Language connects people, but Texas is now home to many people who know little of the English language. These residents have their beautiful and valued native languages, but they desire to function more fully as part of American society.
Many churches are stepping up to minister to this need, which also gives them the chance to touch the lives of families in various other ways, including through evangelism and discipleship.
South Main Baptist Church in Houston calls its literacy ministry South Main International Learning Experience, or SMILE. Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo calls their program Learning English Among Friends, or LEAF. And Friendship International combines the efforts of a dozen churches and meets at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin.
More than 250 churches are teaching English to about 15,000 adults from more than 80 countries in Texas each week. From Amarillo to Brownsville and from El Paso to East Texas, churches are helping people learn English.
Participants learn more than the language; they learn about American culture. Many churches offer quality child care programs and some provide transportation. Others offer Bible study as an option. The common denominator is teaching English.
The students are internationals, immigrants, and refugees. With diverse educational and religious backgrounds they respond to teachers who demonstrate the love of Christ.
Many people are familiar with the acronym, ESL, which stands for the literacy program called English as a Second Language. A new term is now being used – English Language Acquisition, ELA.
Whatever term is used, the opportunity is the same. Texas Baptist churches have the chance to touch lives for Christ by helping non-English speakers become familiar with the language and customs of the United States.
It's not as difficult as you might think, but it does require training. The Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission partners with Literacy Connexus to provide training and support for volunteers teaching English through church-based ministries.
Contact me, Lester Meriwether, by phone at (817) 696-988 or by email at info [at] literacyconnexus.org. Together, we can help people learn the English language and learn what it means to be a disciple of Christ – loving God and loving others as ourselves.