International Missions in Our Own Backyard
February 11th, 2020 / By: Russell J. Chun | HOPE Literacy / comments
Marhabaan! Salam! Hola! Nǐ hǎo! It’s Tuesday night at Southcliff Baptist Church in southern Fort Worth and the church is teeming with activity. Languages from Mandarin Chinese and Persian to Arabic and Spanish fly through the air as the crowd gathers to learn English together at the church’s English as a Second Language (ESL) ministry.
On an average Tuesday night, the church hosts over 200 students from all over the world—from children to adults.
ESL at Southcliff has come a long way since it began 20 years ago. “We had three teachers, seven or eight students from Bosnia, one from Guatemala and one from China,” said John Spear, director of the ESL program at Southcliff. Today over 50 volunteers converge each week to provide games and crafts for the kids, activities for youth, formal classes for adults, and even a light meal that fosters connection and community for people who might otherwise be left alienated and isolated in their new homeland. Most importantly, the ministry provides an introduction to the love of Christ in action.
And that is what it’s all about. Southcliff’s ESL program was the first of ten HOPE Literacy sites that now operate throughout Tarrant County. HOPE Literacy is a nonprofit that helps churches fight illiteracy, poverty and isolation by establishing classes that teach language and literacy with the love of Christ. “Southcliff’s HOPE Literacy site demonstrates the power of ESL ministry to connect people to Jesus and one another,” said Harry Wilson, executive director of HOPE Literacy.
Stu Cocanougher, share pastor at Southcliff Baptist, pointed out that most of those volunteers are retirees and empty-nesters. “It’s also exciting to see our volunteers go beyond being a teacher and inviting the students to their home, celebrating birthdays. Sometimes they host baby showers, and take them to doctor’s appointments,” he said. “Our volunteers start the relationship with ESL—teacher/student—and then they begin just loving these people. And what is best is when the people from non-Christian backgrounds decide to put their faith in Christ.”
Eighty-eight-year-old Ron Higgins has been helping out since the ministry began two decades ago. “My gift is evangelism,” he said. He loves to share what a difference Christ can make in a person’s life, but there is nothing abrasive in his approach. “When I begin to share the gospel with someone, I tell them to stop me if they don’t want to hear it,” he said. However, in all his years of sharing the message of Christ’s love for all peoples of the world, he said, “I have never been asked to stop.”
“How amazing that God brought all the nations to Fort Worth,” said Paige Lister, who runs the children’s ESL program at Southcliff. “You don’t even need a passport or an airplane ticket” to become a missionary to the nations.
Contact SBTC Missions or HOPE Literacy for help with ESL ministry for your church.