ESL Offers Churches a Foreign Ministry without Leaving Home

Date Posted: 7/10/2014

Christ UMC, College Station offers tips on starting an English as a second language ministry – and some encouraging stories about their rewarding experience of teaching English and making disciples.

Today, most American communities include persons from many countries and cultures whose lack of English proficiency may hinder them from finding adequate jobs or otherwise participating in our English-speaking business and social structure. These individuals provide the body of Christ with a foreign ministry opportunity without leaving home.

Following Jesus’ example of addressing peoples’ physical concerns to reach their spiritual needs, members of Christ United Methodist Church, College Station initiated a free English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) class in their Bryan/College Station community. The immediate goal was to offer English conversation skills (pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, idioms) and reading. The ultimate goal was to provide the Holy Spirit an opportunity to make disciples through Bible study.
In a small way, volunteers identify with Philip in the Book of Acts when the Ethiopian ruler said, “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?” Non-English-speaking persons might ask, “How can I attend English Bible study unless someone teaches me English?”
Becky Hand, Associate Pastor of Adult Discipleship & College Ministries says, “It’s clear here that Philip was the first second language teacher … and we are following in his footsteps! Christ UMC’s ESL students’ native languages include Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. It’s a mix that enriches students and volunteers alike.” Adds Becky,
“We’re seeing that building relationships is the key to making disciples! One previous student recently led her family to Christ and they were all recently baptized in Houston!”
Each student has a unique story and need for better English skills. Veronika is from Russia, her husband from Iran, and their 9-year-old son, Danial, speaks both Farsi and Russian. They are among the first to arrive for the 6:30 p.m. classes, where Danial and his dad attend the first session of the evening together.
Following verbal reading classes to teach pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary, students proceed to small classes where teachers reinforce their reading lesson and help them with conversational skills. Games lighten the mood while teaching concepts simultaneously.

Hazel is from Costa Rica and her American husband teaches at Texas A&M. She enjoyed the Headbanz game from ESL class so much that she requested it for Christmas. Now she and her husband along with their 6-year-old and 12 year-old play it with the children’s grandparents. 
According to Becky, Linli taught school in China. Heaja was an operating room and emergency room nurse in Korea. Now both attend classes with their husbands, who are pursuing advanced university degrees. “Like all of our students, they are lively, polite and eager to learn,” she adds.

Participants vary widely in their skill levels. Some possess only a handful of English phrases and minimal understanding of the language while others are professionals and retired doctors seeking to attain additional conversation opportunities.
How to get an ESL program started
Sally McKee is going strong in her 80s as the ESL program coordinator. She explains the logistics for other churches considering this ministry. Sally says they ordered materials online and adjusted as needed. “We have students who speak many different languages  including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Farsi, Iranian, Russian, Spanish and more,” she says. 
Sally, a trained speech pathologist, gives each new student an initial evaluation for pronunciation and vocabulary.  She assesses vocabulary and engages them in conversation to assess speech skills and places them in an appropriate level.
Adds Sally, “Each level has two teachers and a conversation partner, whose role is to devise a game based on the lesson. In January, one of our teachers initiated a reading program that has improved all the students' vocabulary, comprehension and pronunciation.” She adds, “The objective of our ESL ministry is in two steps:  teaching English is our current objective.  Making disciples is our long-term objective.”
Sally encourages other churches to start this ministry with any willing volunteers. “Pronunciation pictures can be found at teacher supply stores in any city.  The generating power behind our ESL ministry is God answering our prayers.  We prayed for teachers and got them.  We prayed for a way to reach students and got it.  We prayed for effective curriculum and that is underway.” She suggests looking online for ESL materials.  Google ESL in eHow | How to Videos, Articles & More - Discover the expert in you. Check out ESL Library - English Lesson Plans, English Flashcards, for ESL Teachers
Volunteers got the word out through letters and emails to international groups on the A & M campus, via churches in the area that were known to be non-English speaking, as well as the “around town” section of the local paper that was free.
Bible Study Adds to the Effectiveness
While the ESL program is on break for the summer, Sally feels certain the Lord told her it was the ideal time to start an ESL Bible study in her home. She chose the book of Genesis, and promoted it to the ESL students as a summer discussion group for practicing their English. “I was hoping to have at least a half-dozen participants, so on June 9 I was delighted that 16 attended,” she shares. “We even have students who never attended our ESL program. God had a plan, all I had to do was be obedient to it.  God is helping us accomplish both objectives: teaching English and making disciples.”