Fifty Ways #27 — Begin an English as a Second Language Ministry

Imagine that you’ve just been transferred with your family to the United States. While you’ve heard English on television, the sounds are still jarring to you—certainly not familiar.  Your spouse speaks English well enough for the job setting; your young children will be in school, picking up the new language quickly.  Because your assignment is temporary, your motivation to learn a second language is limited.  Yes, it would be helpful in shopping and making your way around a new city . . . but worth the effort to study strange new sounds? 


Or picture this?  You are new to the U.S.  You and your family have lived in a refugee camp for the past eight years.  You’ve heard some English, but no classes were available, and survival was more important than trying to learn a language. Now you have access to ESL – but for just a few months.  And the pressure to learn so many new things is overwhelming.  Access to classes is the biggest hurdle.  And childcare is nonexistent.

Your family has lived in the US for years but it’s been easier to stick with your first language. Everything you wanted to do could be accomplished in your mother tongue. No one could have guessed the stress that would accompany family disruption.  Now you have to enter the work force. And you find yourself challenged by limited English proficiency.

class in session 

Good news!  Churches across Texas have been planning for you.  In some cases for more than forty years, instruction in ESL has been offered in local churches.  For internationals and refugees and immigrants. More than 2,000 persons volunteer in church-based ESL ministries or programs each week through the school year.  Most do not speak the language of their students.  Since they collectively teach persons from 85 countries, this is not surprising. More classes are needed though.  Many more.

 Consider beginning an English as a second language ministry.  We’d like to help you do just that. Contact us at  It’s one more way volunteers are making a difference in communities in Texas.  Join us!

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Thankful for Cultural Interpreters

Can you imagine what the story of Thanksgiving sounds like to someone learning English?  Perhaps that adult in an ESL class in a church somewhere in Texas has just arrived as a refugee from Congo or Burma. Her children have brought home pictures of pilgrims and Native Americans.  Perhaps one child described the story of how these two different groups celebrated a bountiful harvest together.  Maybe school lunch for the day consisted of turkey and trimmings. Mix in a few Black Friday ads on TV and you have a recipe for cultural confusion.  A cultural challenge, no doubt.

Thanksgiving pic

I find myself thankful today for those who are taking the time—week by week—to be cultural interpreters.  Those who help others bridge from one culture to another.  Perhaps you know one of these ESL teachers.  According to Robin Feistel, ESL Coordinator for Literacy Connexus, we know of more than 1,900 of these dear saints who, combined, teach English each week to more than 11,000 adults from 85 countries in 245 church-based programs.  Thank you, ESL teachers, you are showing the way.  Thank you, Robin, and those you are training to lead workshops for new ESL teachers.

Whether we teach English or not, we can help others new to the United States.  Patty Lane’s  A Beginner’s Guide to Crossing Cultures (Intervarsity Press) is instructive.  She encourages her readers to begin a journey of understanding one’s own culture to best respond to persons of other cultures.  She lists six ways we typically approach those coming from other backgrounds:  

  • Xenophobia (fear)
  • Ethnocentrism (superiority)
  • Forced Assimilation (Americanization – You’re welcome if you become like me.)
  • Segregation (remain separate)
  • Acceptance (coexist, accommodate, and build relationships)
  • Celebration (valuing other cultures in their diversity).

I’m grateful, too, for Jesus’ example of accepting those of different cultural backgrounds.  His care for a Samaritan woman led to a whole new life for her and her village.  May we, too, accept others and respond to them in love.

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Big Tex? No, TEX joined Literacy Connexus . . .

Big Tex

Big Tex is waiting to greet you at the state fair of Texas in Dallas this Friday afternoon.  He’s had quite a year since the fire that damaged this friendly landmark.  New duds in Fort Worth.  A complete makeover for this 61-year-old.  A sight to see: Big Tex-welcoming fair goers at the State Fair of Texas.

Another TEX has had a busy year, too.  The Literacy Connexus approach to training volunteers to speak English is also known as TEX–Teaching English with Excellence . . .

Click here to read more.

TEX Trainings this fall

TEX Trainings this summer and fall


Thank you!

Saying thank you is important for anyone who receives a gift—especially a not-for-profit organization.  More than just being polite, there are tax implications. So, thank you to all who support Literacy Connexus through your donations and other support.

Some gifts are monetary; others in-kind (a fancy word for things used in doing one’s work).  In the last week many books have been donated for Books for the Border and Beyond.  This is one of the most important in-kind gifts we receive.  The books go to one of three book banks affiliated with Literacy Connexus.  Donated books are sorted by volunteers and shared with families lacking books at home.

At the world-wide headquarters for Literacy Connexus (4802 Hwy. 377 S, Fort Worth) I am sitting at a desk donated by a company going out of business.  Someone donated the chair I’m sitting on.

Bookcase Stack

Can you spot the donations?

I am using software made available by Tech Soup at a greatly reduced price through Microsoft.  The lateral file cabinet to my right and the bookcase behind me were donated by United Way when they moved to new offices.  The list is long for those kinds of gifts.  Thank you!

But Literacy Connexus really lives in volunteers serving through churches in the cities and towns across Texas.  A couple of years ago we learned that each week in Texas more than 10,000 adults from 88 countries learn English through the efforts of 1,500 plus volunteers.  This past weekend volunteers trained new teachers in three cities.  These 75 new teachers have returned to their churches with clear ideas about how to prepare lessons and make learning fun.  Thank you Robin Feistel, Martha McDade, Connie Anthony, Karen Peiser, Ella Moore, Carol Coburn, Dora Parnell, Blenda Wilson, Elsa Romero, and Beth Avery for your dedication to teaching English with excellence.  Thank you teachers everywhere for you service to persons seeking to learn English.

This blog will be launched on the Literacy Connexus website as a part of the ongoing work of Pam Moore.  Thank you for three years of dedicated service.

Thank you, Literacy Connexus board members:  Caroline Bell, Lynda Bertram, Kathy Cervantes, Lyle Crossley,  Larry Floyd, and Shewanda Riley.  From cleaning up trash along the highway to reviewing tax returns and donating to the cause, your service is much appreciated.


And thanks to all who pray for the work of Literacy Connexus.  It matters.


Follow our Blog!

On weeks alternating with the Literacy Connexus newsletter (as in this one) we’ll begin a series of blogs – “web logs” – related to the work of Literacy Connexus.  Rather than reflecting on the universe at large or generally random topics, our goal (Lester, Pam, and guest bloggers) will be to draw back the curtain and share something of the movement and progression of our work in literacy in Texas and beyond.

Literacy Connexus is in the middle of the late summer training events for ESL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).  Our website lists workshops from Fort Worth to Houston to San Antonio and more.  These workshops are known as TEX (Teaching English with Excellence) trainings.  Experienced ESL  program leaders give their time to train volunteers to teaching English to beginning students.  Robin Feistel developed TEX over several years and is the ESL Coordinator for Literacy Connexus.

Sunday, September 8, is International Literacy Daya very important observance for those in the literacy field.  But did you know that Thursday, September 19, is Talk Like a Pirate Day?  Special emphasis days and months are not in short supply.  They focus brief attention on things that are important – at least to calendar makers.  Because you are reading this, I’m guessing that literacy is important to you (at least more than talking like a pirate).  So, gentle reader, as you contemplate International Literacy Day, what’s in your library?


Lester Meriwether

Summer Time

We’ve had a great summer so far.


In June, Lakeshore Drive Baptist Church in Weatherford blessed families in Presidio with bookcases, books, and basketball. Three 90-minute sessions of basketball and a 3-on-3 tournament. Teachers at the local school, parents, and the children themselves, all appreciated the 15-20 books given to each child. The kids loved decorating their own bookcases!


Four more family reading fairs are in the planning stages for this fall, at other locations along the border.

Throughout June and July, we gave some  books to Agape Baptist Church in Cleburne as they provide meals and day camp activities to children in their community. We were amazed at the level of care and teaching the leaders of that program provided for seven straight weeks.


We’re excited about 11 ESL teacher training workshops across the state coming this fall.

Next on the agenda is the Literacy Texas Annual Conference.

Online Support at Literacy Connexus ESL Google Group

Come Discover Our ESL Community Ministry

If you have ever wished for answers to questions about your ESL ministry, ever felt alone or under appreciated, or ever wished you had a way to pass along your knowledge and experience to other ESL teachers or directors, then this is the place for you.

Literacy Connexus is now hosting an un-moderated discussion forum (or blog if you prefer).  The idea is for our experienced trainers, teachers and ESL program administrators to actively participate in discussions to share information and encouragement.  Our hope is that teachers and administrators can visit this forum and learn about what others are doing, what is working, and what might be worth a try.

If you haven’t seen the new ESL group website, please come and check it out.  Only members are allowed to post, so by all means, if you have not joined – what are you waiting for?! Contact us now to be added to our growing list of members, and discover an online connection with ESL workers across the state.  We hope to see you soon!


I Joined Literacy Connexus . . .

My involvement in ESL ministry started with an invitation to “check us out.

I had heard of internationals inside of their homes not having English to aid in shopping for groceries, helping with their children’s schooling, or making new friends. I had heard of refugees landing in our country and not knowing what to do with a stove or a refrigerator.  I felt God easing me into doing exactly what he needed, and showing me how to get involved.

It has been a blessing for over twenty-five years  to see changed lives in students that have become Christians and citizens, learned to drive and start businesses, and even published cook books.  Equally so, it has been exciting to see volunteers come into this ministry where they can make a difference and help change lives .

My involvement has been as teacher, director, San Antonio Baptist Association consultant, and ESL teacher/trainer for Literacy Connexus.

Dora Parnell
First Baptist Church San Antonio