woman looking at a globe

Reaching the Nations . . . from Your Front Porch

Internationals: Who Are They?

How far are the nations from your front porch? They’re closer than you think. The nations are all around us. To reach them, we must understand who they are. Just like us, internationals are not all the same. Here are just a few of the types of internationals among us:

  • International Students – Around 975,000 students from other countries are studying at universities in the U.S. Over 57% of them are from just four countries—China, India, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
  • Immigrants – The number of immigrants and their children born in the U.S. is approximately 80 million, or 25% of the total U.S. population. The number from Asia now roughly equals those coming from the Americas.
  • Refugees – As symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. has long been a target destination for people seeking refuge from troubled countries. In FY 2015, the U.S. admitted 70,000 refugees. More than one-third came from the Near East/South Asia (esp. Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, Syria, Afghanistan). Another one-third came from Africa (esp. Somalia, D.R. Congo, Sudan, Eritrea, Burundi), and one-quarter came from East Asia (esp. Burma).

How Can We Connect with the Nations in Our Midst?

Getting involved with the internationals around us is quite simple, but it requires intentional effort. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few ideas:

1. Start up a conversation with the clerk at a convenience store. If you go into a convenience store and the clerk’s name tag or appearance or accent gives you the impression they are from another country, they just might be. Introduce yourself and ask them where they are from. Decide to become a regular customer to get to know them better. Who would have thought that buying gas at a local convenience store could turn into a cross-cultural encounter?

2. Visit an ethnic market. In some cities (and even some smaller towns), you can find a grocery store or market that caters to international people from Asia, Latin America, Africa or the Middle East. Make a point to go shopping at that store and ask a clerk some questions about the international products. (Tea, coffee, and snacks are great conversation starters.) After the store owner or clerk recovers from their shock that a non-international would enter their store, they’ll be pleased to have you as a customer. They’ll be even more amazed if you try to build a friendship with them.

3. Befriend an international student. Many international students (some say 70-80%) never set foot in an American home. You can change this statistic. Universities often welcome volunteers from the community to serve as “friendship partners” with their international students. Go to the university’s website and search on “international student programs” to see what type of friendship programs are available. You might be just the friend that an international student is looking for.

4. Share a Meal Together. People all around the world love to eat, believe it or not. Inviting a student into your home for a meal can provide the context for fruitful discussions. Universities often have programs where you can bring an international student over to your house for a meal. NC State University, for example, offers a program called “Breaking Bread” through the Office of International Services to give students a “taste” of American culture. Internationals also love to share food from their country with Americans. Sharing a meal together might even give these students a hunger for the Bread of Life.

5. Help a refugee family. As illustrated in the article “Assisting Refugees Opens Doors for the Gospel,” (link to article on the PNDNC website) your church can demonstrate the love of Christ in practical ways to refugees. Organizations such as World Relief would love to have your involvement in helping a family coming to the U.S. from very difficult circumstances. The World Relief office in Durham, NC, for instance, has numerous ways to provide assistance. Serve on a “Welcome Team” to greet the refugees at the airport and welcome them to the U.S. with open arms. Recruit some other families from your church to form a “Good Neighbor Team” that will visit a refugee family on a regular basis. Become a friendship partner to assist a refugee in their adjustment to the U.S. Relatively small acts of service can make a significant impact on a refugee family.

6. Give the Gift of Language. Maybe you’re not a teacher (or maybe you are), but if you’re reading this you have a gift that many internationals desperately need: English. Share this gift by becoming a conversation partner with an international neighbor or friend. Some universities have “conversation clubs” where local volunteers can hang out and just talk with international students. You can develop skills in ESL (English as a Second Language) by attending a workshop or enrolling in a certificate program. Perhaps your church could start an ESL program to minister to the needs of internationals in your community. And what about learning another language yourself? Making the effort to learn another person’s language goes a long way in building relationships.

The peoples of the world are next door. To reach them, we just have to step off our front porch.

Billy has an M.Div. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Alabama. Billy serves as an adjunct instructor at in the ESL certificate program at SEBTS. He has taught ESL for Westminster Theological Seminary in the Mastering Theological English Program, for North Carolina State University in the Intensive English Program, and for Messiah University in the TESOL certificate program. Billy and his wife, Mary Jo, and their three children, lived in Taipei, Taiwan for nine years, where he served at Overseas Radio & Television, Inc., a Christian media ministry.


On International Students

1. http://www.wsj.com/articles/international-students-stream-into-u-s-colleges-1427248801

2. http://www.iie.org/Services/Project-Atlas/United-States/International-Students-In-US

3. http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors/Data/Fast-Facts

4. http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors/Data/International-Students

On Immigrants

1. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states#Immigrant%20Population%20Change

2. http://www.businessinsider.com/baml-immigration-state-map-2015-8

3. http://www.ibtimes.com/immigration-us-2015-reaches-new-record-immigrant-population-421-million-people-study-2053038

On Refugees 

1. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/refugees-fact-sheet

2. http://www.state.gov/j/prm/releases/statistics/251285.htm

3 girls from Xingjiang

The Role of ESL in a Church’s Ministry to Internationals

ESL in the Bible

Is ESL in the Bible? Well, sort of. Jesus never really addressed the issue of language teaching, but He did talk about loving our neighbor. Matthew 22:34-40 highlights a question Jesus was once asked: “Which command in the Law is the greatest?” In His answer, Jesus pointed to two commandments: 1. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. The Old Testament context for the second command is found in Leviticus 19, where it appears in two different contexts: loving your fellow countrymen (Lev. 19:17-18) and loving the stranger residing among you (Lev. 19:33-34), “for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Since the Israelites knew what it was like to be foreigners, they were called to welcome the strangers in their midst. And as citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), aren’t we all aliens living in a strange land? Teaching ESL is simply a practical application of the the command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

ESL Myths

What is ESL, anyway? Maybe you have heard something about it, but you’re not really sure what it looks like. Let’s begin by dispelling several common myths:

1. You have to speak Spanish to teach ESL. After all, doesn’t ESL mean “English-Spanish Language”? Not exactly. ESL means “English as a Second Language,” so you can teach ESL to people from any language background. (Besides English, that is.)

2. You have to know the language of every student you’re teaching. Similar to #1, this is probably based on the notion that language teaching is just translating from one language to another. There was a time when the Grammar-Translation Method was the prevailing method of teaching English (Hint: A very long time ago), but not anymore. The focus these days is on providing a communicative environment for students from all language backgrounds.

3. Teaching ESL is just teaching English grammar. And so, if you’re not comfortable with English grammar, you’re not eligible to teach English, right? Wrong again. Teaching English is much more than just helping students master grammar rules.

A Snapshot of ESL

Basically, ESL is a way to help students from other language backgrounds gain a functional proficiency in English. ESL can also be a very practical way to demonstrate the love of Christ to the nations in our midst.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you were living in a foreign country (not just for vacation or a business trip, but as an immigrant), and you didn’t speak the language well, how would you get along? And how would you feel if a group of people offered you a warm welcome and a place to learn the language in a non-threatening environment? You just might feel loved and accepted.

Fitting ESL into the Bigger Picture

Here’s the key point: ESL should be part of a church’s ministry to internationals. It’s common for churches to make two strategic errors with regard to ESL:

1. Putting all of our eggs in one basket. A church sometimes puts too much weight on ESL. Leaders may think that if they have an ESL ministry, that is the sum total of their ministry to internationals. Well, it’s a good start, but ESL cannot be the whole picture. 

2. Leaving out the golden egg. In seeking to reach the nations around them, some churches may neglect ESL and try to do it through other means. It’s difficult to imagine how a church can effectively reach the nations around them without dealing with language barriers. For immigrants and other internationals in our midst, language learning is not just a nice hobby; it’s a matter of survival. Maybe ESL isn’t really a “golden egg,” but you get the point.

Guiding Principles

As you prepare to integrate ESL into your church’s ministry to internationals, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Train the volunteers — If you already have teachers who are already trained in teaching ESL, that’s great. If not, take advantage of weekend workshops provided by the Literacy Missions team of your state convention. You can also find experienced ESL teachers in your area who can come and offer guidance.
  • Decide on the curriculum — Depending on your church’s vision, you may want to use a general ESL curriculum focused on daily life skills, or a Bible ESL curriculum that uses Bible stories or spiritual principles to center each lesson on the gospel.
  • Keep the bigger picture in mind — Remember that the goal is not just helping people learn English, but making disciples and integrating them into the church.

Let’s be honest: one hour a week will not help people master English, but it can provide a safe place for people to practice their conversational English. If it can help build bridges of friendship, ESL can be a great door-opener for the gospel.

Billy has an M.Div. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Alabama. Billy serves as an adjunct instructor at in the ESL certificate program at SEBTS. He has taught ESL for Westminster Theological Seminary in the Mastering Theological English Program, for North Carolina State University in the Intensive English Program, and for Messiah University in the TESOL certificate program. Billy and his wife, Mary Jo, and their three children, lived in Taipei, Taiwan for nine years, where he served at Overseas Radio & Television, Inc., a Christian media ministry.

woman in a field of yellow flowers with arms raised in worship to God

Easy Gratitude: A Mental Health Therapist Tries “Three Good Things” for a Week

In this blog, I will share my experiences with a positive psychology activity that helps people feel more grateful quickly and easily. First, I’ll briefly discuss gratitude and its benefits, and then my experiences trying a simple activity (Three Good Things) that helped me experience more gratitude and joy in my life.

Why Should Christians Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude?

Before his crucifixion, Jesus tells his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV). Pain, suffering, and hardship are part of the experience of disciples of Christ, and will be until his return. Sometimes as Christians, we struggle with bitterness, anger, and depression. These experiences can weigh down our hearts and make us feel old, cranky, and unmotivated to participate in worship or to forgive others. Gratitude can be difficult to muster, when the skies are cloudy and families and communities struggle.
Yet we are instructed by Paul, despite our suffering, to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, NIV), and to live in constant thanksgiving, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20, NIV). Living a grateful life is important for believers in Christ.
Additionally, positive psychology researchers have found substantial evidence that turning our attention to gratitude has some tangible emotional and physical benefits (For more information on the research on gratitude, check out The Neuroscience of Gratitude and Effects on the Brain (Chowdhury, 2019). They explain that small tasks can make a big impact on our overall mental health. One such task is turning our attention to gratitude in simple ways every day.

Three Good Things

Last August, I was feeling run down after several years of dealing with COVID and its after effects on the American public school system. Even though I have so much to be thankful for, I was having trouble connecting with the real successes and blessings God was bringing into my life. So, I made a commitment to try a short, simple activity called the “Three Good Things” activity, for one week. You can learn more from this video by Martin Seligman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOGAp9dw8Ac (Seligman, 2009). This activity can be done with a piece of paper and pencil, or you can download free apps for your phone that do the same thing.

All you need to do to complete this activity is to write down three good things that went well that day. Then, reflect on why they went well.

The Difference it Made

These simple journal entries made a big difference in how I viewed what was going well in my life. It turned out quite a bit was going well, and I had been undervaluing the blessings God has brought into my life.
Completing this activity every night informed my prayers and helped me experience more thanksgiving and joy. Many nights, it was difficult to stop at just writing down three good things! This simple commitment helped me remember just how abundantly God has blessed me. I began to feel more grateful and happier, and I began to think of myself as a lot more successful than I realized. It also me realize that a lot of the little mistakes and challenges that caused me stress were a lot less important than I thought.
I also noticed a lot about how I actually define success for myself. Most of my “good things” were social- nice times with my family, friends, and making an impact in my work with clients and students. It motivated me to move toward taking care of my family, friends, and community.
I committed to one week, but one week turned into four months! Right away, I noticed this simple activity was improving my ability to feel grateful for the little things in my life. Some things that went well were quite small, but others were quite remarkable.

How This Activity Helped Me Pray

Although this activity doesn’t directly instruct people to pray, I found it immensely easy to add to my nightly prayers. I wrote down things like, “I rested when I needed to rest.” Then I could pray, “thank you God, for opportunities to rest”. Or I might write, “there was peace upon leaving my house this morning.” Then I could pray, “Thank you God, for peace at home.” This was a simple way to meditate on God’s goodness and to thank Him for the many, many blessings in my life.

Would I Recommend You Try “Three Good Things?”

Yes! I can heartily recommend trying this simple gratitude activity, especially in the midst of the turbulence of holiday season. I hope you will try it for a week and see what you discover! I also hope you will use it to help you meditate with a grateful heart on the many ways God has blessed you.


Seligman, M. (2009, November 19). Three Good Things [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOGAp9dw8Ac

Chowdhury, M. (2019, April 9th). The Neuroscience of Gratitude and Effects on the Brain. PositivePsychology.Com. https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/

Carolyn Cummings is a marriage and family therapist, adjunct professor, and doctoral student. More importantly, she is the proud wife of a wonderful husband and mother to three unbelievably cute daughters. Carolyn enjoys dark chocolate, coffee, butterflies, and singing for the Lord.

Open book with English letters flying above the page.

How to Help a Friend Learn English

Has someone asked you to help them learn English, and you don’t know where to start?  Learning any language is a marathon, not a sprint, and understanding this concept and a few basic principles about learning a new language can guide you as you help your friend in their English study.

Understanding Language Levels

Unfortunately, no one wakes up one day and speaks like a native; learning language is a process. As someone goes through the process of learning English, they progress through “language levels”. When you begin helping someone, it’s important to identify the level they are at, and then find lessons or curriculum that is appropriate for their level. If you choose material that is too easy, your friend will probably become bored and loose interest. If the lessons are too difficult, they may become discouraged and give up. For example, you wouldn’t teach someone the alphabet unless they are an absolute beginner, and you don’t want to recommend that your friend read an ESL news website if they can’t say much beside their name and where they are from. To help you identify your friend’s level, here is a brief description of what someone can do at different ability levels:

Absolute Beginners

When someone begins to learn English, they need to learn the alphabet and basic sounds each letter and the combination of letters makes.  As an individual’s basic understanding of English grows, they learn simple phrases and can have very basic conversations with others and identify words for common objects.


At this stage, people know some basic vocabulary and phrases. They can have  short, simple conversations and make themselves understood, even though they will often need to pause and think about what to say or write. They can recognize and identify simple information in basic writing. As they progress through the beginning stage, they will be able to correctly use past tense verbs.


As their vocabulary, understanding, and ability to use English to express themselves increases, learners move to the intermediate phase. Individuals at an intermediate level can understand the main point of everyday conversations, news reports, TV shows, etc. They can be active in discussions on familiar topics without preparation. As they grow through the intermediate level they will move from being able to write a personal letter about an experience they had to being able to write an essay, including providing reasons and supporting evidence for their position.


Finally, someone is considered advanced when they can communicate fluently, accurately and effectively. They have no difficulty understanding spoken and written language on a variety of topics. They can precisely and effectively communicate complex thoughts and opinions both orally and in writing.

The first thing you should do after you decide to help your friend learn English is to get a rough understanding of what their current English level is by having a conversation with them. During this conversation, ask them why they want to learn English and what their goals are. You can then look for vocabulary resources and lessons that will help them achieve their goals. For example, if someone wants to be able to communicate with their child’s teacher, you will want to look for lessons that have to do with school, classes, subjects, school behaviors and expectations. However, if someone is working in construction and needs to improve their English for communicating with their co-workers, they will need a completely different vocabulary. When you are talking with your friend to assess their level, also ask about their reading and writing, and if they studied English in the past. In some countries, children study English in school where lessons are mostly focused on reading and writing, resulting in listening and speaking skills that are less advanced. For others, they may have learned to have conversations in English for a job, but never learned to read and write. (For these reasons, someone may be at one level in their oral English skills, and another level for their written skills.) After talking with your friend, you should have a general ideal of what level they are at. If they need to use their phone to translate everything, start at an absolute beginner level. If they need the translator some, they are most likely still a beginner. If they do not use a translator at all, see which category above you think they fit into and try some material out from the level you think they fit into. If most of the words are new for them, try easier material. If they know almost every word, try something a little harder. Each lesson at the right level should have several new words, but not be overwhelming. Once you find your friend’s level – find appropriate lessons on relevant topics at that level.

As you are looking for material, be aware that different publishers and websites sometimes have different names for these levels. (Even within each level, there are different levels.) Some material is leveled from 1(beginning)  through 5 (advanced).  Others: A1 & A2 (Beginning), B1 & B2 (Intermediate), C1 & C2 (Advanced). Other sites may have levels 1 (beginning ) through 10 (advanced).

There are lots of ESL lessons available online and in books. You can check out some resources we’ve found useful here: https://www.tesolministry.org/search-resources/  We are continually reviewing resources and adding links, so check back regularly. You can also log in and leave a review of the resources or suggest a resource you’ve found to be helpful. You can also read more about language levels here:

How quickly someone progresses through the language levels depends on various factors. There’s no “right” speed for someone to progress. However, the more time someone spends studying and practicing English, the faster they will learn and grow in the language. In the following articles in this series, we’ll examine the 3 key elements in learning English, as well as strategies and activities to help you and your friend.

Shannon Mann is the founder and CEO of TESOL Ministry. She has a M.A. in Intercultural Studies from Golden Gate Seminary (now Gateway Seminary). She has over 7 years experience teaching ESL in college and university settings and trains and mentors students working toward their TESOL certificate.

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Communicating the Gospel Cross Culturally

How Culture Shapes our Presentation of the Gospel

How does culture tend to shape our presentation of the gospel?

  I have already touched on this some: we are much more direct in our communication style than many other cultures in the world, and we tend to think that this is much better . . . because we are used to being direct.  But many cultures in the world, including Asian and Latin American cultures, are more indirect in their communication style.  Our style is not necessarily better than theirs.

Probably one of the most difficult things for us to understand about our culture is the individualism that permeates the U.S. worldview.  We have a difficult time adjusting to people from other cultures that tend to have more collective oriented worldviews. It is so much a part of who we are that it is difficult for us to see it or know how to filter it out when dealing with people from other cultures.  I include myself in that statement.  I understand that it is a huge part of our culture mostly because I have been told that it is true, not because I can easily identify it.  Our individualism taints the way we understand the gospel, and this is one of the criticisms that other parts of the Christian church level against U.S. Christians (and to some extent Christians in other Western cultures).  For the vast majority of us, salvation is a very individualistic thing.  People from other cultures point to this as the reason why vast sectors of the Christian church in the United States cannot see that the gospel should make a difference in how gospel-believing Christians act in the face of injustices in our society.  The problem is that we see the gospel in individualistic terms, but not related to injustices within our society.

It is probably true that some Christian groups have gone so far in rejecting individualism that they have lost what many of us would consider to be the soul of the gospel and become “social gospel” proponents.  This conversation gets complicated by accusations of “socialism” or even “communism”, but as the saying goes, we need to be careful not to “throw out the baby with the bath water”.  Hebrew society was always very collective, not individualistic.  Faith in God had huge implications on how the poor, orphans, widows, and immigrants were treated.  In the New Testament there are several examples of whole households (even Gentile households) who came to faith as a collective group. Most of us would point out that there are also many examples of individuals who came to faith without their families joining them, at least not immediately.

One of the areas in U.S. “evangelical” Christianity that merits evaluation in light of this individualism/collectivism difference between cultures is the almost universal belief on the part of U.S. church leaders that in many instances the best way to reach a family within our culture –and from other cultures – is to reach the children with the gospel first.  However, numerous studies in Latin American cultures show that the chances of reaching whole families with the gospel increase dramatically if the parents become Christians first.  Unfortunately, I do not know where to locate the statics from these studies.  Perhaps another person involved in cross-cultural work can provide this information.

I believe that this same individualism/collectivism divide between cultures is at the root of a problem often seen in Latin American churches (where U.S. missionaries have done most of the evangelism/discipleship). Very often pastors will tell young people to disobey their parents if their parents prohibit them to attend church.  Pastors do so without seeking to find out first why the parents made this prohibition and seeking solutions to the parents’ underlying reasons.  We tend to think in terms of individuals, not in terms of families as a unit.  More often than not, working with the parents to discover root causes and working out acceptable solutions will open the parents up to the gospel instead of slamming the door shut by counseling disobedience.

Reader comments would perhaps expand our understanding of other ways our culture shapes how we present the gospel.

This is the fourth article in a series on “Communicating the Gospel Cross-Culturally” by Lloyd Mann, D.Min.

Lloyd Mann has a BA in teaching languages in secondary schools (Spanish and English), an M.Div in theology and a D.Min with a focus in missions mobilization.  He served as a missionary in Latin America for 39 years and is the author of two books and multiple articles and materials for use in university student ministry. With his wife, Wilma, he translated many more materials and books into Spanish and some into English.

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Read More in the Series

Communicating the Gospel Cross Culturally

How is the Gospel Best Presented? If our Christ-given task is to make disciples, we also need to examine how we present the gospel.  Do most of the long-lasting decisions that lead to people…

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Communicating the Gospel Cross Culturally

What Aspects of a Person’s “Being” Do We Need to Consider as We Share the Gospel? There are three aspects of every person’s being which need to be active in “believing”…

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Communicating the Gospel Cross Culturally

What Aspects of a Person’s “Being” Do We Need to Consider as We Share the Gospel?

There are three aspects of every person’s being which need to be active in “believing” or “having faith” in Jesus, regardless of cultural background. 

One of those aspects is the intellect. The fact that I mention this first does not mean this is the first thing you need to focus on in transcultural witnessing.  In most cases the first aspect that comes into play in the life of an individual who is investigating faith in Jesus are the emotions, which will be the next aspect I mention.  But I mention the intellectual aspect first because that is where most Christians want to begin.  Whether you are sharing with a person from the United States, Europe, Asia, or Latin America, whether you are working with an atheist, an agnostic, or someone from a nominal Christian background, the intellect is one of the areas on which you must focus.  There are certain things a personal must eventually come to believe (and that is the intellectual aspect):  God exists, Jesus was God in human form, sin is a problem he/she cannot solve, etc.  

People from the southern part of the United States used to already believe all these “truths” generally speaking, but that is no longer the case.  People from Europe may (but most probably will not) have a cultural background that basically accepts these intellectual concepts.  However, people from South Asia, Asia and other parts of the world probably do not have a religious background that accepts these truths.  For us, that makes our task that much more difficult because we must walk with them as they get to know Jesus of Nazareth and come to believe that He was God in flesh, that He allowed himself to be crucified so that we can have a relationship with God, and came back to life, etc. Again, when it comes to Latin Americans, belief in the basic truths of Christianity used to be part of their Catholic culture, but that is less and less true today, or those beliefs may have been distorted from the record we have in the Bible.

A quick, concept-based gospel presentation (think “The Four Spiritual Laws”) only addresses a person’s intellect: “believe these four or five truths and you will be saved.”  The intellect, without any doubt, must always be involved when trying to bring a person to faith in Jesus Christ.  But that is not all that must be considered.  What areas must be considered will depend a lot on the answer to this question:  How does the culture of the person we are talking with effect how that person interacts with others, and how they hear/understand what we say?

My area of expertise is with the Latin American culture, and within that broad range of Hispanic cultures, more specifically with the Mexican culture.  Each of you will need to study the culture of the people you are trying to reach in order to discover the answer to the above question.

Latin Americans in general terms, but very specifically Mexicans, are much more indirect in their communication style than are people from the United States[1].  People from the USA tend to go directly to the point, and we don’t worry too much if that point make other people feel uncomfortable or attacked as a person. Latin Americans, on the other hand, tend to do a little dance around “the point” before getting to it.  Part of the reason this is true is because they want to be very careful not to offend you or make you feel like a failure.  Cultural courtesy demands that even in greetings (like on a phone call) they be much less direct . . . spending time talking about some common interest before getting to their “point”.

That makes a HUGE difference when you are presenting the gospel to a Latin American.  Mexicans, especially, will almost never tell you “No” if you ask them to do something or invite them to attend an event, or to commit to something.  They will tell you “I’ll do everything possible to be there.” (It took me two traumatic years to learn that that phrase basically means “No.”)  If you make a gospel presentation and ask them to accept Christ, they will generally say “Yes” because they don’t want you to feel like a failure, or to “lose face”.  They will say “yes” but will avoid you from there on out.

This is the reason Christians from the United States who go on mission trips to Latin America can almost always return with reports of huge numbers of professions of faith.  I remember a large group of pastors from Texas who came to Mexico for an evangelistic crusade in multiple churches at once.  A few of them were Spanish-speaking pastors, but most spoke only English.  At the end of the week of meetings they returned to Texas to report 7,000 professions of faith, but not before criticizing to their face the American missionaries who had spent decades in Mexico, because (according to them) we were total failures.  The pastors said they came and in one week had won more people to Christ than all the missionaries put together had won in more than a decade.  But almost a year after that “tremendous crusade,” I talked with many (by no means all) of the Mexican pastors in whose churches those 7,000 had made “professions of faith” and asked them how many people they had in their church as a result of that crusade.  Most I talked with said “zero”, only a few said “one or two”.

This is why, when trying to share the gospel with someone from a Latin American culture, it is very important to develop a relationship with that person first.  Then from your life, from your verbal sharing of how Jesus has transformed your life and by leading them to know Jesus Christ through reading or studying the gospels you can discuss with them what it means to “believe” in Jesus.

The second aspect is the emotions.  There must develop in a person a conviction that he/she cannot solve their problems on their own, that they need help.  If a person does not feel a need for God, if they are not conscious that they are a sinner, and that they cannot correct this problem themselves, they will never draw near to Jesus.  The problem, especially in Latin America, is that often there are very obvious emotional attachments to religious icons (especially to the Virgin Mary) rather than to God, since Catholicism has reigned in those cultures for centuries. 

What we should be trying to accomplish, without making a frontal attack on those idols, is to lead the people to know Jesus of Nazareth, His love for sinners, and His grace toward those trapped in sin.  Just as happened in the Gospels when sinners came into contact with Jesus, the Holy Spirit can awaken within the people with whom we are witnessing the same awe and wonder as they get to know Him. A person who does not react in love and awe toward Jesus of Nazareth probably will not decide to open his/her life to Him.

One final word about the emotions:  Rules and laws will never transform lives; “thou shalt not” was never able to break the power of sin over people.  The Apostle Paul says that about all these can do is to show us how hopeless we are when faced with God’s perfect law.  The only motivation powerful enough to pull a person out of slavery to sin is an amazed, awe-inspired love toward One who has paid the price for our sin and who loves people so much that He was willing to “become poor that we might become rich”.  When a person really grasps how huge God’s love is for him/her, that transforms their life to such an extent that the best way to describe it is “being born again”.

But many people, especially those from Roman Catholic backgrounds, think they can check both these first two boxes.  Most Latin Americans think they have loved God all their lives.  They think they have believed in Jesus all their lives.  They think they have had faith in God all their lives, and when you share the gospel with them, they will say “I’ve done that all my life!”

I remember one university student in the Dominican Republic to whom I was trying to witness over a period of more than a month.  Every time I talked to him about “believing” in Jesus, or about “having faith” in Jesus, he would always tell me he had done that all his life.  I could not find a way to get past that argument because my definition of “believing” and of “having faith” was mostly an intellectual concept.  Since He believed that Jesus was God’s son, that He was God incarnate, since he believed that Jesus died for his sins and rose again, I didn’t know what more to say.  But his lifestyle proved to me that he was not a born-again Christian.

One day it occurred to me to ask him, “Ok, that’s fine, but would you be willing to let Jesus come into your life and to radically change your life?”  His answer, accompanied by wildly waving both arms back and forth in front of his chest was “Never!  I won’t allow anyone to tell me what to do!”  I knew in that instant I had stumbled upon an extremely important “something,” but it wasn’t until several months later that I realized what his answer screamed out about his “faith”.

The determining aspect is the human will.  Salvation never occurs unless there is a surrendering of one’s will to God.  The will stands at the very center of who we are and controls everything about our lives.  Our wills show what our values are, they reveal our idols, and they determine which of our “selves” wins out when “push comes to shove” in our lives.  Our will sits on the throne of our life and determines whether Satan and our sinful nature, or Jesus Christ will control our life.  Faith and “belief” are not just intellectual exercises; nor are they just emotional responses.  Faith and belief that are not accompanied by commitment to Jesus as Lord are not biblical faith or belief.  Without the Lordship element, all you have is a cultural religion that is dead.

Don’t get me wrong, a person who in faith turns his life over to Jesus does not suddenly stop sinning.  Not ever, for that matter!  The process of the Lordship of Christ becoming a full reality in the life of the new believer may take some time.  In my own case I struggled for a few years before I was really willing to give God control of my life.  When I did, I methodically went through every aspect of my life, giving God the right to be Lord over that area.  What I came away with from that experience was the assurance that sooner or later God would be Lord over each of those areas.  Some areas came quickly under His Lordship; other areas took longer.  Even in the lives of Jesus’ disciples He did not become Lord over their lives immediately, but there was a commitment to Him, a basic decision to allow Him to direct their lives.

[1] You will notice that generally I use the term “United States” rather than “American” to help you be more geographically correct.  Everyone from Canada to Argentina/Chile are “Americans”.   We cannot even use “North Americans” because Mexico and Canada are part of North America.


This is the third article in a series on “Communicating the Gospel Cross-Culturally” by Lloyd Mann, D.Min.

Lloyd Mann has a BA in teaching languages in secondary schools (Spanish and English), an M.Div in theology and a D.Min with a focus in missions mobilization.  He served as a missionary in Latin America for 39 years and is the author of two books and multiple articles and materials for use in university student ministry. With his wife, Wilma, he translated many more materials and books into Spanish and some into English.

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Communicating the Gospel Cross Culturally

How is the Gospel Best Presented? If our Christ-given task is to make disciples, we also need to examine how we present the gospel.  Do most of the long-lasting decisions that lead to people…

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An ESL Ministry Journey: Getting Started

Big Picture Basis

When starting an ESL ministry, it is important to know your goals for the ministry. Do you want to teach English Bible stories? Do you want to provide basic English conversation practice? Do you want to help students study for their green card? Is your ESL ministry a service to the community or an evangelistic outreach?

At first glance, you may feel that the answer is, “We want both – a service to the community and an evangelistic outreach.”  This is a core question to explore when planning an ESL ministry. Most volunteer ESL classes are unable to provide everything for everybody. They need a core focus and goals that reflect that focus.

A service-based ESL ministry provides high-quality English language instruction to students who are non-native English speakers. This could be English conversation classes for adults, homework help for students, green-card and citizenship classes, or writing classes for university students. This ministry focuses on how it can meet the felt needs of the students.

An evangelistic outreach ESL ministry provides English language instruction that is focused on the Bible. Students learn English through simplified Bible stories and conversations about those stories. Evangelistic outreach ESL ministry may also provide some evangelistic tools in a student’s native language.

When narrowing the  focus and goals for your ESL ministry, it may be helpful to ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is my ESL ministry a service to the community, an evangelistic outreach, or a combination of the two?
  2. Is my ESL ministry for adults or children?
  3. What do I want the students in my ESL ministry to learn?

Answering these questions will guide you as you think through the details of your ministry. The following are helpful questions to work through as you plan your ESL ministry.

Down in the Details

Facility, Timing and Advertising

Facility: Thankfully, most churches are willing to lend free space to an ESL ministry, but you will need to think through logistics like:

  • How many rooms will you need?
  • Do you need rooms only for classes or will you need space for a nursery or childcare?
  • Will the church cover insurance, heating, air-conditioning etc. or will your ESL ministry need to be responsible for these?
Sample ESL Class Flyer. Flyer shows class information (who, when, where, cost, etc.) in languages of the people who will want to take the class, in addition to the information in English.

Timing: Your goals will determine when you hold your ESL classes.  You will need to decide timing by balancing the schedules and availability of both the volunteers and the students.  My husband and I were both working when we started our ESL class.  Because of that, it was most important that the class fit into our schedules.  However, we also thought through when the students would be free to come to the class.  Our students were parents of international school students.  We ended our class in time to coincide with school pick-up.  Parents could attend class and then go and pick up their children from school.

Advertising: Who will be coming to your English classes? We created advertisements in the home languages of each group that we thought would be interested in our classes and passed them out at local international schools. You can have non-English language churches help you post advertisements about the classes. You can also visit local ministries that help refugees or new immigrants and ask them about advertising for your classes. Advertisements should always be in the languages of each people group you invite. This will help students feel at ease even before they walk in the door.


ESL curriculum is vital to a volunteer ESL ministry. Volunteer English teachers need to feel equipped for their task and the curriculum doesn’t have to be expensive or burdensome.  Curriculum supplies support for both teachers and students. 


  • provides structure and a plan
  • decreases preparation time
  • increases the quality of the instruction
  • produces evaluation tools
  • strengthens the confidence of the teachers

There is a lot of ESL curriculum available. I have provided just a few websites below that have curriculums available for teaching ESL.  There are many, many websites and curriculums choose from for your ESL ministry.

ESL for Bible understanding:

Church-Based ESL Programs – TESOL Tools

Bible Based ESL Books and Curriculum (eslbiblebased.com)

ESL for Community Service

Activities for Teaching All Levels (J-B Ed: Survival Guides): 9781119550389: Ferlazzo, Larry, Sypnieski, Katie Hull: Books

English for Everyone: Level 1 Practice Book – Beginner English: ESL Workbook, Interactive English Learning for Adults: DK: 9781465448668: Amazon.com: Books

In our English classes, we used Speak Now  by Jack Richards.  It has several levels and online practice.  We wanted a curriculum for all the reasons above, but we knew that some in our class would not be able to afford to buy the books.  The church was also not able to fund a curriculum.  In order to make books available to everyone, we let people choose to either buy their own book or borrow one of ours for the class period.  Students who borrowed the books were not allowed to take them home, but they were able to participate fully in class without financial hardship.  


Every ESL ministry needs volunteers who are willing to teach the class.  As I mentioned in my first article, my husband and I were the only teachers in our ESL ministry.  Starting small allowed us to make needed changes as the class grew and changed.

Here are some things to think through as your recruit volunteers:

  • How many volunteers do you need and what roles will the volunteers fill?  
  • Do you need teachers, childcare workers, snack providers, greeters, and/or ministers? I use the word “minister” loosely here.  Everyone involved in the ESL ministry is a minister, but I am specifically referring to those volunteers who are willing to lend their time outside of ESL class to follow-up on the felt needs of the students in the class.
  • Do some students want regular discipleship? 
  • Do some students need food?  There will be needs that arise as your ESL ministry grows and it will be important to think through how and if your church can meet some of those needs. 
  • Will you equip the volunteers?  Will you provide teacher training? What kinds of resources are available in your area or denomination to help teachers feel confident in their teaching ability?
  • How will you encourage the volunteers?

Will you teach children as a part of your ESL ministry?   Will you provide child-care for those adults who need it?  You will be asked these questions when you start an ESL ministry.  Instead of feeling guilty if you cannot offer these things, go back to your goals and remind yourself why you are providing an ESL ministry through your church.


Once you have your goals, you can better think through how you will incorporate your Christian faith into your classes.  If you have chosen a Bible-based ESL curriculum, you may have some natural engagement points for talking about who Jesus is.  If your focus is community service, you may need to spend more time thinking through how to intergrate Jesus into your classroom.  I have spent time teaching ESL in both secular and Christian classrooms.  As Christians, we give God glory in all things.  We know that God is at work all around us, we just need to look for where he is working.  This is my advice to you as you go into your ESL classroom, whether Bible or community service based: look for where God is working and be expectant and ready for him to work.  I will address this more in-depth in a later post.  

Laurel Bohrer is an ESOL teacher and adult second language learner who enjoys seeing her students gain confidence in their ability to use English.  In her free time, she loves to spend time with her husband and 2 daughters. 

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This article is the second in a series. Click below to read other articles in the series.

Communicating the Gospel Cross Culturally

How is the Gospel Best Presented?

If our Christ-given task is to make disciples, we also need to examine how we present the gospel.  Do most of the long-lasting decisions that lead to people becoming committed followers of Jesus come from five-to-15-minute concept-centered presentations of the gospel, or do they come from some other longer, relationship-based sharing of the gospel?  Oscar Thompson, author of Concentric Circles, and Jim Petersen, author of Evangelism as a Lifestyle make convincing arguments for relationship-based, or friendship-based evangelism.  Our own experience also led us to the same conclusion.

Near the beginning of our ministry in university student evangelism and disciplemaking in Mexico, we planned a 3-year on-campus evangelistic thrust.  During the first year, we trained our Christian students in how to strengthen their own walk with Christ, in how to share their personal testimony, in how to present the gospel in a concise, visual format (the Bridge Illustration), how to use evangelistic Bible studies with friends and family and how to work with new believers to help them begin to grow spiritually.

During the second year, every two months we had a large on-campus evangelistic presentation by Christian scientists from NASA, or recognized professional people, or Mexican Christian educators.  After each conference, we offered an opportunity for people to accept Christ or to talk with the conference speaker or our trained students about their questions concerning the Christian faith.  We kept records of who accepted Christ, their contact information, in which school within the university they were studying, etc.  We began working immediately with those who made decisions to give their life to Christ, helping them to begin to grow as new Christians.

The third year was dedicated to finishing the follow-up of the new believers and an evaluation of the results of the 3-year evangelistic project.  The results of that evaluation totally surprised us and set the pattern for almost all our future evangelism not only among university students but also with adults.

We discovered that only 12% of all the professions of faith came as a result of those six on-campus, large-group conferences.  The other 78% were either friends, fellow students, or family members of our Christian students whom we had trained in how to share the gospel.  But the most telling statistics that came from analyzing the data were the following two facts: 1) we were unable to locate any but two or three of the 12% who “accepted Christ” in the on-campus conferences. (Almost all of them had given us fake contact information. The two or three who gave us correct information always had some excuse for not talking to us.)  2) Of the 78% who were friends, fellow students, or family members of our trained students, almost 100% were growing in their faith and were attending some Christian church.  Evangelism among people with whom we have a relationship is much more successful at producing disciples than “cold-turkey” evangelism with people we do not know.  Doing “cold-turkey” evangelism is useful because it can give Christians good experience in sharing the gospel but is not the best way to make disciples.

As a result of these results, we developed a multi-pronged evangelism training for university students that involved helping them develop a strong relationship with Christ in their own lives, helping them understand what the gospel is, teaching them how to share the gospel in a brief format both verbally and using the “Bridge Illustration”, helping them develop their personal testimonies and how to vary that testimony depending on the person to whom they were talking, teaching them how to cultivate relationships with non-Christians, and teaching them how to use evangelistic Bible studies with friends and families.


This is the second article in a series on “Communicating the Gospel Cross-Culturally” by Lloyd Mann, D.Min.

Lloyd Mann has a BA in teaching languages in secondary schools (Spanish and English), an M.Div in theology and a D.Min with a focus in missions mobilization.  He served as a missionary in Latin America for 39 years and is the author of two books and multiple articles and materials for use in university student ministry. With his wife, Wilma, he translated many more materials and books into Spanish and some into English.

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Communicating the Gospel Cross Culturally

What Aspects of a Person’s “Being” Do We Need to Consider as We Share the Gospel? There are three aspects of every person’s being which need to be active in “believing”…

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Communicating the Gospel Cross Culturally

What is The Gospel?

Any time a person decides to communicate the gospel there are always several things that need to be considered.  Here are just a few: What is the gospel? (In other words, what are we trying to communicate?) How is the gospel best communicated? What aspects of people’s “being” do we need to consider as we share the gospel? How does the culture of the person with whom we are talking effect what that person hears/understands?  How does our culture tend to shape our presentation of the gospel? 

Unfortunately, very few “Great Commission Christians”[1] take the time or energy to consider these issues when they seek to witness within their own culture, much less when they try to share their faith with people from other cultures living around them.  

What is the gospel?

We don’t have time here to analyze why, but Christians in the United States mostly have reduced the “gospel” to a series of concepts or truths to be believed – and if a person accepts, or “believes,” these concepts, he/she is born again spiritually.  This approach has been enshrined in such gospel-sharing techniques as “The Four Spiritual Laws” or similar doctrine-centered approaches that for 50+ years have been the basis of most evangelism training in the United States (and in countries where our missionaries have taken such techniques).  We need to recoup the New Testament gospel based on how Jesus and the Apostle Paul viewed the gospel.

The gospel in the New Testament was centered in a Person, not in concepts or even teachings.  Jesus did not draw people to a set of doctrines, but to himself.  Encountering and getting to know Jesus was what transformed people’s lives in the Gospels.  Jesus never told Zacchaeus that he had to believe certain doctrines (man is a sinner, sin brings death, believe in Me and your sins will be forgiven, etc.).  In the Gospel accounts He didn’t even tell him he needed to return the money he had illegally charged . . . but he did, just because he got to know Jesus.  Just meeting Jesus, and getting to know Him, radically transformed his life.  

Paul, when he preached, centered his presentation on Jesus, not Jesus’ teachings.  In 1 Corinthians 2:2 Paul said: For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  In Galatians 1:6 he said: I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:” It was the grace of Christ that caught their attention at first, not doctrines. 

Are there doctrines involved in a person’s salvation experience?  Certainly!  Everyone who comes to know Jesus personally will have to recognize that he/she is a sinner and will have to understand that the penalty for sin is death.  They will come to believe that Jesus is God, not just a prophet or a good man.  They certainly will need to understand that there is nothing a person can do to merit salvation because Jesus has paid the penalty they should have paid for their sin.  But believing these things will not save them, will not transform their lives.  Only the Person of Jesus Christ can do that, and a person needs to spend time with Jesus (through a study of the Gospels) in order to come to know Him and become convinced that He is the only Savior.

This truth, that the gospel is a Person, not a set of doctrines to be believed, will have a profound impact on how we evangelize and how we train people to evangelize.  Rather than training people to present a concept-focused presentation of four or five spiritual truths, or even a graphic presentation of the gospel, we must train people in how to introduce people to Jesus Christ through spending time with them in the Bible, especially in the Gospels.  Experience has taught us that life transformations that lead to people becoming disciples of Jesus mostly take place over a period of time when they are reading, meditating and studying the Gospels, or encountering Jesus Christ through gospel-centered preaching.

Can concept-focused presentations or graphic illustrations (like the Bridge illustration) be useful in evangelizing people?  Of course, they can.  That is why we train people to use them.  But these usually are clarifying, later steps in helping people come to know Jesus Christ.

Can God save a person after a short concept-centered presentation of gospel truths?  Certainly He can.  God can do anything, and He sometimes does bring people quickly to faith in Christ.  I have known people who were initially brought to faith in Christ by a simple “God loves you, man,” spoken in passing by a stranger on a sidewalk.  But that is not generally how it happens.

[1] I use the term “Great Commission Christians” because I no longer believe that today the term “evangelical” is useful. Our culture has infiltrated much of what historically has been called “evangelical” Christianity and has diluted what it meant to be “evangelical”.

This is the first article in a series on “Communicating the Gospel Cross-Culturally” by Lloyd Mann, D.Min.

Lloyd Mann has a BA in teaching languages in secondary schools (Spanish and English), an M.Div in theology and a D.Min with a focus in missions mobilization.  He served as a missionary in Latin America for 39 years and is the author of two books and multiple articles and materials for use in university student ministry. With his wife, Wilma, he translated many more materials and books into Spanish and some into English.

Share this post:

Read More in the Series

Communicating the Gospel Cross Culturally

How is the Gospel Best Presented? If our Christ-given task is to make disciples, we also need to examine how we present the gospel.  Do most of the long-lasting decisions that lead to people…

Read More

Communicating the Gospel Cross Culturally

What Aspects of a Person’s “Being” Do We Need to Consider as We Share the Gospel? There are three aspects of every person’s being which need to be active in “believing”…

Read More
Compass on a map

An ESL Ministry Journey

Starting an ESL ministry at your church can be both an exciting and daunting task.  Several years ago, my husband and I looked around our international church and realized that there were quite a few people who would really appreciate a place to learn more English.  

It all started with a woman I’ll call Ann.  Church members who knew Ann’s daughter invited them to come to church.  Her daughter spoke English fluently and was able to immediately get involved with the youth group.  Ann came to church with her daughter, but she struggled with her English.  For some reason, Ann started inviting more friends with children who spoke English, but whose parents had limited English.  Suddenly, we had about 10 families coming to church, none of whom were Christians, and the parents all had limited English.  

In a perfect world, there would be a church in their own language that we could partner with in this task, but that was not an option for these families.  So, we started to think about how we could offer these adults English classes that would help them become part of the community where they lived, while also providing the opportunity to share the Gospel.  

Over the course of several blogs, I want to share some of the things that we needed to think through as we started planning for our ESL ministry.  The most important thing that I learned is – start simple, know your goals, and don’t be afraid to say no. 

My husband and I were the only volunteers at first.  This limited both size of the class and the time that we could spend on the ministry.  At first, I thought that we needed to recruit other volunteers right away, but as I look back, I think it was important that we started simply.  With only two teachers, we had the opportunity to change course quickly and keep things manageable.  

Almost as soon as we started advertising for our class, people asked if we would also have classes for children.  However, we felt led to have an English class for parents who had English-speaking children and did not understand enough English to fit into an English-speaking community.  Our goal was basic English for adults with a Biblical component as part of the lesson time. It was difficult to say “no” to requests to teach children, but it didn’t fit in with our goals for the class and it was good to stick with our goals.

We purchased a basic English curriculum ourselves and allowed the students to either borrow the books during class for free or purchase their own if they wanted to write in it.  This allowed the class to be sustainable monetarily, both for us and for the students.  

The class grew each week.  We had about 10 regular members of the class and others who would come whenever they were free.  We started getting to know the students and hearing their stories.  We realized that there were several students who were already Christians, several who were interested in knowing more about Christ and some who were just there for the free English lessons.  

We began offering a short half-hour time after the “official” English class where we would talk about the Bible passage for next week’s sermon.  We had the advantage of being able to speak the home language of our students so we would use that language to explain the passage and then introduce the English words that they would hear in church the next Sunday.  Students also used this time to ask any questions they had about God.And so, our ESL ministry was off and running, but there were many things to come that took us by surprise as we continued in this journey.

Published 9/27/2022 – This article is the first in a series, read other articles in this series below.

Laurel Bohrer is an ESOL teacher and adult second language learner who enjoys seeing her students gain confidence in their ability to use English.  In her free time, she loves to spend time with her husband and 2 daughters. 

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