Students faithfully come to Pine Valley Baptist Church to learn English.
The Wilmington church has seen its class sizes swell from under 30 to nearly 125 during its Monday evening classes September through May. The average number hovers above 80.
“They seem to really enjoy coming together,” said Sue Foss, the director of Pine Valley’s English as a Second Language-Refugee Outreach Ministry (ESL-ROM). One woman has perfect attendance for the last five years. Several students received perfect attendance awards in May.
What started as a basic English as a Second Language (ESL) program in 2008 has since changed because of the needs of the international residents in the community.
A local refugee agency refers its political refugees to Pine Valley and other ESL classes in the area.
When the classes first began, Foss said most of their students were Hispanic men. But the added referrals from the refugee agency and the commitment of the Pine Valley volunteers has led to growth.
Children are offered Bible study, craft time and recreation. Foss said they’ve even offered a dance time as well as guitar lessons. “They’re engaged the whole time,” she said.
The church has one van that makes two trips and a bus that seats 20 people. The ministry reaches into at least four apartment complexes.
Volunteers run the entire ministry. From transportation to child care, Foss said she’s been thankful for God’s provision.
“God seems to really have His hand on this program,” she said. “He’s met every need we’ve ever had.”
What started as a snack of cookies and a drink has grown into a meal for the participants in the program. One of the volunteers also served on the kitchen committee and asked if leftover food from Wednesday night meals could be stored and used for this ministry. Church members started bringing donations for this as well as to provide for other needs. Occasionally one of the students will provide food as well.
The ministry has not only helped the internationals in their community but church members as well.
“Within our church it has been very instrumental in helping people accept people who are of a different culture,” Foss said. “Members have come to love [and] accept them.”
Some of the internationals have joined the church, and one is on the ballot for deacon in September.
“What’s happened is we’ve formed a community with them,” Foss said.
Foss said ESL-ROM has “probably been the most fulfilling ministry I’ve ever been in. The workers have a sweet spirit. They step in when there is a shortage … sometimes doing double and triple duty.
“The love our workers have for these people … seeing our church come to love these people. It’s been a life changing experience for me.”
When the obstacles come, and they will, Foss said she knows she can rely on God to provide. “It seems that Satan has tried to attack our program in every way possible every year, but God is mightier,” she said.
Now there is a Hispanic and a Burmese congregation meeting at Pine Valley as well. “It’s just been really great seeing those two ministries grow,” Foss said.
Ministries like ESL-ROM can be found at churches across North Carolina. Foss received basic training through Wilmington Baptist Association. She hopes to make time to pursue further training.
Donnie Wiltshire, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) special ministries consultant, says the BSC offers two different types of training for churches and individuals doing literacy missions.
The first is a basic 14-hour workshop. This is offered to churches or associations to train three different ministries: ESL, tutoring children and youth and adult reading and writing.
It gives time to help people organize a ministry, teach them the nuts and bolts of the ministry and learn how to use the ministry to reach people for Christ. Wiltshire estimates between 8-12 of these workshops are offered each year.
The basic workshop is designed for beginners and leads to certification through the North American Mission Board.
“Training is essential,” Wiltshire said.
“There are many reasons for this but two of them are that all of these ministries have a highly technical side, especially ESL. It is important to develop skills to be able to teach English to immigrants. But even more importantly, literacy ministries often fail to become pathways to Christ unless volunteers have been trained to use it as such. That is why we stress training and our training always stresses faith in Christ.”
The second is the annual Literacy Missions Conference that provides advanced training in all areas. This year’s conference, “Faithful to the Task,” is based on 1 Corinthians 3:5b-6. It is scheduled Oct. 16-17 at Caraway Conference Center in Sophia.
Session leaders include Glenda Reece, Doris Edwards, Tom and Carla Pless, Ann Knowles, Dick Pacetti, Kathy Boyd, and others; 16 concurrent sessions will be offered. Ken Tan, BSC leadership development consultant, and Wiltshire will also share what resources are available.
Registration begins Oct. 16 at 2 p.m. with orientation at 3:15 and seminars at 3:30. Dinner is at 5:30 and is followed by seminars at 6:45. Oct. 17 begins with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. with seminars at 8:30 a.m. and 1:20 p.m. with lunch in the middle. The total cost for one night on campus, three meals, snacks and registration is $90 for a double room and $105 for a private room. Commuters cost $30 each day. To register, visit ncbaptist.org/index.php?id=1531.
“Literacy Missions can be a vital ministry for reaching people for Christ at the point of their need,” Wiltshire said. “Internationals are desperate to learn English and American culture.”
Immigrant children struggle in school. Adults unable to read struggle with job application forms as well as other paperwork required for themselves and their children.
“A church can meet these needs that individuals have,” Wiltshire said. He also stressed that literacy ministries open the doors for churches to introduce Christ and make disciples.
Wiltshire estimated that the Hispanic population in North Carolina is close to 10 percent of the total population. Those Hispanics “need to learn English so they can find jobs to support their families,” he said.
Communities near colleges attract visiting scholars who fail to have a grasp on the English language and American culture.
“ESL can open the door to those communities to share Christ, to win converts, and to send missionaries back to their home countries – and all these as a result of teaching English,” Wiltshire said.
Wiltshire said the training is available to help churches start a ministry either locally or at the annual conference.
While literacy missions does require a commitment on the part of churches and leaders, Wiltshire said it doesn’t “require large amounts of money. Low budget ministry can be highly effective.”
Check with the BSC or your local Baptist association for an ESL or other class near you.