ESL Resources from Mission to North America

Judith M. Dinsmore

New Horizons: July 2024

Teaching English Like a Servant

Also in this issue

Teaching English Like a Servant

Developing Relationships Through ESL

Nancy Booher’s first encounter with English as a Second Language (ESL) ministry was modest: almost thirty years ago, two friends at her PCA church in Maryland told her that they needed another ESL teacher come fall and asked her to please take the training. She did. She did not like it. She committed to teach for one semester and then planned to exit. But once classes started, Booher said, she fell in love with the students.

Now director for nineteen years of the PCA’s ESL Ministry through Mission to North America (MNA), Booher works to provide churches with better training than she received so that they can show Christ’s love to their international neighbors. She, with the help of other volunteers, has compiled a sort of model for how to run ESL classes as a ministry of Reformed churches. While local churches may differ in the extent to which they adhere to the model, her work provides a starting point that at least two OP churches—Light of the Nations in Dayton, Ohio, (see this), and Harvest OPC in Wyoming, Michigan—have found helpful.

First, MNA provides training. Second, it provides materials: a 28-document start-up kit for ESL school directors, other online resources, and, most recently, an ESL curriculum. Third, it provides ongoing support.


“How do you teach English to students who speak or understand no English?” was the question on Harvest member BettyAnn DeVries’s mind last summer when she took MNA’s training class. Actually, she took it twice: first online, then in person. The training answered her question, and then some. “The Zoom training helped to wrap my brain around what the classes would look like and how the fluency levels and curriculum work together,” DeVries said.

The online training that DeVries took is designed for people who are exploring the possibility of an ESL ministry at their church or for people who are planning to join their church’s already-established ministry. The training is held on Zoom from a Friday to a Monday and is limited to twenty-four people per class.

To begin an ESL program, Booher recommends having at least seven committed volunteers: one to do the administrative work as director, and two teachers for three classes—beginner, intermediate, and advanced. To train those initial volunteers, MNA can offer an in-person class at your church with one of its thirty trainers. (If an existing training is happening nearby, they may redirect your group to it.) “We ask for coverage of travel costs and a $400 honorarium,” Booher said.

The in-person training is twelve hours total, Friday evening and all-day Saturday. That length quickly communicates to potential volunteers that the ESL ministry is a significant commitment, Harvest pastor Adrian Crum reflected. Even then, “the real surprise [for us] was how many people were poised and ready to jump in 100 percent,” he said.

The training made starting an ESL class seem “real and doable,” DeVries said. “Many of our trainees remarked how much more excited they were after seeing (and practicing) what a class would look like.”

Melisa McGinnis, who shares the work of directing Harvest’s ESL program with DeVries and two others, agreed. “So much of the start-up work is administrative, but the training . . . felt like the first big step toward actually getting the program off the ground.” McGinnis had never worked in ESL ministry before. “I left the training much more confident in our ability to help those coming through Harvest’s doors,” she reflected. Harvest began offering ESL classes in 2023.


MNA’s website has numerous downloadable resources—from sample fliers to advertise your church’s classes, to a suggested list of where to post them (the dry cleaner, international grocery stores, the local Western Union), to a sample volunteer description for an ESL teacher that would work well as a bulletin announcement. Nancy Booher’s no-nonsense energy propels these written materials. For example, she instructs: “Each student should be prayed for by name each and every week by the teacher. Next, you need to make sure you are teaching well. No one is coming back to a class that isn’t helping them.”

This May, MNA also launched a new curriculum for church ESL classes: Neighbor to Neighbor. All three beginner levels will be available by August 2024; the two intermediate levels will be released in 2025.

ESL curricula, Booher explained, are typically designed for college classrooms that meet three to five times per week for three to four hours per session; teachers for church ESL ministries must then adapt and cull the material for a weekly, two-hour class. Those curricula are also secular and sometimes include material that must be skipped, like a lesson on horoscopes. In contrast, Neighbor to Neighbor is written by the MNA and has lesson plans that fit a once-a-week class. Each level includes an illustrated, full-color student’s textbook and a teacher’s manual.

Ongoing Support

Nancy Booher and other experienced volunteers make themselves available to answer questions and provide further training for churches, including OP churches, that have an ESL ministry. DeVries called their one-on-one help “valuable” but emphasized their love for “us and our students.” For more information about what the MNA provides, visit their website: pcamna.org.

A Basic Description of ESL Ministry

by Nancy Booher, adapted from MNA’s website

Most English as a Second Language ministries start with an ESL school. These are free schools for adult internationals in your community that are staffed by church volunteers. These classes are divided by fluency level. You determine the fluency level of each student through a short interview process that you learn during our training. The three basic fluency levels are beginner, intermediate, and advanced. But those can be broken down into more levels. The classes are English immersion, meaning that only English is spoken in the classroom. Most classes are about two hours long with a break in the middle. Classes can be in the daytime or in the evening.

Volunteers do not need to speak a foreign language or be professional teachers. All they need to do is speak English and love Jesus, and we can teach them the rest. It is best to have at least two trained teachers per class. This way they can share the workload—it takes about two hours to write a lesson plan—and cover for each other during an illness or vacation.

Although your classes are free, we do recommend that you ask for donations from your students for their textbooks. MNA now publishes a curriculum called Neighbor to Neighbor, available at the PCA bookstore. The cost is $25 for a student textbook.

The gospel is incorporated into your ESL classes through prayers at the beginning and end of each class (in Jesus’s name) and short devotions during each class. Our hope is that teachers and classroom helpers will be developing relationships with their students both inside the classroom and outside the classroom. The gospel is shared more easily within these relationships.

Once your main classes are going well, you could expand your ministry to include more Bible-based options, such as Sunday school class for internationals or a home Bible study.

The author is managing editor of  New Horizons. New Horizons, July 2024.

New Horizons: July 2024

Teaching English Like a Servant

Also in this issue

Teaching English Like a Servant

Developing Relationships Through ESL

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