FORT MYERS, Fla.—Under communism, a man from the Czech Republic was unable to ever read a Bible. Now he lives in Florida, attends English as a Second Language classes at Daniels Road Baptist Church, and has asked for an English Bible. He says, “I just want to know what the Bible says.”
It’s opportunities like this one that open the door to share the gospel. “We specifically choose verses that communicate the nature of God and the gospel message,” says April Bennett, ESL coordinator. “We present the verse in English and explain what it means. Then we have the verse translated into the first languages of our students. We go through each verse, having a volunteer read the verse in that language.”
DeRonda Haynes says the ESL ministry has blessed her “by meeting new friends from foreign countries.” “We use the ESL classes as a way to build relationships,” says April. “We offer help to our students in whatever way we can. Many students have asked for prayer or help with personal matters. We also invite students to church services and events.”
“It has been a joy working with our ESL students and learning about new cultures,” says Carol Kach. “It’s wonderful to see their friendly enthusiasm for learning English. We trust this ministry will not only improve their English, but they will see their need for the Savior as we introduce Bible verses and praise songs.”
The classes meet each Wednesday evening, September through May. “We have an opening time with announcements, singing, and Bible verses,” says April. “After the opening, the group breaks into classes: beginning, intermediate, or advanced. The beginning class covers basic vocabulary and survival skills. The intermediate classes focus on conversation, speaking, and basic grammar. And the advanced classes deal with grammar and writing. There are no tests. Students are free to go to any class they want and may switch whenever they want. We also offer to help with studying for driving exams, naturalization tests, or just filling out forms in English. Students often come early to class for extra help.”
Twice a year students are invited to a special dinner. April says, “Our church members cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the ESL students, who get a chance to try new foods and learn more about American culture. We also have an international celebration. During this dinner, the students bring a dish from their home country to share with the students and church members. It is a great night of trying different foods from around the world.” These dinners provide another opportunity for Daniels Road Baptist to share the gospel with the students.
The church has been offering ESL classes since 2002. The program averages 30 students a week, with an estimated 700 students from 40 countries during the past 10 years.
April had a unique opportunity during baseball spring training last year. “One of the pitching coaches from the Minnesota Twins saw the sign for free ESL classes and asked about classes for his wife and two boys,” says April. “We don’t offer classes for children, but I offered to do a private class. I brought my own son who was around the same age. He helped me as I taught the children. We were able to develop a wonderful friendship with this family, and my son got firsthand experience in ministering and service. He loved it!”
April says that ESL classes “have been an inroad to our community and building relationships with a group of people who are often overlooked. We are able to reach people through the ESL classes our church normally wouldn’t reach. Just in the past three years, we have seen five families start regularly attending our church. Many others have visited the church and heard the gospel.”
- See Bible People and Me: Life of Christ, a resource for helping students of English as a second language learn about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ while they are learning English. Published by Regular Baptist Press.