Over the years, Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church (WLGBC) in Winona Lake, Ind. (Bruce Barlow, lead pastor), has been the home church to a host of Grace Brethren ministry leaders, missionaries, and those retired from full-time service. But did you know that it also participates in an extensive ministry to the diverse population of its own community?
One way it does this is through a program called English as a New Language (ENL). Families emigrating from Mexico, India, Vietnam, Korea, and Brazil are a large part of Winona Lake, Ind., and the nearby town of Warsaw. The church provides the program as a service of love to those with a very distinct need: helping break down the language barrier for non-native English speakers.
Emily Austin has attended WLGBC for nine years and has been involved in the ENL program for three. She started out as a co-teacher in one of the two weekday classes and has since moved into a coordinator role in addition to teaching.
“The program aims to provide practical help for people who are learning English and introduce them to the church and our love for Christ,” she explains. “Some of the teachers read a Bible verse at the beginning of class, but it’s pretty invitational – not forceful. There have been some ladies who have converted [to Christianity] because of the ministry, and I have personally developed some relationships with some of my students as well.”
The classes, which are offered for free, are designed to provide a venue for non-native English speakers of various levels to learn English more fluently. They utilize a 12-week structure, which closely follows the grade school system – many of the students are also parents of school-age children.
Sessions meet on Thursday mornings and Tuesday evenings – one session being held at the church, and one at the local YMCA. Both offer childcare. The curriculum is geared towards teachers with little or no experience, providing a lot of structure for the volunteers – church attenders at WLGBC. There are five levels, each based on the student’s experience with the English language.
Austin says she’s seen a visible impact in the community as a result of the ministry and has formed a few good relationships, as well.
“The connection I made with [one student] was really cool — we got to have some good conversations about family, and it was beneficial being able to offer encouragement and hear wisdom from someone in a different stage of life than me,” she notes. “I hope he appreciated being able to talk about it to me, as well.”
Austin is thankful to be plugged into a church with such an intentional program for multi-cultural ministry.
“It’s very pointed outreach in response to the biblical command to be good to the outsider, help those who don’t have means to help themselves…[We want to] help improve peoples’ lives, and introduce them to Jesus. Winona Lake Grace Brethren has such a big focus on discipleship and growth and the more avenues of people being able to serve and connect, the better.”
Click here to send a note of encouragement to Emily or to have it passed along to the other ENL volunteers.