way to go. The children are in our 8:30 a.m. Beginner class, M-F. Without a strongly focused effort, learning English will be a long haul for all of these people, though I expect the teens and children will pick it up much faster when they arrive in the U.S. It’s hard to be highly motivated to learn English while sitting here in Korea trying to survive day to day.

We are charmed by the people and how loving they are. We are impressed with the spiritual discipline that we observe, prayer groups, study groups, etc. Our prayer is that they will catch the vision for learning English. It’s hard to do that when their very survival greets them every morning when they wake up again still under the threat of deportation back to China.