For 32 million Americans, English is a second language. In that little fact lies a world of mission opportunity. The concentration of nationalities found in New York City makes a ministry such as Urban Nations a necessity here, a natural. But it is just as natural for most North American churches to start an Urban Nations-type ministry wherever God has placed them. It is part of our objective to duplicate this outreach in faithful churches of Jesus Christ. So save this article, then call me with your questions. Here is how you can roll your own.
One: The Need. Assess it. Pray about it, too. Do you have a large immigrant population? (The language or number of languages is immaterial.) If yes, proceed.
Two: The Facility. Do you have a facility with areas that can be used for classroom instruction? If yes, you’re ahead of the game already.
Three: The Faculty. Do you have volunteers who 1) love the Lord, 2) love people, 3) are patient, and 4) can speak English clearly? If yes, you’re practically home.
Four: The Curriculum. You must first survey your facilities and your staff levels. Then determine how many levels of instruction you can reasonably offer. Bare-bones operations should offer Level I only (most students will be in this group; they can read English but have little vocabulary and less confidence). More resources? Consider offering six levels: Pre-Level I (alphabet and phonics), Level I, Level II, Conversation, Advanced Conversation, Professional (accent elimination, etc., for immigrant professionals who believe this will help them advance).
Curriculum resources, happily, are on the increase. Our core curriculum comes from the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board (1-800-634-2462). It is called "English Lessons From The Bible: Book of Mark." It has two levels, each with a student and teacher edition. The teacher’s edition has lesson objectives and suggestions for instructions, as well as answers to all drills and tests. Overall, the curriculum is excellent. Two glaring flaws, however, are the cartoon caricatures of Jesus and the occasionally blatant antinomianism. ("The Pharisees believed in Law. Jesus believed in Love." Oh, mercy!) The latter can be dealt with by the instructor with a simple: "Skip this page and go on to the next." (Remember, you know English and they don’t.) The former can only be remedied when a committed Reformed person sees through the development of a thoroughly orthodox curriculum. In the meantime, we’ll continue to avail ourselves of these. (Other material is available: Contact David Schildkraut at 718-648-4833 if you need more information about resources.)
Five: Policies. You need to establish several; we recommend they include the following: a) The program must be upfront about being Christian. Prospective and incoming students must be clearly told that it is church-sponsored and Bible-based. No bait and switch! b) Because the classes involve explicit, Christian instruction (they very much resemble evangelistic Sunday School classes in style and content), women should not teach men (1 Tim. 2; 1 Cor. 14). c) Fees. We recommend a registration fee of $50 per level and $1 per class. Even if your expenses are taken care of, charging a fee is the righteous thing to do (in most cases).
Six: Set a date to begin registration week. Instructors should be flexible and expect students to arrive after classes have begun. Be reasonable.
Seven: Advertise. Get word of the program to the people by distributing notices in their neighborhoods and placing ads in ethnic newspapers. Hint: If you don’t have someone on staff who can speak the target language, advertise in English. Most immigrants have friends or relatives who will help them through the registration process. But if you advertise in their language, they will expect to speak it when they call or show up.
Eight: Pray and Prepare. Have Bibles in all targeted language on-hand, as well as sound, Gospel literature.
Nine: Do the Lord’s work faithfully. Teach humbly and patiently. Give excellent instruction in English, but keep Christ central. Never compromise. It’s his ministry.
Sure, there are many details you may need help with, but most questions resolve themselves with sanctified common sense. For those that may be more knotty, we stand ready to assist. We ask just two things of your church: 1) that you at least consider adding Urban Nations to your church mission budget, and 2) that you allow us to boast of the Lord’s blessing upon your labors. They are sure to come. Consider the following letter we received from a volunteer at a church we assisted in California:
Last week our summer vacation from the English classes began. We had a party the last day of school. Students brought dishes from their native countries. It was fun. (I couldn’t walk the next day because of too much food!) A lot of people who did not know about the Lord before are now interested. We had a family ask if it was OK for them to come to church on Sundays because they want to know more about the word of God. This family did not even know what the Bible looked like before coming for English lessons. We were just so happy to have these kinds of experiences. Another family showed up for a Wednesday night gathering where all the church’s families get together to study the word of God! I can’t wait for classes to start again. We finished the ministry year with 20 students. We are expecting double next semester. Now we need to pray for more teachers! The deacons, elders and the pastor are all very happy about this ministry. They are working on a plan to gather material for Sunday Bible studies for our students.
Praise God! Now, what are you waiting for? Roll your own!
2662 East 24th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11235
E-mail: [email protected]
- Steve M. Schlissel
Steve Schlissel has served as pastor of Messiah's Congregation in Brooklyn, New York, since 1979. Born and raised in New York City, Schlissel became a Christian by reading the Bible. He and Jeanne homeschooled their five children and also helped raise several foster children (mostly Vietnamese). In 2003, they adopted Anna (who was born in Hong Kong in 1988, but is now a U.S. citizen). They have eight foster grandchildren and fourteen "natural" grandchildren.