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English as a Second Language Ministry: Like Being a Missionary Again

Teaching internationals to speak English, says Bruce Flanary, is like being a missionary again. He and his wife Lynne loved being International Mission Board missionaries in Asia. The family was forced to stay in United States after a six-month furlough in 2003 because the couple's son became seriously ill. The heartbreaking decision left Flanary wondering what to do with the overwhelming love God had given him for internationals.

A conversation with a Japanese woman at his church, Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Virginia, led Flanary to begin three language Bible studies: Japanese, Thai, and Filipino. For two of these, Flanary used translators. He prayed for Japanese and Filipino pastors to help him minister to the people. The studies grew. Six months after the first Bible study began, God sent two pastors to minister with Flanary. Those Bible studies were the beginning of a new ministry for Flanary.

As an IMB missionary, teaching English opened doors for Flanary to reach college students. He realized that providing English lessons for the internationals in the United States would be just as effective as it was in Japan. By this time he had built relationships with Chinese and Korean language pastors along with the Japanese and Filipino.

The English as a Second Language classes were simple and tailored to the students' needs. At first many of the students were advanced level students, so Flanary helped them attain goals such as getting a driver’s license and passing the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). God provided teachers who could help those advanced level students. "My main goal," said Flanary, "was to get the Bible in them." Bibles in the language of every student were available.

After each English class, Flanary offered an English Bible study. Anyone interested could stay after the English classes for Bible study. At the very end of each English class, Flanary would come into the room and begin writing information about the Bible lesson on the board. He brought snacks and tried to make the Bible study time "like a family."

Sang and Bong were South Koreans who came for the English as a Second Language classes. They did not stay for the Bible study: this Catholic couple did not want to be converted. They were, however, curious about the conversation and laughter they heard coming from the room. For four weeks the couple stood outside the room listening to the Bible class. Sang sometimes peeked around the door to see what was going on. Finally, Sang could not take it any longer; he and Bong joined the Bible study. 

Flanary described Sarah, a Thai lady as a “sponge”. Six months into the classes and Bible study, Eileen, a class helper, led Sarah to Christ.

For five years Flanary coordinated the English as a Second Language ministry at his church. His son's health continued to decline, and the boy needed a kidney transplant. Flanary was the donor, so he had to take a year out of his English as a Second Language ministry to recover from the surgery.

God provided leadership in Flanary's absence. Dayna Austin, new to the church at the time, wanted to work in an English as a Second Language ministry. She became the ministry coordinator. "It was actually better organized than what I had," Flanery said. "I came back as a helper."

At first Flanary became a substitute. He took a North American Mission Board English as a Second Language Basic Workshop to refresh his skills. Then he began another English Bible class. The Bible class is exploring God's love.

Flanary attended the National Literacy Missions Leadership Workshop so that he can equip local church volunteers to begin English as a Second Language ministries to introduce internationals to Jesus.

"The only time I feel that peace inside, that drive — a fire that burns inside me —is when I'm with internationals and when I'm teaching. When I have that opportunity to share Christ with them, I feel like a missionary again…I feel like God has given me a mission again," Flanary said.

Perhaps, as God uses Flanary to equip ministry volunteers, other Christians will find their purpose in English as a Second Language ministries.

- Claudean Boatman