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Literacy missions: changing possibilities for a family's future

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In this file photo from 2015, literacy ministry volunteer Anne Parks, right, uses objects in her English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) lesson plans. SUE HENSON/Special

Increasing one's reading ability can not only change an individual. The ripple effects stretch across generations.  

Barbara Payne's involvement stretches many years ago. A retired registered nurse with 21 years of experience teaching English as a Second Language, Payne stresses the importance of building up literacy skills.  

"It doesn't just cover writing, but speaking and understanding," she points out. "It meshes together. Many of our students can understand more English than they can speak." 

Payne, the Literacy Missions Region 11 coordinator who oversees ministries in 17 counties across southwest Georgia,  joins other presenters this August at GO Georgia, a two-site training event sponsored by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. Payne will lead the training at First Baptist Tifton on Aug. 25-26 while state missionary Paulette DeHart directs the seminar at Roswell Street Baptist in Marietta Aug. 18-19. 

A greater message

Barbara Payne

According to ProLiteracy, a Syracuse, NY-based organization dedicated to adult literacy for the last 60 years, children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves. In addition, 43 percent of adults with low literacy levels live in poverty and 75 percent of state prison inmates who didn't complete high school are classified as low literate.  

Subsequently, this is a ministry with definite generational impact.  

Of course, for Payne and others in Georgia Baptist Literacy Missions, there's a greater message to communicate.  

"It's such as good way to reach people," she says. "It helps them get jobs and be able to get around for everyday living. Through these classes, they don't just learn English, but about Jesus. As a matter of fact, that's our primary goal." 

From student to teacher

She relays a story about a former student. Over 20 years ago, he arrived unfamiliar with English. He progressed, got his GED, and became a productive member of the community. As a result, he's now one of the teachers who meet in First Baptist Cairo's fellowship hall every Monday night for the ministry operated out of Grady County Baptist Association.  

"Some time ago he gave his testimony," remembers Payne, a member of First Cairo. "He said he came to class to learn about English and found Jesus. It was such a great testimony to what we do." 

As seminar attendees will learn, the only requirement for teachers is willingness. Workbooks and other materials help bridge the gap.  

"All you need to know is English," Payne explains. "We've learned that the student learns more quickly if the conversation isn't translated." She suspects life's busyness can sap ministries such as hers of volunteers. However, she encourages others to look at the long-term benefits for all involved.  

"We lose the focus of what we're supposed to be doing. Ministry should be our focus. It's a commitment. We have to show up and be prepared for it. 

"Some people in our churches may not realize ministries like tutoring young children and youth are even there. We want to make them aware of the training they can get." 

Cairo, ESL, GO GEORGIA, literacy missions, missions

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