When two people who do not speak the same language attempt to communicate, they quickly come face-to-face with a language barrier that stands between them.
Kathy Boyd, director of literacy for the Mt. Zion Baptist Association (MZBA), sees the verbal challenge as an opportunity instead of an obstacle. She’s using her ability to teach English as a gateway to reach immigrants in central North Carolina.
“This ministry has opened up so many doors,” said Boyd in a phone interview with the Biblical Recorder. She explained how the outreach program has grown in just over a decade from an English as a second language (ESL) class to now include adult reading and writing (ARW) and tutoring children and youth (TCY). The program also provides training for non-English speaking immigrants in the process of becoming United States citizens.
“The purpose is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ through each one of these ministries,” Boyd said.
She described literacy missions as an accessible way for North Carolina churches to share the gospel with people from around the world.
“You don’t have to go to another country,” Boyd explained. “You don’t have to get a passport. You don’t have to worry about eating different types of food. You don’t have to worry about what age you are. The whole world is coming to us.”
She recounted how one of her ESL classes included ladies from Sudan, Vietnam and multiple South American countries. “Look in there,” Boyd told Terry Pritchard, MZBA associational missionary, “that’s a little United Nations.”
Even the after school tutoring classes and summer activities offered by the MZBA can become quite diverse, said Boyd. “You’ll get children from everywhere.”
The ARW class is the “toughest ministry,” said Boyd, because it targets native English speakers that cannot read well. She said many people are embarrassed to admit they cannot read English, although they’ve spent their entire lives in the United States. Some even sign up for the program but turn around and leave before they enter the classroom. Boyd tries to make them feel comfortable enough to stay.
“Once we get them in here they’re very relaxed and they start to do really well,” she said.
MZBA developed citizenship classes after an ESL student asked for help with the civics test required by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Boyd contacted the local congressional representative’s office to inquire about the requirements and they sent her the bank of test questions.
When Boyd speaks to churches about the ministry, she helps them understand the test’s difficulty for immigrants by asking a few sample questions. She starts with something easy, like asking them to name the president of the U.S. “Everyone chuckles,” she said.
Then Boyd poses a harder question: “The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Can you name one of the writers?”
She receives understanding looks after explaining the situation for most immigrants. “Think about having that question asked to you and then you have to interpret it in your language and answer in English,” she said. It’s difficult and immigrants are thankful for the tutoring.
The congressional office has been a great help to the ministry, according to Boyd. “We have a really good relationship with our representative,” she said, referring to Rep. Mark Walker and his staff. MZBA often refers immigrants and new citizens to the office when legal and procedural questions arise.
Boyd wants to see more churches employing literacy missions to engage international people living in the state. She and other N.C. Baptists involved in the program have become close friends with international families over the years.
“I would have never met this group of people if we did not have this literacy program,” she said, referring to a Vietnamese family.
Visit mtzionassociation.com for more information.