My first English as a Second Language (ESL) student was named Claire. At that time, about 12 years ago, I was a volunteer with the Christian Women’s Job Corps and we were asking a group of women what they wanted to learn. We got the usual answers pertaining to job skills until Claire said, “I want to learn English and I want to learn about God.” I wasn’t sure how I was going to help at the Job Corps, but when she spoke up, it was just like, “Oh yes, that’s where I want to be.”
So, it was a one-on-one semester with Claire, and then the next semester we had maybe five students and the next year, five or six. The program just kind of evolved until there were fewer people who needed job skills and there were more and more people coming in who needed ESL. So the coordinator at the time said, “We’re going to change this to an ESL program.” I worked as a volunteer teacher for a couple of years, until the coordinator retired. The program had no leader at that point, and I was about to retire from my job, so I was happy to step in and serve in that capacity.
I served as coordinator of the ESL program for the next nine years. At first, we were called Life Bridge and came under the umbrella of a ministry in Austin. Since then, we’ve become part of the Great Hills Baptist Church ministry. In 2022, when we became part of Great Hills’ ministry, we had 159 people attend at some point and 93 regular attenders. We had another 30 to 40 who were learning online. The Great Hills transition has been huge for us.
And the wonderful thing was, these people were hungry for the gospel. We do one hour of Bible study and then about an hour and a half of English on top of that. Sometimes in the past, people would skip Bible study because it was the first hour and they would just come for the English. Last year, they were coming for the Bible. They were hungry to know more. In 2022, we showed “The Jesus Film” and Daniel Van Cleave, the pastor we worked with, wanted to have everybody in the same room hearing it in their own language at the same time. We worked it out so that we could show the movie on a big screen. Everybody was able, using their phones, to hear it in their own languages using earbuds. We had people listening in 12 languages at the same time.
It was so exciting because they got to hear in two hours, in their own heart language, what we’d been trying to teach all year long in English in bits and pieces. So, for everyone to hear the story of Jesus in their heart language was amazing. You could hear a pin drop in the room when they were watching this movie and there were gasps like, “Oh!” when Jesus rose from the dead.
We had decision cards in their own languages, and we had some who wanted to follow Jesus. We had others who wanted to know more. So, one of our Bible study teachers started a Bible study on Sunday mornings to answer their questions and help them explore the Bible. That same person is going to be starting an official ESL Sunday school [class] because there are people coming to the church wanting to have an ESL class on Sunday mornings. We have just seen this hunger and a response to the gospel this last year like never before. God has been so faithful. Sometimes I just feel like I’m on this ride watching Him work—I’m just one little spoke in the wheel. God’s doing this amazing thing that I just get to participate in and watch, and I praise Him mightily for all that He’s doing.
I have made friends—lifelong friends—both with students and the teachers. I never expected that. There have just been so many blessings in addition to seeing the faithfulness of God. Last year, we started seeing more people than ever before following the Lord. There was one young woman from Iran—and it’s dangerous to become a Christian if you’re an Iranian—who came running down the hall about five or six years ago saying, “Nancy, Nancy, I’m your sister.” And I said, “What?” She said again, “I’m your sister,” and she meant, “I’m your sister in the Lord”—that she had made a decision to follow Christ. You can’t trade that for anything. It’s just been the most wonderful journey.
I’ve recently retired as coordinator and now direct our online ESL program. My husband, Wayne, and I have five grandchildren scattered all over, so it came time to retire, and I realized I could still teach by Zoom from just about anywhere.
What’s my story? My God is faithful! Greater is He who is in me than he that is in the world. The evil one will throw you curveballs, but the Lord always proves Himself greater.