“We don’t mind. We’d actually like more of it, if you can. This is a church, after all.” The 30-60-year-olds in the small English classroom at “Unidos por la Fe” Lutheran Church in Chile have been actually asking for more Bible-related materials and discussion.
And so, in English class, we have begun with hymns, key Bible verses that explain the Law and the Gospel, Bible stories, and Bible “chats” about Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, forgiveness, good works, and living.
For many Latinos, this may be one of the first times they’ve been able to study the promises of God in an interactive format. Once they’ve come to trust the teacher or pastor, the majority of the students want to learn more about the Bible and are just waiting for an invitation to talk. Building a bridge between the ESL program and the church leaders or members is a key to opening and deepening that desire.
In Chile, we are constantly learning and growing in this “bridge-building” aspect, but we have studied several insights from WELS missionary Mike Hartman in Mexico, who emphasizes connection as the key:
Connection to a church leader: A local national pastor that was completely supportive of the program and spent significant time with students (visiting, teaching, etc.).
Connection to church members: Regular social activities outside of class (Latinos are extremely social).
Connection to the Word: The pastor offered Introductory Bible Information classes either before or after the EFL classes.
The latest adult student to be “connected” to the Gospel message is named Pamela Valdés. She works at a frozen food factory near the church in Linares and has two 16-year-old twin girls. Elise Gross, a newly arrived field worker from Kingdom Workers, interviewed Pamela in July. Pamela says:
“I noticed the sign outside the church door that advertised English classes, and I was interested. During English classes, I learned more about the Lutheran church. I carry a heavy load and had been looking for a church. I went to many, many churches, but they always seemed to make my load heavier. I am passionate about my daughters and their relationship with God so I talked with Pastor Tim. I left feeling lighter. Now I take classes with Pastor Tim and will be a member in September. It will be my spiritual birthday! My favorite thing about the Lutheran church is that it emphasizes grace and salvation. I love reading the Bible, and I love the words I hear in the sermons on Sundays. I also love the feel here; it is like a family.”
And more connections are happening. Pamela said, “I like [my Bible classes] more each day. I’m already letting some of my friends know about my confirmation date so that they can accompany me. They’re very curious to find out who it is that has ‘trapped’ me. They don’t know that it was Jesus.”
Pamela’s twin teenage daughters also came to Sunday service last week! Both of the girls are very shy; they previously had a jarring experience at another church in town that was very legalistic. They have been hesitant to come see what their mom is doing at this Lutheran church. Their mother Pamela writes, “I hope they continue to attend. That will be a big job.”
It will be, but nothing is impossible for the Holy Spirit. We pray that the English program continues to be a link to reach students, family members, and friends with the burden-relieving message that Christ has redeemed them, fully and freely.
A long-term outreach program such as ESL classes can run the risk of becoming isolated. As the program grows, there must be multiple and varied connections to the Word and the Church, to give more opportunities for participants to “taste and see.”
We pray that God blesses the outreach programs at our missions home and abroad, as we all work to connect lost souls to the life-giving Message.
EFL Teacher and Outreach Assistant
Unidos por la Fe