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A ministry of words brings people to the Word

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CAIRO — Anne Parks had a calling to teach, but she needed students. So she started knocking on apartment doors in this southwest Georgia town.

At Nuboko Rice’s home, Parks peered through a chain.

“I looked at her through the chain lock,” Parks said. “She locked the door, she was afraid.”

Parks talked her way through the cracked door and chain to meet the Asian woman, who became one of her first English-language students.

Parks is at home in Grady County where she was born and raised. Today, she resides on her family’s home place. College and marriage took her away from home, but not for long. When she married Lester Parks, who became a pastor, they joined the former Memorial Baptist Church, which today is New Beginnings Baptist Church.

Memorial Baptist had a fledgling ministry to the growing Hispanic population in Cairo. The Hispanics needed to learn English. Lester and Anne led the effort there to form an English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) ministry along with Adult Reading and Writing, which assists native English speakers to become reading proficient.

She traces her spiritual roots to Long Branch Baptist Church where she professed faith in Christ.

“I came to Christ in 1946 at a protracted meeting,” Parks said. “I was the only one to make a profession of faith, but I knew from the moment that I accepted Christ into my heart that I took a deeper interest and love for people.

“The first little Sunday school class I taught was on the steps of Long Branch Baptist Church.”

At age 82, she’s still teaching.

Literacy as a ministry

Adult reading and writer have long been her interest.

“People don’t realize how many people – even in church – don’t have the ability to read like they should,” Parks said. “There is a lot of cover up.”

I knew from the moment that I accepted Christ into my heart that I took a deeper interest and love for people.

Pat Ernst has worked alongside Parks for more than six years, teaching on Monday nights at First Baptist Church, which now hosts the Grady County Baptist Association’s literacy classes. Retired from public service with the state of Florida, he had been a Christian barely a year when he volunteered.

“She’s extremely flexible,” Ernst. “She might have five pages of lesson plans she brings, and she reads to who is there. If there are too many new people, she will shift gears and go in a different direction.”

Parks utilizes a visual and interactive teaching style, which translates well between languages.

“One time she brought in a shaker and some half-and-half, and we all participated in making butter,” Ernst said. “Later, we sampled the butter on homemade biscuits, something the students had never experienced.”

All the while, students are learning new words as they learn the Word.

“You’ve got to live what you teach. You’ve got to show love to them,” Parks said of her students. “We don’t preachy-preach to them, but we do end every class with a Scripture. The Word and the Holy Spirit do the convicting; we don’t have to do it.”

Success stories

Parks and others who engage in the Grady County Baptist Association’s literacy ministry receive much of their training through the Georgia Baptist Convention, which the Cooperative Program and Mission Georgia make possible.

Their students can be transient, so not everyone completes the ESL course before advancing to GED and citizenship classes. Still, success stories abound, like Miguel, who recently testified how he came to learn English but he found Jesus.

Lester Parks died in 2000, but the ESL and ARM ministries continued with Anne and others.

“God is continuously calling and filling the gaps when we have a gap, more teachers, more leaders, more to work in the nursery,” Parks said. “God will send people. People are called into this, they really are.”

You can learn more about the Georgia Baptist Convention’s literacy missions at www.gabaptist.org/literacy-missions

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