Jim and Susan Austin have long served SBC of Virginia churches by leading English as a Second Language (ESL) training across the Commonwealth. Recently, Jim and Susan sat down to answer a few questions about their passion for this ministry and how God has led and continues to lead them to serve churches and the nations who call Virginia home.
When did you first get involved in ESL ministry?
Some 20 years ago, we lived and worked in Kaiserslautern, Germany. We attended Faith Baptist Church, where Susan participated in a Basic ESL Workshop shortly before we returned to Virginia. This is where Susan first sensed God‘s call to share her faith through teaching ESL. However, that call found no outlet for a decade. Just over 10 years ago, Jim needed to take a college course for his work. The only course that would fit his schedule was Methods and Techniques of Teaching ESL, taught by Katherine Burns, a former IMB missionary. We took the course together. When Mrs. Burns learned that we were interested in ESL as a ministry, she took us aside and told us that she would equip us to teach ESL in a local church, a restaurant, or even a grass hut…and she did. She even invited us to attend the ESL training she provided for the new missionaries at the International Learning Center. Now both of us understood that God had a mission for us to take the Gospel to the nations through an ESL ministry.
We attended a Basic ESL Workshop at Red Lane Baptist Church (Powhatan)and started an ESL ministry at our home church, Kingsland Baptist Church (North Chesterfield). About this same time, the SBCV saw the possibilities of reaching the nations that were living in our state and asked us to become facilitators for other churches wanting to start an ESL ministry. We received training at the National Literacy Missions Workshop and began teaching the Basic ESL Workshop in churches across Virginia.
We have led over 60 Basic ESL workshops in Virginia, as well as New York, Massachusetts, and Lithuania. We have led an ESL ministry at Kingsland Baptist and have taught English intensives in churches and camps in Lithuania, Germany, and Serbia, as well as online in Iraq and Brazil.
What qualifications or certifications do you hold in ESL?
We are both certified as Basic ESL Workshop leaders by Send Relief (NAMB). Additionally, Susan is a national trainer with Send Relief. She conducts National Literacy Workshops to train new state workshop leaders and provides updates to state trainers with the most current techniques. That being said, the minimum requirements for anyone to teach in an ESL ministry are to speak English and be a follower of Jesus Christ. We believe one should also have a certain sense that teaching English is the way God is calling them to advance His Kingdom on earth.
Why do you believe ESL is an essential ministry at this time for churches in Virginia?
People from across the globe are making their new homes near SBCV churches. These internationals add a new dimension to our neighborhoods…and new opportunities for our churches to share the Gospel. New immigrants often need help settling into their new life. SBCV churches extend the love of Jesus to their neighbors, whatever the need might be. If they are cold, we give them a coat; if they are hungry, we give them food; and if they are unable to communicate, we give them English. Many immigrants speak little English and need to learn the language quickly just to survive. We may not have a coat to give or food to give, but we all have English. And your international neighbors will very much appreciate it if you share it with them. In the process of teaching English, we intentionally share the Gospel with our students and connect them with believers who speak their heart language.
Many SBCV churches take the Gospel to nations around the world through short-term missions. English is the most desired and valuable language in the world. World citizens are eager to engage with English speakers, particularly Americans. Churches (especially those that go to the same place year after year) create friendships around learning English, sometimes extended through social media. This often provides the opportunity to share their faith. Local pastors and church leaders are happy to help SBCV churches organize English classes. The connections made in these classes are often with people the local church would otherwise not know about. ■