Want to share the gospel? Teach someone to speak English!by Mike Creswell
Everyone living in the United States needs to speak English, but many cannot do so.
That need creates a wonderful ministry opportunity for churches, says Donnie Wiltshire, the Baptist State Convention's consultant who works with English as a Second Language (ESL) and literacy ministry across the state.
"Speaking English is really required for easy and meaningful life in this country. Sure, you can survive without English, but it makes everything much more difficult," Wiltshire says.
"Fortunately, if you can speak English, you can teach someone how to speak it as well. Well over 100 Baptist churches across our state have ESL ministries, and hundreds of Baptist lay people are trained in how to teach English.
"Teaching English is a win-win situation. Think about it: You have a unique opportunity to enrich another person's life from now on. The person you teach will be able to have a better job, help their kids in school, use the Internet and just have a richer life in all sorts of ways. But for Christians, it's also a great avenue to introduce people to Jesus Christ and how He is revealed in the Scriptures," he explains.
The need for teaching English has grown exponentially over the past decade, Wiltshire says, as people have come and settled in North Carolina from every part of the globe.
"Our state is now home for more than 300 language/cultural groups and many of them speak little or no English when they arrive here. Since few of these newcomers are Christian, we have a huge mission field right on our doorsteps. Teaching English offers unique opportunities to establish friendships with them over a period of weeks that will open the doors to introducing our faith," he adds.
"It works," Wiltshire affirms with feeling. "In the last year people from some 25 countries have come to faith in Christ as they learned to speak English."
He tells of a woman from Asia who was studying at one of the state's leading schools and working with a tech firm. She is well educated, a leader in her home country. But her country is closed to the gospel and churches there are greatly persecuted.
She wanted to improve her English, so she became part of an ESL class at a Baptist church near her apartment. As she heard the gospel and saw it lived out as she met believers for the first time, she asked questions about English grammar, pronunciation – and how to be saved.
"Through studying and discussing the Bible in class, I found something changed in my heart," she said later.
After several months of classes and one-on-one time with her teacher, a lay Baptist, the woman accepted Christ as her Savior.
"Believing in Jesus Christ and receiving the guidance of God helps me leave my formerly oppressive mood and discover why and how I can live in the world," she said. "I often think that the chance of visiting here was an intentional arrangement by God, letting me meet, follow and serve God, my Shepherd and Savior."
Wiltshire is delighted to hear such stories, but he is not surprised, because he hears them often.
"This particular woman will probably return to her home country one day, and she will take back her new faith! We hear reports like this one from every part of our state where English is taught," says Wiltshire.
So how can Baptists get started in teaching people English?
"I'm glad you asked!" Wiltshire answers with a chuckle.
He and a team of volunteers offer ESL training conferences several times each year as part of the Baptist State Convention's ministry supported by the Cooperative Program giving of North Carolina Baptist churches.
The next training conference will be Oct. 17-18 at Caraway Conference Center near Asheboro. From 2 p.m. Friday through 3 p.m. Saturday, a series of seminars will provide instructions on how to teach people English – and how to be a witness for Christ along the way.
One teacher uses the 23rd Psalm to teach prepositions, for example.
Wiltshire points out that the seminars will be led by lay Baptists who have rich experience in teaching people from a wide range of cultural and national backgrounds. Some sessions will reveal how to use simple things like pictures and flash cards to teach vocabulary; others will cover how to teach ESL to adults, youth and children.
A bonus will be testimonies on how teaching ESL has been used overseas, including in some closed countries, as a way to help bring people to faith in Christ.