MARIETTA — Roswell Street Baptist Church is committed to being a Great Commission church and under the leadership of Pastor Michael Lewis has initiated a plan to reach the ethnically diverse population in the Marietta area. In September the church started an International Learning Center patterned after the ILC at First Baptist Church Jacksonville, FL.
Lewis and his staff are heavily invested in the ministry through prayer, the proper allocation of funds, significant promotion, and being physically present for many of the ILC sessions.
According to Andy Lampert, a layman who recently moved to Marietta from Dallas, TX and who is providing leadership for the ILC, there are 24 countries represented in the ministry at the present time. The native languages represented in the ministry are Spanish (76 percent – Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Spain); Portuguese (13 percent – Brazil); and “other” (12 percent – China, India, Kenya, Laos, Russia, South Korea, Tanzania, and Togo).
Lampert explained, “There are presently 199 students enrolled, with an average of six new students each week since we began. Our average weekly attendance has been 100 students, 12 study buddies, and 18 preschool children.
“We have learned,” Lampert added, “that it is important to build a good relationship with public school administrators, because that is where many of our referrals come from. It has become evident that God’s hand is upon this ministry.
“We are providing free English classes at the church to international adults, age 18 and older. There are presently five levels of English classes offered (beginner to advanced); and students are placed after a brief assessment.”
Helping adults and children
“The ILC meets twice per week – Tuesday morning from 8:30-11 and Sunday afternoon from 4:30-7,” Lampert added. “The first 30 minutes is scheduled for hospitality and fellowship (with refreshments) in a large, open area with round tables followed by 90 minutes of classroom instruction in English. Assistance in provided in both writing and speaking.
“The last 30 minutes of the classroom time includes Bible reading and teacher-facilitated activities to reinforce the reading. Finally, we take prayer requests and intercede for the students’ needs. In both sessions we offer free childcare for children to age four. For the Sunday session, we offer a free ‘Study Buddies’ program for children from kindergarten through the 6th grade. This program offers games, crafts, reading and tutoring for the children.
“For the adults our model is to have two teachers per class and a maximum of 14 students in each class. The lower teacher-to-student ratio provides for more individualized attention, which is needed for pronunciation practice and writing development.
“Our volunteer base is about 30 on Sunday and 25 on Tuesday, which includes teachers, administrators, hospitality workers and ‘Study Buddy’ leaders.”
Lampert continued, “Only God can see the heart, of course, but some of our students have started coming to our regular worship service and have invited their friends and family to join them. Based upon the comments and prayer requests that we hear week by week, it is apparent that God is at work. He is drawing internationals to Himself. The students are beginning to respond to the Gospel and share their personal testimonies. Some have requested an international Bible study, which we plan to offer in January during our normal Life Group hour at church.”
Getting the church involved
“As the ILC grows, I can envision more than 500 internationals being enrolled with additional class offerings on additional days of the week,” he noted.
“We plan to offer citizenship classes on Sunday nights starting in February. Eventually, we could also have a more formal job placement service. In fact, many of our lesson plans include equipping in various skills needed to acquire a job and achieve job advancements.”
Roswell Street is beginning to see millennials catch the vision for reaching these internationals. Now, more and more of the young adults are volunteering to serve in the ILC ministry because they can see the impact it is having on the quality of life for the internationals.
Lampert explained, “Most people think that those who teach English as a second language need to be fluent in Spanish or some other language, but that is not the case. In fact, it can be a hindrance in some ways. We encourage English only in the classroom, because some of our classes have multiple languages represented.
“Because the way our curriculum is designed, a person does not need any teaching experience to be effective in this program. We simply ask that the teachers have a growing relationship with Christ, and a heart for internationals and to be dependable.
“Our initial recruitment of volunteers was aggressive, but now we simply encourage potential volunteers to just come and observe with no commitment. If the ILC resonates with them, serving with the ministry will likely be a good fit. The retention has been good; because once volunteers get a taste of what God is doing in the international community they are hooked! They find it rewarding to serve a group of people who are vulnerable, humble and grateful.”
Beginning your ministry
Between 2000 and 2010 Georgia’s population grew by 18.3 percent, nearly twice the national growth rate of 9.7 percent. More than half of the growth was due to net migration and over 50 percent of the migration was from internationals coming to Georgia.
Your church may want to consider doing what Roswell Street has begun to do so effectively. We can go around the world to minister and we should, but the world is also coming to Georgia and we dare not neglect to minister to them. Paulette DeHart (firstname.lastname@example.org) with our Georgia Baptist Mission Board may be able to provide the guidance you need if you are interested in beginning a literacy missions ministry.