LEARNING A LANGUAGE
“When you die and stand before God, He is not going to ask, “Do you speak English?’ He’s going to ask, ‘Do you know me?’”
Beth Childs, director of FBC Midlothian’s ESL ministry, believes that her teachers reinforce this with the students on a weekly basis.
“We want to be the best teachers we can be because we want them to succeed in this country. I want them to go to everything at their kid’s school. I want them to talk to their [kids’] teachers. I want them to have a great job. I want them to be able to go to the grocery store and be able to read everything. I want this to feel like home to them.”
About four years ago, the last thing on Beth’s list of possible personal ministry opportunities was ESL. She didn’t speak Spanish, and she didn’t have teaching experience. That all changed when she visited similar programs at churches nearby.
“That’s when my heart was just so touched,” Beth said. “There were people from Iraq, Mexico, some South American countries. And a lot of them had worked all day—some were professionals, some were manual laborers. And they would come and sit for two hours and study English, just desperately wanting to learn the language so that they could interact better in their community, they could get better jobs, they could go to the school meetings. Some were moms that just wanted to be able to read to their children or help with homework.”
Shortly thereafter, Beth and seven other women from FBC Midlothian attended the Texas Baptist Literacy Program. In less than two years, FBC opened its doors to an average of 35 ESL students every week.
Since its first semester, the ministry has grown and adapted its student’s needs. The church provides free child care, serves meals, provides entertainment during mealtime, and has occasionally brought in business owners from the community—nurses and other special guests who can provide services to the students.
Class levels range from Level 1, where students speak virtually no English, to Level 5, which is intended mainly for professionals who speak fluent English but want to refine their language skills. Students go through an intake interview process where Beth, and her assistant director Rosanna, evaluates what level the student will be best suited for.
Wednesday evening ESL runs from 6:00 – 8:00 pm. Students have the opportunity to read, listen, and speak every week. They get up, and often move around to work with a partner or small group. They also include a light meal, entertainment, and games. ESL finishes the evening with a time of prayer and spiritual reflection.
“We don’t realize a population that lives among us, that sometimes we don’t even see. I did not realize how many people live in Midlothian that don’t speak English.”
Future of the Ministry
With that number rising steadily every year, Beth has her heart set on the future of the ESL ministry. Her main goal “is to try to reach out and get them into our church family.”
The passion that Beth has for this ministry is contagious. After speaking with her for just a few minutes, you’ll be ready to jump right in and teach a class this fall. And that’s exactly what she is hoping for. The ministry is always looking for volunteers with an open heart and mind.
“You do not have to have any experience with teaching a foreign language,” Beth emphasized. “It is so much better if the teacher does not speak Spanish or a foreign language because [the students are] here to learn English. What they’re really wanting is a
chance to practice, and they want to hear you speak English. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”
Living and Loving Like Jesus
Beth sees the ESL program as an extension of how Jesus lived and loved during His ministry.
“He always engaged personally with people,” she said. “He was quick to act, to go toward what their need was. He was always respectful of people, no matter what their walk of life or past was. It was just meeting them where they were right then.”
With this example in mind, Beth and the teachers always have a singular message at the center of their ministry: “You’re here. I love you as a person. I don’t know your story. I don’t know why God has put us together, but for some reason our paths have crossed at this church. The reason I’m doing this is because Christ has met my needs. I want you to know that no matter where you are, He loves you and wants to be your Lord and Savior.”