Location Location Location: Difficulties with Church-Based ESL Programs

Church-Based ESL Programs

For decades, Amarillo churches have answered the call to serve incoming refugees through English and citizenship classes. The sheer number of volunteers serving the refugee community in this city is mind-boggling! At Paramount Baptist Church alone, 80 volunteers arrive every Wednesday to serve 300 refugees through their LEAF program. As I visit ministries like this one, I find myself grateful that people have been so willing to give up their time and resources to meet refugee needs.For many reasons, a church location enables a huge outpouring of resources for refugees.

For many reasons, a church location enables a huge outpouring of resources for refugees.

Lately, I have spent a lot of time comparing the many church ESL programs available in this city, and I’ve noted many differences. Some offer a rigid classroom experience where attendance is kept and certificates of completion are offered, while others offer only an informal conversational approach. Some provide classes tailored to many language levels, while others offer simplified divisions or none at all. Some provide childcare and/or transportation, while others do not. Some teach English lessons using the Bible, while others utilize the Bible only during break times. Each of these distinctions have their advantages and disadvantages, and over time numerous refugees have found programs that fit their particular needs.

While there are many differences, today I am interested in one quality that is shared by almost every church ESL ministry: they offer their classes in church buildings.

While there are many differences, today I am interested in one quality that is shared by almost every church ESL ministry: they offer their classes in church buildings. Every week, vans pick up dispersed refugees and immigrants in order to bring them to their classes. When a large church decides to offer an ESL ministry, they have few other options. Where else can hundreds of people meet in well-lit classrooms with printers and whiteboards? This paradigm is very useful, and has proven successful. Unfortunately, the church-based ESL ministry paradigm has significant drawbacks as well…

Difficulties with Church-Based ESL Programs

  • Dependent on a high volume of resources and volunteers
  • Often located far from refugee homes, causing attendance to drop slowly throughout the semester
  • Devout adherents of other faiths are less willing to attend
  • Large, intimidating groups make it scary to practice speaking English
  • Limited class time, allowing fewer opportunities for students to actually use English
  • Large classes, preventing teachers from developing a depth of relationships with all their students

 

Location-Based ESL Programs

Rather than compete with church-based programs, and risk pulling people away from established ministries, we plan to offer something completely different. We will establish relationships with groups of refugees and offer informal lessons “on location” that meet their specific needs.

English in mosques

First, we will offer informal classes in other houses of worship. Just yesterday I visited with the imam of a Somali mosque and offered to teach English there. Many of these devout Muslims are unwilling to go to a Christian church. Rather than asking them to come to a church, we will go to them and meet their needs. We will respect them and their religion by limiting ourselves to teaching English without Gospel presentations. This is how we will show love to them. Then, when asked why we do this, we will tell them: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet. 3:15).

Rather than asking them to come to a church, we will go to them and meet their needs. We will respect them and their religion by limiting ourselves to teaching English without Gospel presentations. This is how we will show love to them.

English in other strategic locations

Second, we will offer English lessons in other strategic locations. Last week I visited a local Somali coffee shop. I will spend some time there every week studying Somali, building relationships, and eventually offering English lessons. We will do the same in other areas of town as well. Rather than asking refugees to come to us, we will offer informal opportunities through relationship. This is how we will show love to them.

Rather than asking refugees to come to us, we will offer informal opportunities through relationship. This is how we will show love to them.

English in restaurants

Third, we will meet in restaurants and offer free food and conversation. Table Talk events will enable interested volunteers to engage in relationship with refugees while meeting real language and relational needs.

 

We Need Your Help

This vision is strategic, unique, and exciting. Will you consider supporting it financially? We can’t rent out restaurants without a team of committed partners.

We can’t rent out restaurants without a team of committed partners.

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