City church ministers through gifts of its people

For the recent immigrant to America who needs a job or just wants to participate fully in local life, learning the language is necessary.

That’s why Calvary Baptist Church, 42 Washington Blvd., has hosted English as a Second Language classes for nearly two years.

About 20 attend the classes. The church offers Monday and Thursday afternoon classes for women only, with nursery care provided, and also has a Wednesday evening session for men and women.

“Students who come have different goals,” said Jody Lantz, one of the class instructors. “Some just want a little more English, and others want as much as they can get.”

On a recent Wednesday, students in the class hailed from Mali, Burma and mainland China.

Lantz handed out a sheet with pictures of a girl doing job tasks and asked the students to write out all the words they knew beside the graphic.

Part of the teaching job is helping students navigate an idiomatic language.

“She’s maybe a cooker,” said one student.

“And that’s what we call a chef,” Lantz told him.

Later, the students paired off to create statements, with those knowing more English helping those with less.

“We do more workplace English on Wednesday,” Lantz said. “We’ve kept the topics but gotten away from a book as the students’ levels began to vary more.”

Since students in the classes come from countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela and Colombia, there’s a good deal of interaction from those with far different life experiences.

“The classes give the students an opportunity to meaningfully communicate in English with one another, and their mix of backgrounds gives them an opportunity to use English in real ways and help them get more comfortable using it with other people,” Lantz said. “On Mondays we do projects for an hour and often have them teach skills to one another using English. Lots of times they’ll share recipes, and we’ve done crafts they have so much to share.”

Lantz and co-teacher Lauri Shaffer teach beginner and intermediate level classes to their afternoon women’s groups, and use ESL textbooks meant for community programs.

“Because we have limited resources in terms of teachers, we have to manage how we present things,” Lantz said. “The students do help each other quite a bit. They’re good about that, and it’s very effective, too.”

Lantz and Shaffer started teaching the classes after the James V. Brown Library took a funding hit and had to eliminate its ESL program.

“We believe, biblically, that churches find their ministries through the gifts of their people,” said Rev. Peter Wilson, Calvary Baptist’s pastor. “When Jody came with her background teaching internationals and refugees, and teaching ESL in Philadelphia, we wanted to let her use her gifts.

“It was kind of divine timing I guess, because just as (classes) were getting off the ground, state funding stopped to the library program,” Wilson said.

For many students, the classes are not only a place to learn the language – they’re a place to make friends, to become part of a group.

“A significant number of people who come to classes might be isolated in the community,” Lantz said. “It’s a comfortable place to meet people and interact with friendly people.”

“Developing friendships is helpful,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of outside things, helping them learn the ropes, work the systems they need to get medical care, go shopping, things like that.”

Calvary Baptist’s English as a Second Language classes are free of charge. Anyone interested in more information can call Lantz at 337-2898.