Posted by: atxanna | August 15, 2008

HILARY—Teaching Strangers in a Foreign Land

Hilary- Adult ESL Teacher

Hilary- Adult ESL Teacher

I secretly want to be like Hilary when I grow up, even though we are the same age.  God has set her apart for such an amazing ministry that it just makes me want to squeal with excitement when I think about it!  Hilary is a “welcomer”.  She teaches ESL (English as a Second Language) to adult immigrants and students right here in Austin.  She spends her days loving on and caring for these “strangers in a foreign land” all to display, in the flesh, God’s heart for this population.  If you have ever met Hilary, you also know this: that she loves the Muslim “strangers” she meets most of all.  This is what I am so inspired by.

For the last two years, I had heard bits and pieces of how she had wound up an ESL teacher, but to hear the story unfold from A to Z during my interview with her was pretty cool.  Looking back, God was creating in Hilary a love for the nations long before she even became a follower of Christ.  In college, she worked as a summer camp counselor for U.S. Embassies abroad (one summer in Russia and one in Spain) and she studied abroad her junior year in Mexico.  But her view on traveling the world was all about adventure and experiencing other cultures.

In 1997, Hilary committed her life to Christ and immediately began sharing the gospel with just about anyone who would listen.  She refers to herself back then as a “pistol” bursting with eagerness and passion for Jesus to be known.  About 2 months into her conversion, she went with a group of friends to a Passion Conference in Austin (she lived in Iowa at the time) and remembers hearing some crazy old man say in his sermon: “If you don’t have a heart for the nations, then you don’t know the God of the Bible.”  Hilary was actually offended at this… she knew the Lord that had saved her and yet she didn’t care much about the nations.  She thought to herself that this guy simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  But his statement was lodged in her brain and continued to gnaw at her for years. 

After finishing college, Hilary—a brand new Christian—decided to go on staff with Navigators, taking a placement in East L.A. working for 2 years among Spanish-speaking students on college campuses. During her tenure with Navigators, the organization also sent her to the Philippines for a summer with the sole objective of spending time on college campuses sharing the gospel.  She enthusiastically shared with dozens of students that summer—many of whom happened to be Muslims—and God was doing amazing things by calling many into relationship with Himself!  At the time, Hilary knew very little about the Muslim culture or the religion of Islam, but these were the students He kept putting in her path, and she was faithful to share the Good News.

After she completed her Navigators placement, she took a year to teach Spanish to high school students back in Iowa before rationalizing that if she wanted to serve the Lord, she should probably work at a church.  She took a job with her church doing college ministry, and settled in for what she assumed would be the long-haul.  In 2002, some of the staff took Hilary to a Passion “Thirsty” event.  She says she doesn’t remember much, but once again, one statement rung out above the rest and it haunted her: Louie Giglio said in his sermon, “Some of you in this room need to leave full time ministry in order to do the ministry God has called you to.”  What was that supposed to mean?  She had no idea what it would all look like, but less than a year later, Hilary had left her church job and returned to school to get her official ESL endorsement. 

She prepared to take all the remaining required schooling in a short 4 months, get her endorsement, and start working.  But not 30 days into the process, a representative from the school asked her to consider getting her Masters in ESL.  If she agreed to take an “assistantship” with the department, they would pay her way, full-ride, and give her a monthly stipend to live on.  She accepted.  The assistantship turned out to be the department using her as a TA for college-level ESL classes.  Her first student in the program was a Croatian woman (who just happened to be a Muslim—love it, God!). And with that, God began to stir her heart and open her eyes to the ministry He’d been preparing her for.

The first full class Hilary had as a TA in grad school was made up of almost all Muslims.  They came from far off lands: Egypt, Iran, Somalia, Mali, Sudan… but still Hilary knew nothing of Islam, just that God was softening her heart for these people. 


Hilary has an album with a photo of every student she's had.

Hilary has an album with a photo of every student she

As a natural “welcomer” at heart, she immediately began serving her students by trying to meet needs she recognized in them.  It took many different forms, but my favorite is how she noticed the men students really missed soccer, so every weekend, she would drive them all to a neighboring town in Iowa that had a soccer league they could play in.

She invited several of her students to come to a college church service one night and that’s when she began to sense what God was up to in her life.  One student was singing his heart out to worship songs about Jesus, and another asked if he was allowed to touch the Bible and when she said yes, he opened it and began to touch every page, page after page, in awe.  She remembers praying that night as she watched it all unfold, “God, are you using me in ways I can’t even see?  Open my eyes, Lord.”

In the spring of 2006, Hilary signed up to take a Christian course called Perspectives, which basically fills you in on what God’s been up to in the world since the end of Revelation and how it’s been His mandate since Genesis that we are to reach out to the nations.  The course completely shook her and she finally connected the dots back to what that crazy man, who happened to be one John Piper, had said at Passion 8 years earlier.  It all began to make sense.  She had finally developed, and understood why, God had given her a heart for the nations.  And she began to recognize that God had completely surrounded her with the nations—without ever leaving the U.S.!

That summer, in a classroom of 28, Hilary had 25 Saudi students. In Iowa!  One of the most closed countries in the world, where there is no way a missionary could go bring the Good News, and here God was, bringing the Saudis here.  At that, she says, “it was over.”  God overwhelmingly began breaking her heart for Muslims and burdening her deep inside to love them with Christ’s love.  It wasn’t easy though—she admits she was fearful at first.  But that summer, as she built relationships with her students, she started to realize “these are people, not ‘Islam.’  The Lord broke me for Muslim people through that.”

Just a few short months later, Hilary made the move to Austin.  With the University of Texas and

A page from her student photo album.

A page from her student photo album.

several large, high-tech companies actively recruiting from foreign nations, Austin is a hotbed for internationals.  She works for a private adult ESL school near UT’s campus and teaches dozens of students a semester.  She’s also a part of a House Church whose vision is to reach out to the Muslim population of Austin with the love and message of Christ.  She interacts with immigrants and foreigners every single day.  They are her friends.  And she loves them.

“Spiritual conversations happen all the time,” Hilary says, because religion is such a big part of her students’ lives.  So she often finds herself talking about Jesus, answering questions, or giving away Bibles.  One student’s face lit up when she saw a Bible because she said she’d never seen one before and didn’t know it could be in her language.

About 6 months ago, one of Hilary’s first students, a man from Mali, called her up (5 years later) to tell her that he was finally graduating and that he was thankful for her help in the early days of his coming to the States and for teaching him English.  He also shared something else that touched her heart.  He said, “I remember you loving people and that you talked about Jesus.  I am a Muslim and my family is to, so I could never believe, but I remember that about you.” 

Hilary says, “This is the prayer of my life… in every area.  In all who I am and in all that I do, I want to be and live in such a way ‘so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.’ (Isaiah 41:20).”  Her heart is to be a reflection of Jesus to those around her.  To be faithful in that is all God has called her to.

Hilary marks all the countries of her students with a black border.

Hilary marks all the countries of her students with a black border.



  1. Many places in the Bible, God talks about how His followers should take up the cause of the stranger or alien (meaning someone living in a foreign land). Imagine the overwhelm and anxiety someone feels in a place that is not their home, surrounded by people who are not of their culture. Befriend them, love them. Also, in Matt 25, Jesus talks about rewarding those who respond like Hilary does– “I was a stranger, and you invited me in.”

  2. I have known Hilary since 2003, I think. I shared ESL classes with her, and I prayed with her on our knees for 40 days at the beginning of that school year. Hilary is AMAZING and I can attest to this heart you have written! She is someone I have gleaned much from, and someone who loves God and lays her life before Him – and He does amazing things through her. I miss being in her presence and having her spur me on in my heart for missions – but love that she is in Austin! Thanks for posting this – it was beautiful….love the Lord in His people!

  3. thank you for posting this!! we all love hilary!

  4. Hilary is the genuine thing. My friend, I’m praying for a powerful work of God through you…on a daily basis. May His finger prints continue to show all over what you do!

    All my love,

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